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sorrel in their acid flavour only: botanists class them among the dock plants. A red dye is procured from the field-sorrel. The smaller species is an invariable indication of a dry soil. Both kinds are very nutritious to cattle.
From the old wall, the sweet wallflower (Cheiranthus cheiri) now greets us with its odour. Many are the flowers which we value for their fragrance, but scarcely one is sweeter than this. It is much prized in the east.
The common white bryony (Bryonia dioica) is now abundant, its large vine-shaped leaves covering the hedges, and twining among the bushes, both by their twisting form and by the numerous and long curling tendrils which grow on every stem. It is often called wild hop; but those who live in the counties in which hops are cultivated, know it to be very different from that plant. We have no wild trailing plant, which better than this merits the old name of white vine. The flowers are marked with green veins, and though not showy, are when examined found to be very beautiful; but it is the luxuriant growth of the bryony, which renders it an elegant plant. The stems often extend four or five feet, and grow much faster than those of plants in general. Their rapid growth is attributed, by Linnæus, to the immense size of its white branching root, which was formerly much used as a medicine. It is very acrid, while fresh, but, when dried, it yields a flour which has often supplied food to the poor in
times of scarcity. Its properties are not, however, so certainly known as that it can be recommended as food.
Happily for us, we are not subject to those occasional seasons of dearth which were formerly experienced in this country, when the poor were compelled to seek vegetable food from wild roots and seeds. An old writer, speaking of the dearth which prevailed in England in 1555, says: “At this time plenty of peas did grow on the sea-shore, near Dunwich, in Suffolk, never set or sown by human industry; which, being gathered in full ripeness, much abated the high price of the market, and preserved many hungry families from perishing." The plant which thus appeared at so needful a season was the sea-side pea, (Pisum maritimum,) which is a native of our shores, but not usually very common or abundant. It is a pretty wild pea, sufficiently similar to the sweet pea of the garden to remind us of that flower. There is a tradition that the plant sprang up in consequence of the wreck of a vessel near the coast, on which the seeds were washed by the waves: but this is scarcely probable, as the bitterness of this pea renders it unlikely that it had been of sufficient value for exportation; and the seaside pea is so different from all other kinds, that the flower could not have been the produce of the seed of any other pea. Like the writer just quoted, we must attribute its growth to the providential interference of God, but cannot account for the means employed for its production.
This food was a tolerably wholesome one, and formed a far better substitute for corn than the diet to which many of the French peasantry were reduced in 1817. At this season, the heavy rains which fell over the greater part of France, had, in some departments especially, prevented the ripening of the corn, and it became so dear as that the rich only could purchase it. The poor were compelled to live on wild sorrel, nettles, thistles, and even on the boiled leaves of trees. This food sufficed to preserve life; but a large number of those who lived on it, were afflicted both with dropsy and other complaints. During the disastrous campaign of Napoleon's army at Moscow, the unfortunate soldiers boiled and ate the common grass of the field, and delirium was the consequence of this wretched food.
Our wild bryony abounds with a fetid juice, which is most abundant in its berries. These may well be termed coral-berries, for they are not clear like those of the nightshade, nor do they glisten like them; but they are perfectly round, smooth, and unpolished, and of the most beautiful red colour. Notwithstanding their poisonous nature, they are eaten by birds; and while no other animal but the goat will feed on the branches of the bryony, these are to him a delicious repast; he will leave untouched all other vegetables to feed on this. Several kinds of bryony are much used in India, and other countries, as medicines.
Ah passing sweet, to mark the cautious pace
From about the middle of March until summer is fairly ushered in, vegetation makes such rapid progress that we every day observe some changes. This is particularly the case if we walk among the woods, for never are the woods so bright nor so full of those flowers which love the shade, as during April and May. The spring colouring of the trees, too, has its own emerald beauty, though differing from that of the richly variegated autumn.
There is also something peculiar in the life and activity of the spring woodlands, which contrasts with the stillness of the autumnal season in the same spots-when no birds are singing, and when the winds are still, the influence of their shade and silence is like that of the starry sky, soothing and calming to the mind; but the spring wood is all so joyous and so full of voices, that they who wander thither, leaving their hearts open to the impressions of nature, feel that its songs and soft green light, and delicate shadows inspire to gladness. A wild thrill of delight is among the trees. The storms of March have left behind, the lilac clouds and the bright gleams of sunshine, and, as yet,
the quivering leaves hide not the light, and a thousand mingled voices hail the coming of summer. Happy are they to whom God has given hearts attuned to the utterances of nature, and whom the cares and follies of the world have not weaned away from its teachings! Happy too, if in the seclusion of the woodland, their hearts can be lifted up to God, with wonder and admiration of his providential goodness to those of his inferior creatures which sport and sing in the woods; and more blessed still, if they can recognise that God, not only as their Creator and the Father of their spirits, but commune with him as their Friend and their Guide, and, like Adam in the brighter bowers of Eden, hear the voice of God among the trees.
The turf which enamels the ground of the wood is rich with a variety of flowers,
"As if the rainbows of the fresh wild spring
The hyacinth, the anemone, the violet, and the wood-sorrel, are as beautiful as during last month, and many of the large tribe of orchis flowers are coming into bloom. A very singular one is the brown bird's-nest orchis, or tway-blade, (Listera nidus avis.) One might see it growing, and on passing it hastily, take it for a withered flower; but on gathering it, we see that, brown as it is, it yet has life and freshness. It is just of the colour of some drooping oak-leaf, which is fading on the autumn bough, or strewed among multitudes on the winter earth. It is not, however, on account of its colour, that it