Monthly Marvel: Water Starwort

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. This time I am reviewing the water starwort, a plant which I chose in the first place mostly to excerpt Erasmus Darwin’s unintentionally hilarious The Loves of the Plants.


WATER STARWORT

This week’s plant is the water starwort.

Image source: Tony Rodd at flic.kr/p/8rVsGC

Image source: Tony Rodd at flic.kr/p/8rVsGC

The genus is called Callitriche, and is in the plantain family. It has a number of interesting species; the Antarctic water starwort, with tiny yellow flowers, lives on subantarctic islands, and theautumn water starwort, besides having a pretty name, can be pollinated by wind or water, depending on whether its flower is above the water or below it.

The water starwort is one of the plants mentioned in Erasmus Darwin’s long botanical poem The Loves of the Plants, which was an elaborate pastoral allegory for Linnaeus’s plant reproduction. (Erasmus was Charles Darwin’s grandfather.) Here is the passage:

Thy love, CALLITRICHE, two Virgins share,
Smit with thy starry eye and radiant hair;—
On the green margin sits the youth, and laves
His floating train of tresses in the waves;
Sees his fair features paint the streams that pass,
And bends for ever o’er the watery glass.

Grandaddy Darwin gives this footnote:

Callitriche, l. 45. Fine-Hair, Stargrass. One male and two females [that is, one stamen and two pistils] inhabit each flower. The upper leaves grow in form of a star, whence it is called Stellaria Aquatica by Ray and others; its stems and leaves float far on the water, and are often so matted together, as to bear a person walking on them. The male sometimes lives in a separate flower.

Posted by Christian H.

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