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which humanity shudders, and which, though professedly in honour of God, were as far removed as possible, from the great truth which Christianity teaches, that “God is love.”
We cannot now trace exactly the origin of placing the mistletoe-bough in houses and churches. Some authors have thought that an idea prevailed among the ancient Britons, that the sylvan spirits took shelter in it, when the trees of the wood were leafless. Others trace the custom to the fact, that the feast of Saturn was held in December, when the priests compelled the people to celebrate it by bringing in branches from the woods. The earlier Christians are supposed to have adopted these as signs of joy and gladness; and as Christmasday was their festival, they, on this day, decked their houses and churches.
The thickness of that solemn gloom."- MANT.
seems scarcely propitious to the growth of flowers, yet shows some little token of coming spring, by a small increase in their number. The leaves on the gooseberry-bush unfold themselves, and the purple-tinged leaves of the honeysuckle may be seen. The ancients accounted the mulberry as the wisest of trees, because it never put forth its foliage till winter snows, and spring blasts, were fairly over; and the oft-nipped young green leaves of the elder tree, in this month, shows that an early leafing tree is subject to a few injuries from the weather. But He who "made everything beautiful in his time,” the God who "made summer and winter,” has given Nature such abundance, that though a few young shoots may be nipped by frosts, yet the leaves on the main branches are uninjured, and the shoots which the early winds had withered, are not missed in the plentiful canopy of the summer tree.
The banks which border the lanes and roads, are now putting forth the leaves of many flowers of spring. The foliage of the early speedwell is daily growing larger. The deeply-crimsoned stems and young shoots of the Robert-leaved cranesbill, brighten the hedge; and the fivefingered leaves of the creeping cinquefoil, are clothing their long trailing stems. The fragrant leaves of the ground-ivy may be gathered now, and are often collected by country people as a cure for the coughs so common in this month of alternate snow and thaw.
The snow-drop (Galanthus nivalis) is the herald of the flowers. It is not, strictly speaking, a wild plant; but it has, for so many centuries, established itself in many orchards and green lanes, that it is commonly enumerated among British flowers. A lane near Newport, in the Isle of Wight, is so full of its pure white blossoms, that it is well-known as Snow-drop lane.
The red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) is common on sheltered hedge-banks in February. Its leaves are of a dull green, slightly tinged with purple, and its reddish purple flowers are not beautiful. It is an old remedy for stopping the effusion of blood, and a very good one. This plant is in blossom all the summer, until October, throughout England ; though it is little noticed by any, but those who, in taking cognizance of the flowers, omit not the humblest. Its foliage has some little similarity to those stinging plants, the true nettles; and this and the other species are termed dead, or blind-nettles, because they have not the venomous powers of their neighbours, the stinging-nettles.
The dandelion, (Leontodon Taraxacum,)“ the Sunflower of the Spring,” as Elliott calls it, illumines the moors and pastures of the early year, and holds a store of honey for the bee, and those other insects which soon will glitter “ with wings of sunbeams,” across our path. The dandelion root is a medicine used in England, but still more generally in France and Germany. The leaves are sold in the markets of the former country for salad, and, at Gottingen, the young roots are roasted for coffee. The Scotch call the dandelion, the hawkweed gowan. Every one must have noticed its downy ball of seeds, which are so well adapted for flying in the air, though they need the breeze to scatter them; for if the plant be gathered, and brought into the house, the little shuttlecock-shaped seeds remain firmly fixed in their place. The French term this flower, Couronne de prétre.
The dandelion seeds are eaten by birds : and another plant still more valuable to them, is now blooming. It is the common groundsel, (Senecio vulgaris ;) this not only affords food to birds, by its feathered seeds, but they eat also the young foliage: and as few berries, except those of the ivy, are now in perfection, it is of much service. And who that delights in the woodland walk, and listens to the full-hearted song which is poured forth in varied notes, and considers their innocent enjoyment, but must feel glad that a provision is made for the necessities of the birds? What would our spring and summer woods be, if the birds were wanting, and we lacked the spirit-stirring influences of their music and motion ? As Hurdis says of the songsters
“I love to see the little goldfinch pluck
I would not hold him prisoner for the world." The groundsel is one of those plants which seem to follow man wherever he sets up his habitation. It was originally a native of some
parts only of Europe, and of the southern countries of Asia ; but there is, perhaps, hardly a European settlement in the world, in which it does not grow upon the land which the colonist is bringing into culture. Its seeds must be disseminated among the grain, which the European takes with him to the foreign land. Similar circumstances are known to have occurred with some other of our wild flowers. The Canadian flea-bane (Erigeron Canadensis) was planted, about a century since, in the gardens of Paris, having been brought thither from its native Canada. Its, seeds have now not only crossed the channel, to deck our wild landscape, but have spread themselves over France, Germany, Holland and Italy, and brought forth their flowers in the Isle of Sicily. So common is the flea-bane, during the autumnal months, in the southern counties of our native land, that botanists class it among our wild flowers.
Our common groundsel has a remarkable power of softening water, if it is poured, while boiling, on the plant; and this fluid forms a pleasant wash for the skin, irritated by the winter wind.
The groundsel is one of the largest tribes of flowers which is known throughout the world. No less than five hundred and ninety-six species having received each a distinct name from the botanist. There are nine British kinds, and many hundreds are cultivated in the gardens of this country.
By the latter end of February, the road-side,