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Sundew, A Strange Plant

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the September 1873 Sword and Trowel

Spurgeon

IN a swampy part of the New Forest, in Hampshire, we met with a plant which was quite new to us. To our unlearned eyes it looked like a lichen or a small red cactus, and yet, it almost as much resembled a zoophyte; we did not know what to make of it, it was so old-world and weird-like. An abundance of red glandular hairs covered each leaf, and upon its surface glistened sparkling dew drops. To gather specimens and send them home by post in a box was a process suggested and carried out by a friend; our samples, however, did not endure the transit, and so we have not since seen our floral novelty. Upon making enquiry, the plant turns out to be the SUNDEW, or as the learned call it Drósera, from the Greek word drosys, dew. The olden writers call it Ros-solis, which is but the Latin of its English name. From Anna Pratt's most interesting work entitled, "The flowering Plants, Grasses, Sedges, and Ferns of Great Britain," we have gathered several facts which may not unfitly be woven into parables, and made to illustrate truth.
    Sundew is the tempting name of this plant, and what would seem more safe, attractive, and proper for an insect to light upon? Surely it might wisely sip the crystal drop and fly away refreshed: but "things are not what they seem," and there are lovely names which cover deadly evils. The gauzy-winged insect alights, drinks of the shining drops, and becomes henceforth a captive.

"For when there's moisture in the brake,
The clammy sundew's glistening glands
Mid carmine foliage boldly make
Slaves of invading insect bands."

That dew was never born of the sun, neither is it exhaled by it; it is so viscid that when touched with the finger it will draw out in threads of more than an inch in length, and it is hardly possible that a small insect once caught by its glue can ever escape; in fact, the more it struggles the more it is covered with the clammy moisture, and the more surely is it held. It is too late now, thou pretty victim, thou hast been beguiled to an untimely fate, and escape is impossible. Like Jonathan, thou mayest complain, "I did but taste a little honey and I must die"; only that which seemed a tempting sweetness to thee was not so, but acrid to the last degree, so that thou hast a double disappointment to bewail. Struggle thou mayest, but thy case is hopeless. A watchful naturalist has seen the hairs upon the leaves close in upon the insect victim, and the edges of the leaf itself curl inwards, remaining in that condition long after the captive had died. The Sundew is an ogre towards flies, a cunning fowler among little winged wanderers, a vegetable spider, a deceiver and a devourer. Flies much like our common house flies, have been seen to be captured by one of the leaves; and held fast until the relaxing hairs of the plant have laid bare the blackened remains of their prey. One might naturally expect this from a plant bearing the name of Snapdragon, Catch-fly, or Swallow-wort, but; who would have conjectured that Sundew would be the name of a deadly trap? Yet all around us are such deluding names and flattering deceits. Do not men call unhallowed lust by the sacred name of love? Is not drunkenness spoken of as good cheer? Are not profligate habits labelled generosity? and is not slavery to the basest passions denominated free living? There is much in a name after all, as Satan knows full well, and well pleased is he to get a name bright and fresh as that of Sundew, wherewithal to disguise the true character of his temptations. Fascinating are the counterfeit dews of youthful lusts; does it not seem a Puritanic harshness to deny them to the young? May they not taste and away? Nay, the dew is not dew, but clammy bird-lime for the soul, it will hold the youth and hold the man, and he will be utterly unable to escape, though he may become aware of his captivity and alarmed at the destruction which will follow upon it. The pleasures of sin cannot be enjoyed for a season and relinquished just when we will. We may say of them, as Virgil does of hell,

"Avernus' gates are open night and day,
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way;
But to return to heaven's pure light again,
This is a work of labor and of pain.

True, the grace of God may interpose to rescue the prisoner from the fetters which he has forged for himself, but no man has a right to reckon upon such a deliverance, much less to tempt the Lord by plunging into enslaving habits on the ground that others have been, through infinite mercy, emancipated from them. Who in his senses would take poison because in some cases an antidote has been supplied before death has closed the scene? Who wishes to be plague-stricken because a few survive amid the general mortality? O man, be wise, and shun the tempter and his honey-dew, lest thou be fatally ensnared and fastened down to certain ruin. Lives have no warning, but men have, therefore let them take it, and flee far away from the destroyer. Leave off vice before it be meddled with, is an allowable alteration of the wise man's proverb. Prevention is better than a cure, abstinence is better than reformation. Touch not, taste not, handle not that Sundew which is not from heaven and prepares for hell.
    We have not done with the singular tenant of the bog, but will use it for another purpose. Its flower is very seldom seen expanded. For some reason unknown to botanists, and apparently in no way dependent on the shining of the sun, this flower often remains closed during the greater part of its flowering season. One enquirer asks, "Has any person ever seen the blossoms of the round-leaved Sundew fully expanded? Wishing to obtain a specimen of this little plant in full bloom, to sketch from, I have visited in almost every hour of the day a bog traversed by a small rivulet, whose margin is thickly dotted with its glowing leaves, looking as if they had, indeed, impaled drops of the morning dew to cool them through the day. I have watched it from the time in which its slender scape first rises from amidst a bunch of circinate leaves to that at which it forms at top into a nodding raceme, but never have I seen its minute white flower-buds unclose." Many other watchful observers declare that, even in the fairest weather and brightest sunshine, they have looked in vain for opened flowers. Here and there a watcher has seen a flower unfold itself in the morning and close at noon to open no more, but the sight seems to be a great rarity even to the most attentive naturalists. One would not wish to follow the example of so rare a blooming, yet are there men of kindred spirit. They must surely have good times, seasons of affection, moments of generous impulse, when the soul reveals its best, but those around them have looked in vain for such rare occasions. They are so miserly that seldom are they moved to pity and relieve the needy, so churlish that scarcely ever can they utter a kind encouraging word, so cold that never are they seen to warm into enthusiasm. Children of the marsh, they are damp even to the core, sunlight cannot woo them into blossoming, the genial influences which rule other hearts scarcely affect them for good. Woe to those who are compelled to live with them, they watch in vain for sympathy or love. Unhappy is the Abigail who is married to such a Nabal. Perhaps now and then, to some favored companion, they become for the moment cordial, but they scarcely forgive themselves for the aberration, and relapse into the closed-up state again, to unfold their affections no more. Around them are men and women fall of love, smiling and flourishing the various seasons through, perfuming their surroundings with kindly fragrance of good thoughts and deeds, yet do they abide shut up within themselves. May heaven pity them in boundless mercy, and save them from themselves. 'Twere better far to die of love than live without loving. Disappointment and heartbreak are infinitely to be preferred to selfishness and isolation: the one is an affliction which may happen to the noblest, the other is the vice of the base and grovelling. Give the heart room to blossom like the rose, even though the hand of the cruel should pluck at it; our nature sinks even below its natural depravity when we refuse to love. Be it ours to open wide our full soul beneath the smile of the Sun of Righteousness, and so to grow as the lily, and give forth a sweet smell as Sharon's ruddy flower; and never, never may we yield to the power of selfishness, which is as deadly to the heart itself as it is pernicious to those whom it despises.
    Old writers highly praise the essence of the Sundew as a remedy for many diseases: it was celebrated under the name of aqua rosæ solis, or spirit of Sundew. One old herbalist declares that it is good for the lungs, and for nervous faintness, and, though it will raise blisters upon the skin, he considers it to be very useful inwardly, and puts it down as a great cordial. Ladies used it as a cosmetic, and perhaps do so still, but we are not learned in such matters; the country people use it to destroy warts and corns, so that after all it has uses, and perhaps this brief paper may conserve some little of its virtues, to the benefit of manners and of men. Good lies latent in things evil, but the hand of wisdom extracts it; be thus wise, dear reader, and thy profiting shall be known unto all.

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