The Saturday Magazine 19: 190 (May 18, 1839)

THE SNAP-DRAGON
(Antirrhinum)

PHILLIPS’ Flora Historica

This singular flower is made the emblem of presumption, from its monopetalous corolla forming a mask, which resembles the face of an animal; and it has from hence received various names, as Dog's Mouth, Lion's Snap, Toad's Mouth, and Snap-Dragon. On pressing the sides of this flower it opens like a gaping mouth, the stigma appearing to represent the tongue; on removing the pressure, the lips of the corolla snap together and hence it has been, named Snap-Dragon.

The Snap-Dragon belongs to the family of the Toad-Flax, and is a flower which we cannot examine without admiring how wonderfully it is adapted for the bleak situations in which it grows naturally, as on the highest rocks, or out of the crevices of the most exposed cliffs, or the chinks of the loftiest towers: in all of these situations its parts of fructification are guarded against the tempest by the singularly-shaped corolla, which defies either wind or rain to enter the flower until impregnation has taken place, when the mask falls off to allow a free access of air to the seed vessel. We have frequently remarked that the bees, and more particularly the humble-bees have entered this flower by pressing open the lips, as if they were conscious that such an opening existed, although it shuts so close as to deceive the nicest eye, and snaps to the moment the insect has gained admittance.

Linnaeus placed this plant in the fourteenth class of his sexual system, which he named Didynamia, from two Greek words signifying twice and power, because the flower is furnished with four stamens, two of which are always considerably longer than the other two, and converging close to the upper lip of the corolla, each pair of anthers approaching, which renders the distinction of this class very striking.

This plant produces its flowers on a spike, but the whole of them fronting one way, which is generally to the sun; and as it gives out numerous branches from two to three feet in height, it becomes highly ornamental, particularly amongst dwarf shrubs. The colours of these flowers are numerous, consisting of all the shades of a rich orange and yellow down to white, with the same varieties in red and purple, and an endless change of party colours, the most esteemed of which is that with a gold-coloured throat, and a dark crimson mouth and lips.

The Snap-Dragon grows naturally in the south of Europe; and as it is frequently found on the cliffs of Dover, is now classed as one of the native plants of England, although it is generally supposed not to have been originally belonging to our soil.

These plants love a light soil and an open sunny situation, but when transplanted into a rich and moist earth, they produce larger flowers, though the plant generally dies in the winter, whilst those that grow on a dry or rocky soil continue for several years. They are easily raised from seed, which should be sown in April, and it may be increased also by cuttings, if planted during the summer months. When intended to ornament rock-work, the seeds should be scattered both in the autumn and in the spring, which will ensure a supply of plants without further trouble; and they endure the winter better in such situations than when growing in the borders of the garden.

The Antirrhinum may be considered rather a rustic than an elegant plant, and it should therefore not occupy a place in the parterre amongst choice flowers, but should be mixed with the shrubs in the background, or placed on banks, where, when in large dumps, it produces a showy effect from the end of spring to the autumn.

The use of eating oil in this country being so confined to the wealthy and higher orders of society, that the middle and lower classes have rather an antipathy than a desire for it in their food, this checks the cultivating of those plants that would afford us a substitute for olive-oil. Most of the continental countries consume a great deal of oil, which they consider indispensable in their diet, and hence they seek plants whose seeds yield the best oil. In Russia, the Antirrhinum is sown for the sake of the seed, which produces, by expression, an oil little inferior to that obtained from olives.