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THIRTY-SECOND DAY When the children came home from school, they found Uncle Jack waiting for them.
“Come on, Ben,” said he, “you are to begin to practice starting, this afternoon. Should you like to come with us, girls?”
“Of course we should like to come, Uncle Jack! Please wait till we put our books away,” exclaimed Belle, as she and May ran in doors. In a few minutes they returned and all started off.
“Now,” said Uncle Jack, as they reached a smooth stretch of road, “here is a good place to practice. Since this is only a bypath, few people ever come here. The girls can sit on the stone wall over there and watch.”
Belle and May started for the wall, but just then Uncle Jack cried out: “Don't go near it! It's full of poison ivy. Come farther over this way. It's safe here."
“And now,” continued he, “before we begin practicing, I had better tell you about poison ivy and some other poisonous plants, as many people find it difficult to distinguish the beautiful and harmless Virginia creeper from the equally beautiful but poisonous ivy.
“So, in your country walks, before you sit down on a stone, or a grassy slope, or climb over a stone wall, look at the leaves of the vines you are almost sure to find growing there. The Virginia creeper is five-lobed; the poison ivy is three-lobed. If you find the three-lobed leaf — beware!
“Some people are so sensitive to the poison of this plant that they are affected even by the pollen that the wind wafts from the blossom, while others escape unless they come into direct contact with the plant. A lucky few seem to be able to handle it freely. However, it is safer to let it severely alone,
“Animals seem not to be affected by eating the leaves, and as some birds are unfortunately very fond of the seeds, they help spread this plant over a wide range.
“In many sections of the country it is believed that the plant is most harmful at night, or when the sun is not shining on it during the day.
“Poison ivy is kind to stone walls and dead trees, climbing by rootlets over them, and covering them with a beautiful growth of glossy green which the first gentle nips from Jack Frost change to a beautiful crimson.
“A celebrated naturalist once called this plant 'a vile pest.'
“There is another very common plant which is
even more poisonous than the poison ivy,” continued Uncle Jack, “and this is the beautiful white poison sumac.
“The poison sumac grows in swamps throughout the United States and Canada, and belongs to the same family as the poison ivy or poison oak. It is a tall shrub, growing from six to eighteen feet high, which you children would doubtless call a little tree, or a young tree, because of its size.
“And doubtless, too, you would say that it had from seven to thirteen little leaves growing on red stems. But your teacher will tell you that botanists call such leaflets, growing on the same leafstalk, a single leaf. In other words, we say that the leaf of the poison sumac is a compound leaf.
“The flowers of this plant grow in drooping clusters which later form clusters of white berries, — not red like the harmless sumac of the dry fields and roadsides.
“The whole plant is very poisonous either to taste or touch, and even the air around a sumac swamp is noxious. It is said that people have been made insane by the peculiar poison of this very beautiful sumac.
“It is much more dangerous than poison ivy, and when one is perspiring freely the poison enters the system very quickly.
“There are many names given to still another poisonous plant, that we find in almost every vacant lot, no matter how poor the soil, nor how high the heaps of rubbish. Among these names are Jamestown weed, potato family; Jimson weed, thorn apple; stråmonium.
“It was brought to us from the old world and is one of the things we could very well do without.
“Every child should know this plant at sight, for its juice and its seeds are both poisonous when taken into the stomach. It belongs to the nightshade family, from which we also get our white potato, tomato, and egg-plant. But other plants of this family are as dangerous as the Jamestown weed.
“It grows from two to five feet high, with stout, branching, greenish stems, and white flowers. The flowers are showy and attractive and, although the smell is rank, little children sometimes pluck them and suck the juice, — always with disastrous results.
“The pod is globular, as botanists say, and covered with prickles. When ripe it bursts, and the seeds drop out. You might then see that the pod is four-celled, the seeds flat and about the size of the seeds of the buckwheat. The seeds are very poisonous, and children sometimes eat a sufficient quantity to cause death. “The water hemlock, belonging to the carrot