Open main menu

Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Beautiful monstrosities




When Goethe expounded to his friend Schiller, with all his peculiar force of words, the theory he conceived that the flower of a plant is but the higher development, or rather, transformation of its leaves, Schiller at once saw the truth and beauty of the idea. But he saw, at the same time, notwithstanding the fascination of the words and manner in which the case "was put," that the poet-botanist had not advanced, in his theory, one single step beyond the narrow boundary of a happy thought. The theory of Goethe was, in fact, a mere guess, as all first glimpses of a new truth have ever been—it was a brilliant and poetical guess—and not a scientific discovery based upon a series of proven data; and so Schiller replied to his friend, in the recorded words, "It is an idea, and not an observation." It was so, but it was not destined so to remain. Goethe had thrust his light into a dark place, and others, working by it, gradually converted the idea into an established fact: the botanists completed the work of the poet.

Goethe's discovery was a bright ray flashed out in a fitful gleam of dreamy philosophy, and was trimmed into a steady and permanent light by botanical physiologists, instead of being snuffed out, as new lights too often are, by the lovers of the more old-fashioned candles of science; and the full development of the theory became an explanatory key to the occurrence of all those beautiful monstrosities in the inflorescence of plants which we admire in such exquisite examples of deformity as that of the double rose, or the double anemone.

A special monstrosity connected with the rose, and which is one of the most picturesque and beautiful among floral aberrations from normal forms, may serve as an example which will furnish proof how very recently we have been put in possession of the true secret by means of which all the curious and irregular growths of flowers may now be so simply explained. The special monstrosity alluded to is that of the singular growth(1) of the calyx of the rose which has invested a certain variety of the common rose of Provence with the name of the "moss rose." Beautiful Monstrosities (1).pngThis curious excrescent development was, till a comparatively speaking recent period, explained by several naturalists after fanciful fashions altogether unworthy of scientific men, and nearly as difficult of credence as that explanation of the stars offered by the early Greek astronomers, which supposed them to be positive lights, mysteriously extinguished at the dawn and as mysteriously re-kindled at night.

For instance, one of the explanations offered for the appearance of the moss-like excrescence on the calyx of this rose, was, that it was the work of a gall insect. This hypothesis was founded on the discovery that it was, in fact, a gall insect that produced the moss-like tufts occasionally found on small branchlets of the common briar or dog-rose. It is true that in the appearance of the unnatural growth induced by the disturbance of the fibre and tissues of the part, during the ravages of the gall, there is a certain resemblance to the unusual moss-like growth of the calyx of the so-called moss rose, but the two causes are self-evidently different. How, indeed, could it be supposed for a moment that a gall insect should be located in each segment of the calyx of every flower on each plant of the "mossy" variety of the rose? and that every offshoot of the plant in question should also be furnished with its perfect set of galls to the calyx of each flower? Such an idea, one would think, could never have been entertained for a moment. The growth of the moss-like excrescence of the calyx is in fact an accidental and deformed growth arising from some disturbing cause, the precise nature of which is at present unknown; but that the disturbance, however created, is one that takes place in the process of the transformation of the leaf to the flower is now deemed the most philosophical solution of the mystery of this beautiful lusus naturæ. Accepting for the moment this view, the disturbed action would necessarily take place in the following manner. The calyx, when this deformation is about to take place, has not ceased to exercise its vital power of development at the completion Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/144 Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/145 Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/146