Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/623

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THE ORIGIN OF FRUITS.

means of defense against the depredators; sometimes they buy themselves off by sacrificing a portion of their wealth to secure the safety of the remainder. Those seeds which adopt the former plan we call nuts, while to those which depend upon the latter means of security we give the name of fruits.

A nut is a hard-coated seed, which deliberately lays itself out to escape the notice and baffle the efforts of monkeys and other frugivorous animals. Instead of bidding for attention by its bright hues, like the flower and fruit, the nut is purposely clad in a quiet coat of uniform green, indistinguishable from the surrounding leaves, during its earlier existence; while afterward it assumes a dull-brown color as it lies upon the dusky soil beneath. Nuts are rich in oils and other useful food-stuffs; but to eat these is destructive to the life of the embryo; and therefore the nut commonly surrounds itself with a hard and stony shell, which defies the stoutest teeth to pierce its thickened walls. Outside this solid coating it often spreads a softer covering with a nauseous, bitter taste, so familiar to us all in the walnut, which at once warns off the enemy from attacking the unsavory morsel. Not content with all these protective devices, of color, taste, and hardness, the nut in many cases contains poisonous juices, and is thickly clad in hooked and pointed mail, which wounds the hands or lips of the would-be robber. In brief, a nut is a seed which has survived in the struggle for life by means of multiplied protections against the attacks of enemies. We cannot have a better instance of these precautions than the common cocoanut palm. Its seed hangs at a great height from the ground, on a tall and slender stem, unprovided with branches which might aid the climber, and almost inaccessible to any animal except the persevering monkey. Its shell is very thick and hard, so extremely impermeable that a small passage has to be left by which the germinating shoot may push its way out of the stronghold where it is born. Outside this shell, again, lies a thick matting of hairy fibres, whose elasticity breaks its fall from the giddy height at which it hangs. Yet, in spite of all these cunning precautions, even the cocoanut is not quite safe from the depredations of monkeys, or, stranger still, of tree-climbing crabs. The common Brazil nuts of our fruiterers' shops are almost equally interesting, their queer, shapeless forms being closely packed together, as they hang from their native boughs, in a hard outer shell, not unlike that of the cocoanut. It must be very annoying to the unsuspecting monkey, who has succeeded after violent efforts in breaking the external coat, to find that he must still deal with a mass of hard, angular, and uncanny nuts, which sadly cut his tender gums and threaten the stability of his precious teeth—those invaluable tools which serve him well in the place of knives, hammers, scissors, and all other human implements.

A fruit, on the other hand, lays itself open in every way to attract the attention of animals, and so to be dispersed by their aid, often amid the nourishing refuse of their meals. It is true that, with the fruit as