Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/169

This page has been validated.

corolla; thirdly, a whorl of organs, more or less like pins, which are called stamens; and in the heads, or anthers, of which the pollen is produced. These anthers are in reality, as Goethe showed, modified leaves; in the so-called double flowers, as, for instance, in our garden roses, they are developed into colored leaves like those of the corolla, and monstrous flowers are not unfrequently met with in which the stamens are green leaves, more or less resembling the ordinary leaves of the plant. Lastly, in the center of the flower is the pistil, which also is theoretically to be considered as constituted of one or more leaves, each of which is folded on itself and called a carpel. Sometimes there is only one carpel. Generally the carpels have so completely lost the appearance of leaves that this explanation of their true nature requires a considerable amount of faith. The base of the pistil is the ovary, composed, as I have just mentioned, of one or more carpels, in which the seeds are developed. I need hardly say that many so-called seeds are really fruits; that is to say, they are seeds with more or less complex envelopes.

We all know that seeds and fruits differ greatly in different species. Some are large, some small; some are sweet, some bitter; some are brightly colored; some are good to eat, some poisonous, some spherical, some winged, some covered with bristles, some with hairs, some are smooth, some very sticky.

We may be sure that there are good reasons for these differences. In the case of flowers much light has been thrown on their various interesting peculiarities by the researches of Sprengel, Darwin, Müller, and other naturalists. As regards seeds also, besides Gärtner's great work, Hildebrand, Krause, Steinbrinck, Kerner, Grant Allen, Wallace, Darwin, and others, have published valuable researches, especially with reference to the hairs and hooks with which so many seeds are provided, and the other means of dispersion they possess. Nobbe also has contributed an important work on seeds, principally from an agricultural point of view, but the subject as a whole offers a most promising field for investigation. It is rather with a view of suggesting this branch of science to you, than of attempting to supply the want myself, that I now propose to call your attention to it. In doing so I must, in the first place, express my acknowledgments to Mr. Baker, Mr. Carruthers, Mr. Hemsley, and especially to Mr. Thiselton Dyer and Sir Joseph Hooker, for their kind and most valuable assistance.

It is said that one of our best botanists once observed to another that he never could understand what was the use of the teeth on the capsules of mosses. "Oh," replied his friend, "I see no difficulty in that, because, if it were not for the teeth, how could we distinguish the species?"

We may, however, no doubt, safely consider that the peculiarities of seeds have reference to the plant itself, and not to the convenience of botanists.