Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/682

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



the ancestral creatures not then fully developed into anything that we could distinctively call a bee or a butterfly. But, as the insects flew about from one head to another in search of such food, they carried small quantities of pollen with them from flower to flower. This pollen, brushed from their bodies on to the sensitive surface of the ovaries, fertilized the embryo seeds, and so gave the fortunate plants which happened to attract the insects all the benefits of a salutary cross. Accordingly, the more the flowers succeeded in attracting the eyes of their winged guests, the better were they likely to succeed in the struggle for existence. In some cases, the outer row of stamens appears to have become flattened and petal-like, as still often happens with plants in the rich soil of our gardens; and in these flatter stamens the oxidized juices assumed perhaps a livelier yellow than even the central stamens themselves. If the flowers had fertilized their own ovaries this change would of course have proved disadvantageous, by depriving them entirely of the services of one row of stamens; for the new flattened and petal-like structures lost at once the habit of producing pollen. But their value as attractive organs for alluring the eyes of insects more than counterbalanced this slight apparent disadvantage; and the new petal-bearing blossoms soon outstripped and utterly lived down all their simpler petalless allies. By devoting one outer row of stamens to the function of alluring the fertilizing flies, they have secured the great benefit of perpetual cross-fertilization, and so have got the better of all their less developed competitors. At the same time, the exudations at the base of the petals have assumed the definite form of sweet nectar or honey, a liquid which is mainly composed of sugar, that universal allurer of animal tastes. By this means the plants save their pollen from depredations, and at the same time offer the insects a more effectual, because a more palatable, sort of bribe.

Passing rapidly over these already familiar initial stages, we may go on to those more special and distinctive facts which peculiarly concern the ancestry of the lilies and cereals. It is probable that the nearest modern analogue of the earliest petal-bearing trinary flowers is to be found in the existing alisma tribe, including our own English arrowheads and flowering rushes. As a rule, indeed, it may be said that fresh-water plants and animals tend to preserve for us very ancient types indeed; and all the alismas are marsh or pond flowers of an extremely simple character. They have usually three greenish sepals outside each blossom, inclosing one whorl of three white or pink petals, two or three whorls of three stamens each, and a number of separate ovaries, which are not united, as in the more developed true lilies, into a single capsule, but remain quite distinct, each with its own individual stigma or sensitive surface. Even within this relatively early and simple group, however, several gradations of development may yet be traced. I incline to believe that our English smaller alisma, a not un-