Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/685

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

some lilies than by others, is that the family has absolutely outstripped all others of the trinary class in the race for the possession of the earth, and has now occupied all the most favorable positions in every part of the world. While the alismas and their allies have been so crowded out that they now linger only in a few ponds, marshes, and swamps, to which the more recent lily tribe have not yet had time fully to adapt themselves, the true lilies and their yet more advanced descendants have taken seizin of every climate and every zone upon our planet, and are to be found in every possible position, from the arborescent yuccas and huge agaves of the tropics to the wild hyacinths of our English woodlands and the graceful asphodels of the Mediterranean hill-sides.

The lilies themselves, again, do not all stand on one plane of homogeneous evolution. There are different grades of development still surviving among the class itself. The little yellow gagea which grows sparingly in sandy English fields may be taken as a very fair representative of the simplest and earliest true lily type. It bears a small bunch of little golden flowers, only to be distinguished from the higher alismas by their united ovaries: for though both calyx and petals are here brightly colored, that is also the case in the flowering rushes, and in many others of the alisma group. On the other hand, though it may be said generally of the lilies that their calyx and petals are colored alike—sometimes so much so as to be practically indistinguishable—yet there are many kinds which still retain the greenish calyx-pieces, and that even in the more developed genera. But most of the lilies are far handsomer than gaarea and its allies: even in England itself we have such very conspicuous and attractive flowers as the purple fritillaries, which every Oxford man has gathered by handfuls in the spongy meadows about Iffley lock, with their dark spotted petals converging into a bell, and the nectaries at the base producing each a large drop of luscious honey. Some, like our wild hyacinths, have assumed a tubular shape under stress of insect selection, the better to promote proper fertilization; and at the same time have acquired a blue pigment, to allure the eyes of azure-loving bees. Others have become dappled with spots to act as honey-guides, or have produced brilliant variegated blossoms to attract the attention of great tropical insects. Our British lilies alone comprise such various examples as the lily-of-the-valley, a tubular, white, scented species, adapted for fertilization by moths; the very similar Solomon's-seal; the butcher's-broom; the wild tulip; the star-of-Bethlehem; the various squills; the asparagus; the grape-hyacinth; and the meadowsaffron. Some of them (for example, asparagus and butcher's-broom) have also developed berries in place of dry capsules; and these berries, being eaten by birds which digest the pulp, but not the actual seeds, aid in the dispersion of the seedlings, and so enable the plant to reduce the total number of seeds to three only, or one in each