Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/76

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

all is helmet-shaped, and it forms the curious cowl which gained the plant its suggestive name from our mediƦval ancestors. The two side sepals, to right and left, are flatter and straighter, but very broad, while the two lowest of all are comparatively small and narrow. The whole five are bright blue in color. Pull off these petal-like sepals, and you come to the real petals beneath them. At first you can hardly find them at all; you see only two long blue horns, covered till now by the helmet-shaped upper sepal or cowl, and each with a queer cup-like sac at its extremity, containing a small drop of clear fluid. That fluid is honey, but I should advise you to be careful in tasting it not to bite off any of the flower, for monk's-hood is the plant from which we get the now famous poison, aconitine; and a very little of it goes a long way. Unlike as they are to the familiar yellow petals of the buttercup, one can still gather from their position that the two long horns are really petals. But where are the three others? Well, you must look rather close to find them, and perhaps even then you won't succeed after all; for sometimes the three lower petals have disappeared altogether, being suppressed by the plant as of no further use to it. In this particular specimen, however, they still survive as mere relics or rudiments, three little narrow blue blades, not nearly as big as a gnat's wing, placed alternately to the lower sepals. As for the stamens, they are still present about as numerously as in the buttercup; whereas the carpels, or fruit-pieces, are reduced to three only, which in the ripe seed-vessels here on the lower and older part of the spike grow into long pods or follicles, each containing several seeds.

Thus, then, the flower of monk's-hood agrees fundamentally with the flower of the buttercup; while, at the same time, it has undergone some very singular and suggestive modifications. In both there are five sepals; but in the buttercup all five are alike, and all five are greenish; whereas in the monk's-hood they have acquired different shapes, exactly fitting them to the bee's body, and they have become blue, because blue is the favorite color of bees. Again, in both there are five petals; but in the buttercup all five are similar and yellow, and all five secrete a drop of honey at the base; whereas in the monk's-hood two of them have become long and narrow specialized nectaries, while the other three, being no longer needed, have grown obsolete or nearly so. Once more, the stamens remain the same; but the carpels have been immensely reduced in number, at the same time that the complement of seeds in each has been greatly increased by way of compensation.

Well, how are we to account for these peculiar modifications? Entirely by the action of the fertilizing bees. The secret of the monk's-hood depends, in the first place, upon the fact that its flowers are clustered into a spike, instead of growing in solitary isolation at the end of the stem, as in the common buttercups. Now, Mr. Herbert Spencer has pointed out that solitary terminal flowers are always radially sym-