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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/242

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

In the present paper the reader's attention is invited to some of the plants that continue to bloom after the fingers of Jack Frost have silently pulled down the dark curtain of the waning autumn and shut out the warmth of vitality from all the tender sorts of vegetation. The first day of October opened upon a landscape of varied hues, some of a most somber character, for late in September the leaves of the box-elder, for example, had been blasted by freezing and the vineyards were prematurely brown with the curled and dying foliage rustling in the breeze. Corn and other plants of a like subtropical nature, not previously harvested, were stricken lifeless by the low temperature, and house plants carelessly left out of doors melted away into a mass of rapid decay. As one looked about him the scene could but remind the observer of the Scripture injunction concerning the two women grinding at the mill. Two plants side by side had been growing with equal vigor, and both bespoke an equally long life, but one was taken and the other left. The reason for this is not easy to find.

Many mysteries flood the mind in contemplating the world of vegetable life, but none more thoroughly baffles the keenest observer as well as the most penetrating microscopist than that of hardiness. We freely use the word in ignorance, or worse, to conceal our ignorance, as physicians may employ longer terms among their admiring, awe-struck, ignorant patients, but when the thoughtful pause comes it brings us face to face with a half-clothed skeleton that nearly frightens all save the brazen-faced. We may attempt to explain the real meaning of hardiness in a dozen ways, and in the very offering of so many reasons we exhibit the weakness of all the arguments. If we say that it is due to denser structure, the statement is met with the bald-faced fact that the hardiest plants do not have necessarily the denser tissues. A box-elder, which is considered a type of hardiness, yields a wood less than half as heavy as the hickory. Of the sixteen sorts of trees in the United States with wood heavier than water, all are in the warmer portions of the country, where no winter tests their hold upon vitality. Perhaps it is as much the plan of one species to have its twigs killed back as it is for another to withstand the sudden changes of temperature and the severe cold. It demands a more than human penetration to decide that the horse-chestnut, with its large and well-protected terminal buds in autumn, is better adapted to its conditions than the raspberry, with young, immature wood and imperfect buds, which die before the spring-time comes. The two are working out the problem of existence along widely diverging lines. The tree grows slowly and builds for a century, while the bramble forms only transient stems and runs its chances of making all it can out of a favor-