Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/110

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

and shelter, will inhabit plants to the partial exclusion of destructive insects and larger foraging animals. Interesting as all this is, it is not the time and place to go into the details of how the ant-fostering plants have their nectar glands upon stems or leaf, rich soft hairs in tufts for food, and homes provided in hollows and chambers. There is still a more intimate association of termites with some of the toadstool-like plants, where the ants foster the fungi and seem to understand some of the essentials of veritable gardening in miniature form.

The most familiar branch of phytoecology, as it concerns adaptations for insect visitations, is that which relates to the production of seed. Floral structures, so wonderfully varied in form and color and withal attractive to every lover of the beautiful, are familiar to all, and it only needs to be said in passing that these infinite forms are for the same end—namely, the union of the seed germs, if they may be so styled, of different and often widely separated blossoms.

Sweetness and beauty are not the invariable rule with insect-visited blossoms, for in the long ages that have elapsed during which these adaptations have come about some plants have established an unwritten agreement between beetles and bugs with unsavory tastes. Thus there are the "carrion flowers," so called because of their fetid odor, designed for the sense organs of carrion insects. The "stink-horn" fungi have their offensive spores distributed by a similar set of carrion carriers.

Water and wind claim a share of the species, but here adaptation to the method of fertilization is as fully realized as when insects participate, and the uselessness of showy petals and fantastic forms is emphasized by their absence.

Coming now to the fruits of plants, it is again seen that plants have adapted their offspring, the seed, to the surrounding conditions, not forgetting the wind, the waves, and the tastes and the exterior of passing animals. The breezes carry up and hurl along the light wing-possessed seeds, and the river and ocean bear these and many others onward to a distant land, while by grappling hooks many kinds cling to the hair of animals, or, provided with a pleasing pulp, are carried willingly by birds and other creatures. In short, the devices for seed dispersion are multitudinous, and they provide a large chapter in that branch of botany now styled phytoecology.

How different is the old field botany from the new! Then there was the collector of plants and classifier of his finds, and an arranger of all he could get by exchange or otherwise. His success was measured by the size of his herbarium and his stock in