Page images

whose pods curl up and split open on the tree, displaying the brilliant red seeds within. It is very hard and glossy, and is said to be, as no doubt it is, “very indigestible.” It may be that birds, attracted by the bright colour of the seeds, swallow them, and that they pass through their bodies undigested, and so get dispersed. If so it would be a case among plants analogous to mimicry among animals—an appearance of edibility put on to deceive birds for the plant's benefit. Perhaps it succeeds only with young and inexperienced birds, and it would have a better chance of success, because such deceptive appearances are very rare among plants. The smaller plants whose seeds simply drop upon the ground, as in the grasses, sedges, composites, umbelliferae, &c., always have dry and obscurely-coloured capsules and small brown seeds. Others whose seeds are ejected by the bursting open of their capsules, as with the oxalis and many of the caryophyllaceae, scrophulariaceae, &c., have their seeds very small and rarely or never edible. It is to be remarked that most of the plants whose large-seeded nuts cannot be eaten without destroying their germinating power—as the oaks, beeches, and chestnuts—are trees of large size which bear great quantities of fruit, and that they are long lived and have a wide geographical range. They belong to what are called dominant groups, and are thus able to endure having a large proportion of their seeds destroyed with impunity. It is a suggestive fact that they are among the most ancient of known dicotyledonous plants—oaks and beeches going back to the Cretaceous period with little change of type, so that it is not improbable that they may be older than any fruit-eating mammal adapted to feed upon their fruits. The attractive coloured fruits on the other hand, having so many special adaptations to dispersal by birds and mammals, are probably of more recent origin." The apple and plum tribes are not known earlier than the Miocene period; and although the record of extinct vegetable life is extremely imperfect, and the real antiquity of these groups is no doubt very much greater, it is not improbable that the comparative antiquity of the fruitbearing and nut-bearing trees may remain unchanged by further discoveries, as has almost always happened as regards the comparative antiquity of animal groups. Attractive Colours of Flowers.-The colours of flowers serve to render them visible and recognizable by insects, which are attracted by secretions of nectar or pollen. During their visits for the purpose of obtaining these products, insects involuntarily carry the pollen of one flower to the stigma of another, and thus effect crossfertilization; which, as Mr. Darwin was the first to demonstrate, immensely increases the vigour and fertility of the next generation of plants. This discovery has led to the careful examination of great numbers of flowers; and the result has been that the most wonderful and complex arrangements have been found to exist, all having for their object to secure that flowers shall not be self-fertilized perpetually, but that pollen shall be carried, either constantly or occasionally, from the flowers of one plant to those of another. Mr. Darwin himself first worked out the details in orchids, primulas, and some other groups; and hardly less curious phenomena have since been found to occur even among some of the most regularly-formed flowers. The arrangement, length, and position of all the parts of the flower is now found to have a purpose, and not the least remarkable portion of the phenomenon is the great variety of ways in which the same result is obtained. After the discoveries with regard to orchids, it was to be expected that the irregular, tubular, and spurred flowers should present various curious adaptations for fertilization by insect-agency. But even among the open, cup-shaped, and quite regular flowers, in which it seemed inevitable that the pollen must fall on the stigma and produce constant self-fertilization, it has been found that this is often prevented by a physiological variation—the anthers constantly emitting their pollen either a little earlier or a little later than the stigmas of the same flower, or of other flowers on the same plant, were in the best state to receive it ; and as individual plants in different stations, soils, and aspects, differ somewhat in the time of flowering, the pollen of one plant would often be conveyed by insects to the stigmas of some other plant in a condition to be fertilized by it. This mode of securing cross-fertilization seems so simple and easy, that we can hardly help wondering why it did not always come into action, and so obviate the necessity for those elaborate, varied, and highly complex contrivances found perhaps in the majority of coloured flowers. The answer to this of course is, that variation sometimes occurred most freely in one part of a plant's organization, and sometimes in another; and that the benefit of cross-fertilization

* I owe this remark to Mr. Grant Allen, author of Physiological AEsthetics.

was so great that any variation that favoured it was preserved, and then formed the starting-point of a whole series of further variations, resulting in those marvellous adaptations for insect fertilization, which have given much of their variety, elegance, and beauty, to the floral world. For details of these adaptations we must refer the reader to the works of Darwin, Lubbock, Herman Müller, and others. We have here only to deal with the part played by colour, and by those floral structures in which colour is most displayed. Attractive Odours in Flowers.-The sweet odours of flowers, like their colours, seem often to have been developed as an attraction or guide to insect fertilizers, and the two phenomena are often complementary to each other. Thus, many inconspicuous flowers—like the mignonette and the sweet-violet, can be distinguished by their odours before they attract the eye, and this may often prevent their being passed unnoticed; while very showy flowers, and especially those with variegated or spotted petals, are seldom sweet. White, or very pale flowers, on the other hand, are often excessively sweet, as exemplified by the jasmine and clematis; and many of these are only scented at night, as is strikingly the case with the night-smelling stock, our butterfly orchids (Habenaria chlorantha), the greenishyellow Daphne pontica, and many others. These white flowers are mostly fertilized by night-flying moths; and those which reserve their odours for the evening probably escape the visits of diurnal insects, which would consume their nectar without effecting fertilization. The absence of odour in showy flowers, and its preponderance among those that are white, may be shown to be a fact by an examination of the lists in Mr. Mongredien's work on hardy trees and shrubs.' He gives a list of about 160 species with showy flowers, and another list of sixty species with fragrant flowers: but only twenty of these latter are included among the showy species, and these are almost all white flowered. Of the sixty species with fragrant flowers, more than forty are white, and a number of others have greenish, yellowish, or dusky and inconspicuous flowers. The relation of white flowers to nocturnal insects is also well shown by those which, like the evening primroses, only open their large white blossoms after sunset. The red Martagon lily has been observed by Mr. Herman Müller to be fertilized by the humming-bird hawk moth, which flies in the morning and afternoon when the colours of this flower, exposed to the nearly horizontal rays of the sun, glow with brilliancy, and when it also becomes very sweetscented.


Attractive grouping of Flowers.--To the same need of conspicuousness the combination of so many individually small flowers into heads and bunches is probably due, producing such broad masses as those of the elder, the guelder-rose, and most of the Umbelliferae, or such elegant bunches as those of the lilac, laburnum, horse chestnut, and wistaria. In other cases minute flowers are gathered into dense heads, as with Globularia, Jasione, clover, and all the Compositae; and among the latter the outer flowers are often developed into a ray, as in the sunflowers, the daisies, and the asters, forming a starlike compound flower, which is itself often produced in immense profusion.

* Trees and Shrubs for English Plantations, by Augustus Mongredien. Murray, 1870.

« EelmineJätka »