“I can smell mignonnette,” said Mary.
“I can smell the stocks,” said Jack.
“And I can smell the honeysuckle,” said Annie.
“Do, grandmamma, let us walk round the garden, to smell the flowers,” said all the children; “the gravel is almost dry.”
“Very well, you may go; but don’t go on the grass—keep to the path.”
Jack was off at a bound, and his sisters were not much behind; and they visited flower after flower, sniffing their sweet perfumes. The tall white lilies gave out so strong a scent that, sweet as it was, they did not care to bend them down to their faces; but the roses, after the rain, were so delicious that they did not want to let them go. They found, however, that it was not the large showy roses which had the sweetest smell.
They went to the arch along which the honeysuckle was growing, and then they smelled the rich carnations and the fragrant mignonnette.
Grandmamma called to them not to stay out too long; but they said, “May we pick you a little nosegay first? the flowers are just lovely.”
“Very well,” grandmamma said; “but don’t let it be too large.”
It really was difficult to know what to leave out when all was so sweet; but they thought mignonnette, a half-blown moss rose, some sweet-peas, a piece of honeysuckle and of white jasmine, some pinks, and a little stock, could not fail to be agreeable. They thought more of what would smell sweet than of bright colour; and grandmamma was well pleased with her nosegay.
“Grandmamma,” said Jack, “there is a poor-looking flower like a small stock in the garden; it smells so sweet.”
“It is a stock—the night-flowering stock. The flower is dull-coloured and insignificant; but it has a powerful odour. You must not suppose that the sweet scent of flowers is for our pleasure alone. The perfumes are of great use to the plants themselves, and to the insects that live on honey.”
“Of what use can they be to the plants?” asked Mary.
“The perfume is chiefly due to a kind of oil found in the blossoms of plants, and sometimes in the leaves as well. Lavender, rosemary, thyme, and herbs used in cooking, are examples of plants whose leaves as well as flowers possess this ethereal oil, as it is called. Caterpillars do not like the taste of these oils, and leave these highly-scented plants alone. It is, however, generally the flowers only that smell; and now you can guess why they are protected by their fragrance. What is the most important part of the flower?”
“Its seed,” replied Mary.
“Yes; and as the cattle will not eat the flowers, the seed is safe from them.”
“But they eat flowers in hay,” said Jack.
“True; but by the time the grass is cut many seeds have ripened and have dropped out of their husks; and when flowers are dry, as they are in hay, they lose their particular scent and the oil with it. But the very perfume which keeps away the enemies of the flower attracts its friends the insects, whose sense of smell is very keen.”