The Fairy-Land of Science eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 185 pages of information about The Fairy-Land of Science.

Again, some flowers close whenever rain is coming.  The pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) is one of these, hence its name of the “Shepherd’s Weather-glass.”  This little flower closes, no doubt, to prevent its pollen-dust being washed away, for it has no honey; while other flowers do it to protect the drop of honey at the bottom of their corolla.  Look at the daisies for example when a storm is coming on; as the sky grows dark and heavy, you will see them shrink up and close till the sun shines again.  They do this because in each of the little yellow florets in the centre of the flower there is a drop of honey which would be quite spoiled if it were washed by the rain.

And now you will see why cup-shaped flowers so often droop their heads — think of the harebell, the snowdrop, the lily-of-the-valley, the campanula, and a host of others; how pretty they look with their bells hanging so modestly from the slender stalk!  They are bending down to protect the honey-glands within them, for if the cup became full of rain or dew the honey would be useless, and the insects would cease to visit them.

Week 29

But it is not only necessary that the flowers should keep their honey for the insects, they also have to take care and keep it for the right kind of insect.  Ants are in many cases great enemies to them, for they like honey as much as bees and butterflies do, yet you will easily see that they are so small that if they creep into a flower they pass the anthers without rubbing against them, and so take the honey without doing any good to the plant.  Therefore we find numberless contrivances for keeping the ants and other creeping insects away.  Look for example at the hairy stalk of the primrose flower; those little hairs are like a forest to a tiny ant, and they protect the flower from his visits.  The Spanish catchfly (Silene otites), on the other hand, has a smooth, but very gummy stem, and on this the insects stick, if they try to climb.  Slugs and snails too will often attack and bite flowers, unless they are kept away by thorns and bristles, such as we find on the teazel and the burdock.  And so we are gradually learning that everything which a plant does has its meaning, if we can only find it out, and that even very insignificant hair has its own proper use, and when we are once aware of this a flower-garden may become quite a new world to us if we open our eyes to all that is going on in it.

But as we cannot wander among many plants to-day, let us take a few which the bees visit, and see how they contrive not to give up their honey without getting help in return.  We will start with the blue wood-geranium, because from it we first began to learn the use of insects to flowers.

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The Fairy-Land of Science from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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