The Fairy-Land of Science eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 211 pages of information about The Fairy-Land of Science.

More than a hundred years ago a young German botanist, Christian Conrad Sprengel, noticed some soft hairs growing in the centre of this flower, just round the stamens, and he was so sure that every part of a plant is useful, that he set himself to find out what these hairs meant.  He soon discovered that they protected some small honey-bags at the base of the stamens, and kept the rain from washing the honey away, just as our eyebrows prevent the perspiration on our faces from running into our eyes.  This led him to notice that plants take great care to keep their honey for insects, and by degrees he proved that they did this in order to tempt the insects to visit them and carry off their pollen.

The first thing to notice in this little geranium flower is that the purple lines which ornament it all point directly to the place where the honey lies at the bottom of the stamens, and actually serve to lead the bee to the honey; and this is true of the veins and marking of nearly all flowers except of those which open by night, and in these they would be useless, for the insects would not see them.

When the geranium first opens, all its ten stamens are lying flat on the corolla or coloured crown, as in the left-hand flower in Fig. 58, and then the bee cannot get at the honey.  But in a short time five stamens begin to raise themselves and cling round the stigma or knob at the top of the seed-vessel, as in the middle flower.  Now you would think they would leave their dust there.  But no! the stigma is closed up so tight that the dust cannot get on to the sticky part.  Now, however, the bee can get at the honey-glands on the outside of the raised stamens; and as he sucks it, his back touches the anthers or dust-bags, and he carries off the pollen.  Then, as soon as all their dust is gone, these five stamens fall down, and the other five spring up.  Still, however, the stigma remains closed, and the pollen of these stamens, too, may be carried away to another flower.  At last these five also fall down, and then, and not till then, the stigma opens and lays out its five sticky points, as you may see in the right-hand flower, Fig. 58.

But its own pollen is all gone, how then will it get any?  It will get it from some bee who has just taken it from another and younger flower; and thus you see the blossom is prevented from using its own pollen, and made to use that of another blossom, so that its seeds may grow healthy and strong.

The garden nasturtium, into whose blossom we saw the humble-bee poling his head, takes still more care of its pollen-dust.  It hides its honey down at the end of its long spur, and only sends out one stamen at a time instead of five like the geranium; and then, when all the stamens have had their turn, the sticky knob comes out last for pollen from another flower.

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