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.

You will notice that all this time the be does not touch the sticky stigma which hangs high above her, but after the anthers are empty and shrivelled the stalk of the stigma grows longer, and it falls lower down.  By-and-by another bee, having pollen on her back, comes to look for honey, and as she goes into No. 3, she rubs against the stigma and leaves upon it the dust from another flower.

Tell me, has not the Salvia, while remaining so much the same shape as the dead-nettle, devised a wonderful contrivance to make use of the visits of the bee?

The common sweet violet (Viola odorata) or the dog violet (Viola canina), which you can gather in any meadow, give up their pollen-dust in quite a different way from the Salvia, and yet it is equally ingenious.  Everyone has noticed what an irregular shape this flower has, and that one of its purple petals has a curious spur sticking out behind.  In the tip of this spur and in the spur of the stamen lying in it the violet hides its honey, and to reach it the bee must press past the curious ring of orange-tipped bodies in the middle of the flower.  These bodies are the anthers, Fig. 61, which fit tightly round the stigma, so that when the pollen-dust, which is very dry, comes out of the bags, it remains shut in by the tips as if in a box.  Two of these stamens have spurs which lie in the coloured spur of the flower, and have honey at the end of them.  Now, when the bee shakes the end of the stigma, it parts the ring of anthers, and the fine dust falls through upon the insect.

Let us see for a moment how wonderfully this flower is arranged to bring about the carrying of the pollen, as Sprengel pointed out years ago.  In the first place, it hangs on a thin stalk, and bends its head down so that the rain cannot come near the honey in the spur, and also so that the pollen-dust falls forward into the front of the little box made by the closed anthers.  Then the pollen is quite dry, instead of being sticky as in most plants.  This is in order that it may fall easily through the cracks.  Then the style or stalk of the stigma is very thin and its tip very broad, so that it quivers easily when the bee touches it, and so shakes the anthers apart, while the anthers themselves fold over to make the box, and yet not so tightly but that the dust can fall through when they are shaken.  Lastly, if you look at the veins of the flower, you will find that they all point towards the spur where the honey is to be found, so that when the sweet smell of the flower has brought the bee, she cannot fail to go in at the right place.

Two more flowers still I want us to examine together, and then I hope you will care to look at every flower you meet, to try and see what insects visit it, and how its pollen-dust is carried.  These two flowers are the common Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), and the Early Orchis (Orchis mascula), which you may find in almost any moist meadow in the spring and early summer.

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