Sometimes more water is drawn up into the leaves than can be used, and then the leaf opens thousands of little mouths in the skin of its under surface, which let the drops out just as drops of perspiration ooze through our skin when we are overheated. These little mouths, which are called stomates (a, Fig. 42) are made of two flattened cells, fitting against each other. When the air is damp and the plant has too much water these lie open and let it out, but when the air is dry, and the plant wants to keep as much water as it can, then they are closely shut. There are as many as a hundred thousand of these mouths under one apple-leaf, so you may imagine how small they often are.
Plants which only live one year, such as mignonette, the sweet pea, and the poppy, take in just enough food to supply their daily wants and to make the seeds we shall speak of presently. Then, as soon as their seeds are ripe their roots begin to shrivel, and water is no longer carried up. The green cells can no longer get food to digest, and they themselves are broken up by the sunbeams and turn yellow, and the plant dies.
But many plants are more industrious than the stock and mignonette, and lay by store for another year, and our primrose is one of these. Look at this thick solid mass below the primrose leaves, out of which the roots spring. (See the plant in the foreground of the heading of the lecture.) This is really the stem of the primrose hidden underground, and all the starch, albuminoids, &c., which the plant can spare as it grows, are sent down into this underground stem and stored up there, to lie quietly in the ground through the long winter, and then when the warm spring comes this stem begins to send out leaves for a new plant.
We have now seen how a plant springs up, feeds itself, grows, stores up food, withers, and dies; but we have said nothing yet about its beautiful flowers or how it forms its seeds. If we look down close to the bottom of the leaves in a primrose root in spring-time, we shall always find three or four little green buds nestling in among the leaves, and day by day we may see the stalk of these buds lengthening till they reach up into the open sunshine, and then the flower opens and shows its beautiful pale-yellow crown.
We all know that seeds are formed in the flower, and that the seeds are necessary to grow into new plants. But do we know the history of how they are formed, or what is the use of the different parts of the bud? Let us examine them all, and then I think you will agree with me that this is not the least wonderful part of the plant.
Remember that the seed is the one important thing and then notice how the flower protects it. First, look at the outside green covering, which we call the calyx. See how closely it fits in the bud, so that no insects can creep in to gnaw the flower, nor any harm come to it from cold or blight. Then, when the calyx opens, notice that the yellow leaves which form the crown or corolla, are each alternate with one of the calyx leaves, so that anything which got past the first covering would be stopped by the second. Lastly, when the delicate corolla has opened out, look at those curious yellow bags just at the top of the tube (b,2, Fig. 43). What is their use?