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The Stories Mother Nature Told Her Children by  Jane Andrews

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GOLDEN-ROD AND ASTERS

[157] DO you know that flowers, as well as people, live in families? Come into the garden, and I will show you how. Here is a red rose: the beautiful bright-colored petals are the walls of the house,—built in a circle, you see. Next come the yellow stamens, standing also in a circle: these are the father of the household,—perhaps you would say the fathers, there are so many. They stand round the mother, who lives in the very middle, as if they were put there to protect and take care of her. And she is the straight little pistil, standing in the midst of all. The children are seeds, put away for the present in a green cradle at their mother's feet, where they will sleep and grow as babies should, until by and by they will all have opportunities to [158] come out and build for themselves fine rose-colored houses like that of their parents.

It is in this way that most of the flowers live; some, it is true, quite differently: for the beautiful scarlet maple blossoms, that open so early in the spring, have the fathers on one tree, and the mothers on another; and they can only make flying visits to each other when a high wind chooses to give them a ride.

The golden-rod and asters and some of their cousins have yet another way of living, and it is of this I must tell you to-day.

You know the roadside asters, purple and white, that bloom so plenteously all through the early autumn? Each flower is a circle of little rays, spreading on every side: but, if you should pull it to pieces to look for a family like that of the rose, you would be sadly confused about it; for the aster's plan of living is very different from the rose's. Each purple or white ray is a little home in itself; and these are all inhabited by maiden ladies, living each one alone in the one delicately colored room of her house. But in the middle of the aster you will find a dozen or more little [159] families, all packed away together. Each one has its own small, yellow house, each has the father, mother, and one child: they all live here together on the flat circle which is called a disk; and round them are built the houses belonging to the maiden aunts, who watch and protect the whole. This is what we might call living in a community. People do so sometimes. Different families who like to be near each other will take a very large house and inhabit it together; so that in one house there will be many fathers, mothers, and children, and very likely maiden aunts and bachelor uncles besides.

Do you understand now how the asters live in communities? The golden-rod also lives in communities, but yet not exactly after the aster's plan,—in smaller houses generally, and these of course contain fewer families. Four or five of the maiden aunts live in yellow-walled rooms round the outside; and in the middle live fathers, mothers, and children, as they do in the asters. But here is the difference: if the golden-rod has smaller houses, it has more of them together upon one stem. I have never counted them, but you [160] can, now that they are in bloom, and tell me how many.

And have you ever noticed how gracefully these great companies are arranged? For the golden-rods are like elm-trees in their forms: some grow in one single, tall plume, bending over a little at the top; some in a double or triple plume, so that the nodding heads may bend on each side; but the largest are like the great Etruscan elms, many branches rising gracefully from the main stem and curving over on every side, like those tall glass vases which, I dare say, you have all seen.

Do not forget, when you are looking at these golden plumes, that each one, as it tosses in the wind, is rocking its hundreds of little dwellings, with the fathers, mothers, babies, and all.

When you go out for golden-rod and asters, you will find also the great purple thistle, one of those cousins who has adopted the same plan of living. It is so prickly that I advise you not to attempt breaking it off, but only with your finger-tips push softly down into the purple tassel; and if the thistle is ripe, as I think it will be in these autumn days, you will feel a bed of softest down under the [161] spreading purple top. A little gentle pushing will set the down all astir, and I can show you how the children are about to take leave of the home where they were born and brought up. Each seed child has a downy wing with which it can fly, and also cling, as you will see, if we set them loose, and the wind blows them on to your woollen frock. They are hardy children, and not afraid of any thing; they venture out into the world fearlessly, and presume to plant themselves and prepare to build wherever they choose, without regard to the rights of the farmer's ploughed field or your mother's nicely laid out garden.

More of the community flowers are the immortelles, and in spring the dandelions. Examine them, and tell me how they build their houses, and what sort of families they have; how the children go away; when the house is broken up; and what becomes of the fathers, mothers, and aunts.


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