|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
HE flowers with pollen were cut off, those with ovaries
wrapped each in a separate gauze-bag. Every morning they
went and watched the blossoming. With pollen taken from the
cut flowers they powdered the stigmas of four or five
pistillate blossoms. And it happened just as their uncle had
said. The ovaries whose stigmas had received the pollen
became pumpkins, the others dried up without swelling. Now,
during these experiments, which were both a serious study
and a joyful amusement, Uncle Paul continued his account of
"The pollen reaches the stigma in divers ways. Sometimes the
stamens, which are longer, let it fall by its own weight on
the shorter pistil. Sometimes the wind, shaking the flower,
deposits the dust of the stamens on the stigma, or even
carries it long distances for the benefit of other ovaries.
"There are flowers whose stamens behave in such a manner as
to fulfil their mission. They bend over alternately and
apply their anthers to the stigma, there to deposit some
pollen; then slowly raise themselves to give place one to
another. They might be regarded as a circle of courtiers
depositing their offerings at the feet of a great king.
These salutations at an end, the rôle of the stamens
 The flower fades, but the ovary begins to ripen
"The vallisneria is a plant that lives under the water. It
is very common in the Southern Canal. Its leaves resemble
narrow green ribbons. It is diœcious, that is to say
it has flowers with stamens and those with pistils on
different plants. The pistillate flowers are borne on long,
tightly curled stems. The blossoms with stamens have only
very short stems. Under water, where the current would carry
away the pollen and prevent its fastening itself on the
stigmas, the quickening action of the stamens on the pistil
cannot take place. So the vallisneria, fixed by its roots in
the mud, is obliged to send its flowers to the surface of
the water to let them blossom in the open air. It is easy
for the pistillate flowers. They unwind the curl that
supports them, and mount to the surface. But what will the
staminate flowers do, fastened as they are to the bottom
with their short stems?"
(male and female)
of Vallisneria Spiralis
"I cannot undertake to say," answered Jules.
"Well, by their own strength, without any external aid,
these flowers pull away from their stems, break their
moorings, and mount to the surface to rejoin the pistillate
flowers. Then they open their little white corollas and free
their pollen to wind and insects, which deposit it on the
stigmas. After that
 they die and the current carries them
away, while the flowers quickened by the pollen curl up
again and descend once more beneath the water, there to
ripen their ovaries at leisure."
"It is wonderful, Uncle; one would say those little flowers
know what they are doing."
"They do not know what they are doing; they obey
mechanically the laws of Providence, which makes sport of
difficulties and knows how to accomplish miracles in a
simple blade of grass. Would you like another striking
example of this infinite wisdom that foresees everything,
arranges everything? Let us come back to the snap-dragon.
"Insects are the flower's auxiliaries. Flies, wasps,
honey-bees, bumble-bees, beetles, butterflies, all vie with
one another in rendering aid by carrying the pollen of the
stamens to the stigmas. They dive into the flower, enticed
by a honeyed drop expressly prepared at the bottom of the
corolla. In their efforts to obtain it they shake the
stamens and daub themselves with pollen, which they carry
from one flower to another. Who has not seen bumble-bees
coming out of the bosom of the flowers all covered with
pollen? Their hairy stomachs, powdered with pollen, have
only to touch a stigma in passing to communicate life to it.
When in the spring you see, on a blooming pear-tree, a whole
swarm of flies, bees, and butterflies, hurrying, humming,
and fluttering, it is a triple feast, my friends: a feast
for the insect that pilfers in the depth of the flowers; a
feast for the tree whose ovaries are quickened by all these
merry little people; and a feast for man, to whom
harvest is promised. The insect is the best distributor of
pollen. All the flowers it visits receive their share of
"It is in order to prevent the insects coming from
neighboring gardens and bringing pollen that you have had
the pumpkin blossoms covered with bags of gauze?" inquired
"Yes, my child. Without this precaution the pumpkin
experiment would certainly not succeed; for insects come
from a distance, very far perhaps, and deposit on our
flowers the pollen gathered from other pumpkins. And very
little of it is necessary; a few grains are enough to give
life to an ovary.
"To attract the insect that it needs, every flower has at
the bottom of its corolla a drop of sweet liquor called
nectar. From this liquor bees make their honey. To draw it
from corollas shaped like a deep funnel, butterflies have a
long trumpet, curled in a spiral when at rest, but which
they unroll and plunge into the flower like a bore when they
wish to obtain the delicious drink. The insect does not see
this drop of nectar; however, it knows that it is there and
finds it without hesitation. But in some flowers a grave
difficulty presents itself: these flowers are closed tight
everywhere. How is the treasure to be got at, how find the
entrance that leads to the nectar? Well, these closed
flowers have a signboard, a mark that says clearly: Enter
"You won't make us believe that!" cried Claire.
"I am not going to make you believe anything, my dear child;
I am going to show you. Look at this snap-dragon blossom. It
is shut tight, its two closed
 lips leave no passage between.
Its color is a uniform purplish red; but there, just in the
middle of the lower lip, is a large spot of bright yellow.
This spot, so appropriate for catching the eye, is the mark,
the signboard I told you of. By its brightness it says: Here
is the keyhole.
"Press your little finger on the spot. You see. The flower
yawns immediately, the secret lock works. And you think the
bumble-bee does not know these things? Watch it in the
garden and you will see how it can read the signs of the
flowers. When it visits a snap-dragon, it always alights on
the yellow spot and nowhere else. The door opens, it enters.
It twists and turns in the corolla and covers itself with
pollen, with which it daubs the stigma. Having drunk the
drop, it goes off to other flowers, forcing the opening of
which it knows the secret thoroughly.
"All closed flowers have, like the snap-dragon, a
conspicuous point, a spot of bright color, a sign that shows
the insect the entrance to the corolla and says to it: Here
it is. Finally, insects whose trade it is to visit flowers
and make the pollen fall from the stamens on to the stigma,
have a wonderful knowledge of the significance of this spot.
It is on it they use their strength to make the flower open.
"Let us recapitulate. Insects are necessary to flowers to
bring pollen to the stigmas. A drop of nectar, distilled on
purpose for this, attracts them to the bottom of the
corolla; a bright spot shows them
 the road to follow. Either
I am a triple idiot or we have here an admirable chain of
facts. Later, my children, you will find only too many
people saying: This world is the product of chance, no
intelligence rules it, no Providence guides it. To those
people, my friends, show the snap-dragon's yellow spot. If,
less clear-sighted than the burly bumble-bee, they do not
understand it, pity them: they have diseased brains."
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