|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 |
ES, they had listened very attentively the day before when
Uncle Paul told them all about poisonous plants. Who would not listen
to a talk on flowers? Jules and Claire, however, would have
been glad to hear more. How are the flowers made that their
uncle showed them yesterday? What is to be seen inside them?
Of what use are they to the plant? Under the big elder-tree
in the garden their uncle talked to them as follows:
"Let us begin with the blossoms of the digitalis, which I
spoke of yesterday. Here is one. It has, as you see, almost
the form of a glove-finger, or better, of a long pointed
cap. Emile could put one on to his little finger; there
would be plenty of room. It is purplish-red in color.
Inside, it has spots of dark red encircled with white. The
red glove-finger rises from the center of a circle of five
little leaves. These little leaves are also part of the
flower. Together they form what is called the calyx. The
rest, the red part, is called the corolla. Remember these
words, which are new to you."
"The corolla is the colored part of the flower; the calyx is
the circle of little leaves at the base of the corolla,"
"Most flowers have two envelopes like these, one
 within the
other. The exterior, or calyx, is nearly always green; the
interior, or corolla, is embellished with those magnificent
tints that please us in so many flowers.
"In the mallow, which you see here, the calyx consists of
five little green leaves, and the corolla of five large
pieces of lilac rose color. Each of these pieces is called a
petal. The petals, all together, make the corolla."
"The corolla of the digitalis has only one piece or petal;
that of the mallow has five," remarked Claire.
"It looks that way at first, but on examining closely you
will find that they both have five. I must tell you that in
a great many flowers the petals unite as soon as they begin
to form in the bud, and by their union constitute a corolla
which looks like only one piece. But very often the united
petals separate a little at the edge of the flower, and by
indentations more or less deep show how many are joined
"Look at this tobacco blossom. The corolla forms a
tun-bellied funnel, apparently composed of only one piece.
But the edge of the flower is cut out in five similar parts,
which are the extremities of so
 many petals. The tobacco
blossom, then, has five petals, the same as the mallow; only,
these five petals, instead of being separate all their
length, are welded together in a sort of funnel.
"Corollas with separate petals are called polypetalous
"Like that of the mallow," suggested Claire.
"And that of the pear, almond, and strawberry," added Jules.
"Jules forgets some very pretty ones: the pansy and violet,"
"Corollas with petals all joined together are called
monopetalous corollas," continued Uncle Paul.
"For example, digitalis and tobacco," said Jules.
"And the bell-flowers, don't forget them, the beautiful
white bell-flowers that climb the hedges," Emile added.
"The five petals joined together are just as easily
distinguishable in this flower we have here, called
"Why is it called snap-dragon?" asked Emile.
"Because when it is pressed on both sides it opens its mouth
like an animal."
Uncle Paul made the flower yawn; under pressure of his
fingers it opened and shut its mouth as if biting. Emile
looked on in amazement.
"In this mouth there are two lips, upper and
 lower. Well,
the upper lip is split in two by a deep indentation, the
sign of two petals, and the lower lip is split in three,
indicating three petals. The corolla of the snap-dragon,
although apparently all in one piece, is therefore in
reality composed of five petals welded together."
"There are, then," said Claire, "five petals in the mallow,
pear, almond, digitalis, tobacco, and snap-dragon, with this
difference, that the five petals are separate in the mallow,
pear, and almond, and welded together in the digitalis,
snap-dragon, and tobacco."
"Five petals, either separate or united," Uncle Paul went
on, "are found in a great many other flowers.
"Let us come back to the calyx. The little green leaves of
which it is composed are called sepals. There are five in
the different flowers we have just examined, five in the
mallow, five in tobacco, five in digitalis, five in the
snap-dragon. Like the petals, the parts of the calyx, or
sepals, sometimes remain separate, sometimes join together,
but generally leave some indentations showing their number.
"The calyx having its parts distinct from one another is
called a polysepalous calyx. That of the digitalis and of
the snap-dragon is of this class.
"The calyx with sepals united is known as a monosepalous
calyx. Such is that of the tobacco blossom. By the five
indentations at its edge one can
 easily see that it is
formed of five pieces joined together."
"The number five occurs again and again," observed Claire.
"A flower, my child, is beyond doubt a wonderful thing of
beauty, but especially is it a masterpiece of wise
construction. Everything about it is calculated according to
fixed rules, everything arranged by number and measure. One
of the most frequent arrangements is in sets of five. That
is why we have just found five petals and five sepals in all
the flowers examined this morning.
"Another grouping that often occurs is that in threes. It is
found in bulb flowers,—the tulip, lily, lily of the
valley, etc. These flowers have no green covering or calyx;
they have only a corolla composed of six petals, three in an
inner circle, three in an outer.
"The calyx and the corolla are the flower's clothing, a
double clothing having both the substantial material that
guards from inclemency, and the fine texture that charms the
eye. The calyx, the outer garment, is of simple form, modest
coloring, firm structure, suitable for withstanding bad
weather. It has to protect the flower not yet opened, to
shield it from the sun, from cold, and wet. Examine the bud
of a rose or mallow; see with what minute precision the five
sepals of the calyx are united to cover the rest. Not the
slightest drop of water could penetrate the interior, so
carefully are their edges joined together. There are flowers
that close the calyx every evening as a safeguard against
 "The corolla or inner garment unites elegance of form and
richness of tint with fineness of texture. It is to the
flower what wedding garments are to us. That is what
especially captivates our eye, so that we commonly consider
it the most essential part of the flower, while it is really
only a simple ornamental accessory.
"Of the two garments, the calyx is the more necessary. Many
flowers, of severe taste, know how to dispense with the
pleasing part, the corolla; but they are very careful not to
renounce the useful, the calyx, which, in its simplest form,
is reduced to a tiny little leaf like a scale. Flowers
without corolla remain unseen, and the plants that bear them
seem to us to have no blossoms. It is a mistake: all trees
and plants bloom."
"Even the willow, oak, poplar, pine, beech, wheat, and so
many others whose blossoms I have never seen?" asked Jules.
"Even the willow, oak, and all the others. Their blossoms
are extremely numerous, but, as they are very small and have
no corolla, they escape the inattentive eye. There is no
exception: every plant has its blossom."
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