|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 |
T would be knowing a person very little only to be aware
of his wearing a garment of a certain material, a coat of
such and such a cloth. One does not know a flower any better
when one knows that it is clothed with a calyx and a
corolla. What is under this covering?
"Let us examine together this gillyflower. It has a calyx of
four sepals and a corolla of four yellow petals. I take away
these eight pieces. What is left now is the essential part;
that is to say, the thing without which the flower could not
fill its rôle and would be perfectly useless. Let us
go carefully over this remaining part. You will find it well
worth the trouble.
A flowering branch
of the Gillyflower
"First, there are six little white rods, each one surmounted
by a bag full of yellow powder. These six pieces are called
stamens. They are found in
 all flowers in greater or less
number. The gillyflower has six, four longer ones arranged
in pairs, and two shorter.
"The double bag that surmounts the stamen is called an
anther. The dust contained in the anther is known as pollen.
It is yellow in the gillyflower, lily, and most plants; ashy
gray in the poppy."
"You have already told us," Jules interposed, "how clouds of
pollen, raised by the wind in the woods, are the cause of
supposed showers of sulphur that frighten people so."
"I take away the six stamens. There remains a central body,
swollen at the bottom, narrow at the top, and surmounted by
a kind of head wet with a sticky moisture. In its entirety
this central body takes the name of pistil; the swelling at
the bottom is called an ovary, and the sticky head that
terminates it is a stigma."
"What big names for such little things!" exclaimed Jules.
"Little, yes; but of unparalleled importance. These little
things, my dear friend, give us our daily bread; without the
miraculous work of these little things we should die of
"I will take care to remember their names, then."
"I, too," chimed in Emile; "but you must go over them again,
they are so hard to learn."
Uncle Paul began again. Jules and Emile repeated after him:
stamen, anther and pollen; pistil, stigma and ovary.
"With a penknife I divide the flower in two. The split ovary
shows us what is inside."
 "I see little seeds in regular rows in two compartments,"
"Do you know what those hardly visible seeds are?"
"They are the future seeds of the plant. The ovary, then, is
the part of the plant where the seeds form. At a certain
time the flower withers; the petals wilt and fall; the calyx
does the same, or remains to play the part of protector a
while longer; the dried stamens break off; only the ovary
remains, growing larger, ripening, and finally becoming the
"Every fruit—the pear, apple, apricot, peach, walnut,
cherry, melon, strawberry, almond, chestnut—began by being
a little swelling of the pistil; all these excellent things
that the plant furnishes us for food were first ovaries."
"A pear began by being the ovary of a pear blossom?"
"Yes, my child; pears, apples, cherries, apricots, begin by
being the ovaries of their respective flowers. I will show
you an apricot in its blossom."
Uncle Paul took an apricot blossom, opened it with his
penknife, and showed the children what is here shown in the
"In the heart of the flower you see the pistil surrounded by
numerous stamens. The head that terminates it at the top is
the stigma; the swelling at the bottom is the ovary or
"That little green thing would have been an apricot, full of
sweet juice, that I like so much?" inquired Emile.
 "That little green thing would have become an apricot like
those Emile is so fond of. Now would you like to see the
ovary that gives us bread?"
"Oh, yes! All these things are very curious," replied Jules.
"Better than that, very important."
Claire gave her uncle a needle at his request; then with the
delicate patience necessary for this operation he isolated
one of the numerous flowers of which the whole forms the ear
of wheat. The delicate little flower displayed clearly, on
the point of the needle, the different parts composing it.
"The blessed plant that gives us bread has not time to think
of its toilet. It has such weighty things to attend to: it
must feed the world! So you see what quiet clothes it wears!
Two poor scales serve
 it for calyx and corolla. You can
easily recognize three hanging stamens with their double
sachets for anthers. The principal body of the flower is the
tun-bellied ovary, which, when ripe, will be a grain of
wheat. It is surmounted by the stigma, fashioned like a
double plume of exquisite delicacy. Salute it, my children:
behold the modest little flower that gives life to us all!"
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