|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 |
N a few days, even in a few hours, a flower withers.
Pistils, stamens, calyx, fade and die. Only one thing
survives: the ovary, which will become fruit.
"Now, in order to outlive the other parts of the flower and
remain on its stem when all the rest dries up and falls, the
ovary, at the moment when blossoming is at its greatest
vigor, receives a supplement of strength, I should almost
say a new life. The magnificence of the corolla, its
sumptuous colorings, its perfumes, serve to celebrate the
solemn moment when this new vitality comes to the ovary.
This great act accomplished, the flower has had its day.
"Well, it is the pollen, the yellow dust of the stamens,
that gives this increase of energy without which the nascent
seeds would perish in the ovary, itself withered. It falls
from the stamens on to the stigma, always coated with a
stickiness apt to hold it; and from the stigma, it makes its
mysterious action felt in the depths of the ovary. Animated
with new life, the nascent seeds develop rapidly, while the
ovary swells so as to give them necessary room. The final
result of this incomprehensible travail is the fruit, with
 of seeds ready to germinate and produce new
plants. Do not question me further about these wonderful
things concerning which even the keenest observer ceases to
see clearly. God only, the wisest of beings, knows how a
grain of pollen can give birth to something that was not
before, and can cause the ovary to feel the stirring of the
"I will tell you now how we know that the falling of the
pollen on to the stigma is indispensable to the development
of the ovary into fruit.
"Most flowers have both stamens and pistils. All those we
have just looked at are in that class. But there are plants
that have some flowers with stamens and others with pistils.
Sometimes the flowers with stamens only and those with
pistils only are found on the same plant; sometimes they are
found on separate plants.
"Did I not fear to overcharge your memory, I would tell you
that plants having flowers with stamens only and flowers
with pistils only on the same plant are called
monœcious plants. This expression means 'living in one
house.' In a word, the flowers with stamens and those with
pistils live together in the same house, since they are
found on the same plant. The pumpkin, cucumber, melon, are
"Vegetables whose flowers with stamens and flowers with
pistils are found on different plants are termed
diœcious; that is to say, plants with a double house.
By this is meant that the ovary and pollen are not found in
the same plant. The locust, date, and hemp are
 "The locust is a tree of extreme southern France. Its fruit
grows in pods similar to those of the pea, but brown, very
long, and plump.
This fruit, in addition to seeds, has a
sugary flesh. Supposing we took a notion, if the climate
permitted, to grow locust seeds in our garden. What locust
tree must we plant? Evidently the tree with pistils, because
it alone possesses the ovaries which become fruit. But that
is not enough. Planted by itself, the locust tree with
pistils will be able to blossom abundantly every year,
without ever producing any fruit; for its flowers would fall
without leaving a single ovary on the branches. What is
wanting? The action of the pollen. Close to the locust with
pistils let us plant one with stamens. Now fructification
proceeds as we wish. Wind and insects carry the pollen from
the stamens to the stigmas; the torpid ovaries spring to
life, and in time the locust pods grow and ripen perfectly.
With pollen, fruit; without pollen, no fruit. Are you
of Locust Tree
"Without doubt, Uncle; only, unfortunately, we do not know
the locust. I should prefer a plant of our own region."
 "I will tell you of one that will permit you to prove what I
have told you; but first of all let me mention a second
"The date tree, like the locust, is diœcious. Arabs
cultivate it for its fruit,—dates, their chief food."
"Dates are those long fruits of a very sweet taste,
preserved dry in boxes," said Jules. "A Turk was selling
some at the last fair. The kernel is long and split all
along one side from one end to the other."
"That is it. In the country of the date-tree, a sandy
country burnt by the sun, spots of watered and fertile earth
are rare. These spots are called oases. It is necessary to
utilize them as much as possible. So the Arabs plant only
date-trees with pistils, the only ones that will produce
dates. But when they are in flower, the Arabs go long
distances to seek bunches of flowers with stamens on wild
date-trees, to shake the dust on the trees they have
planted. Without this precaution there is no harvest."
"Uncle will tell us so much," Emile interposed, "that I
shall have as much regard for the pollen as I have for the
ovary. Without it, I should not have tasted the dates of the
Turk who smoked such a long pipe; without it, no apricots
and no cherries."
"In the garden there is a long pumpkin-vine that
 will soon
blossom. I will give it to you for the following experiment.
"The pumpkin is monœcious; flowers with stamens and
flowers with pistils inhabit the same house, the same plant.
Before they are full-blown, they can easily be distinguished
from each other. The flowers with pistils have under the
corolla a swelling almost as large as a nut. This swelling
is the ovary, the future pumpkin. The blossoms with stamens
have not this swelling.
"Cut off all the blossoms with stamens before they are
full-blown, and leave those with pistils. For greater
surety, wrap each one of these in a piece of gauze before
it is in full-bloom. The covering must be large enough to
permit the flower to open. Do you know what will happen? Not
being able to receive the pollen, since the flowers with
stamens are cut off, and since, also, the gauze wrapping
keeps out the insects from the neighboring gardens, the
pistillate flowers will wither after languishing a while,
and the plant will not produce any pumpkins.
"Would you, on the contrary, like such and such blossoms, at
your choice, to produce pumpkins in spite of their gauze
prison and the suppression of the staminate blossoms? With
the tip of your finger take a little pollen from one of the
blossoms you have cut off, and put the yellow dust on the
stigma of a pistillate flower. Then replace the gauze
wrapping. That is enough, the pumpkin will come."
"You will let us try that delightful experiment?" asked
"I will, I give the pumpkin-vine over to you."
 "I have some gauze," volunteered Claire.
"And I some string to tie it with," added Emile.
"Come along," cried Jules.
And, gay as larks, the three children ran to the garden to
get everything ready for the experiment.
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