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- The Fairy-Land of Science - 30/30 -


orchids tempt bees and other insects to fertilize them. We can only take the simplest, but I think you will say that even this blossom is more like a conjuror's box than you would have supposed it possible that a flower could be.

Let us examine it closely. It has sic deep-red covering leaves, Fig. 62, three belonging to the calyx or outer cup, and three belonging to the corolla or crown of the flower; but all six are coloured alike, except that the large on in front, called the "lip", has spots and lines upon it which will suggest to you at once that they point to the honey.

But where are the anthers, and where is the stigma? Look just under the arch made by those three bending flower-leaves, and there you will see two small slits, and in these some little club-shaped bodies, which you can pick out with the point of a needle. One of these enlarged is shown. It is composed of sticky grains of pollen held together by fine threads on the top of a thin stalk; and at the bottom of the stalk there is a little round body. This is all that you will find to represent the stamens of the flower. When these masses of pollen, or pollinia as they are called, are within the flower, the knob at the bottom is covered by a little lid, shutting them in like the lid of a box, and just below this lid you will see two yellowish lumps, which are very sticky. These are the top of the stigma, and they are just above the seed-vessel, which you can see in the lowest flower in the picture.

Now let us see how this flower gives up its pollen. When a bee comes to look for honey in the orchis, she alights on the lip, and guided by the lines makes straight for the opening just in front of the stigmas. Putting her head into this opening she pushes down into the spur, where by biting the inside skin she gets some juicy sap. Notice that she has to bite, which takes time.

You will see at once that she must touch the stigmas in going in, and so give them any pollen she has on her head. but she also touches the little lid and it flies instantly open, bringing the glands at the end of the pollen-masses against her head. These glands are moist and sticky, and while she is gnawing the inside of the spur they dry a little and cling to her head and she brings them out with her. Darwin once caught a bee with as many as sixteen of these pollen-masses clinging to her head.

But if the bee went into the next flower with these pollinia sticking upright, she would simply put them into the same slits in the next flower, she would not touch them against the stigma. Nature, however, has provided against this. As the bee flies along, the glands sticking to its head dry more and more, and as they dry they curl up and drag the pollen-masses down, so that instead of standing upright, as in 1, Fig. 63, they point forwards, as in 2.

And now, when the bee goes into the next flower, she will thrust them right against the sticky stigmas, and as they cling there the fine threads which hold the grains together break away, and the flower is fertilized.

If you will gather some of these orchids during your next spring walk in the woods, and will put a pencil down the tube to represent the head of the bee you may see the little box open, and the two pollen-masses cling to the pencil. Then if you draw it out you may see them gradually bend forwards, and by thrusting your pencil into the next flower you may see the grains of pollen bread away, and you will have followed out the work of a bee.

Do not such wonderful contrivances as these make us long to know and understand all the hidden work that is going on around us among the flowers, the insects, and all forms of life? I have been able to tell you but very little, but I can promise you that the more you examine, the more you will find marvellous histories such as these in simple field-flowers.

Long as we have known how useful honey was to the bee, and how it could only get it from flowers, yet it was not till quite lately that we have learned to follow out Sprengel's suggestion, and to trace the use which the bee is to the flower. But now that we have once had our eyes opened, every flower teaches us something new, and we find that each plant adapts itself in a most wonderful way to the insects which visit it, both so as to provide them with honey, and at the same time to make them unconsciously do it good service.

And so we learn that even among insects and flowers, those who do most for others, receive most in return. The bee and the flower do not either of them reason about the matter, they only go on living their little lives as nature guides them, helping and improving each other. Think for a moment how it would be, if a plant used up all its sap for its own life, and did not give up any to make the drop of honey in its flower. The bees would soon find out that these particular flowers were not worth visiting, and the flower would not get its pollen-dust carried, and would have to do its own work and grow weakly and small. Or suppose on the other hand that the bee bit a hole in the bottom of the flower, and so got at the honey, as indeed they sometimes do; then she would not carry the pollen-dust, and so would not keep up the healthy strong flowers which make her daily food.

But this, as you see, is not the rule. On the contrary, the flower feeds the bee, and the bee quite unconsciously helps the flower to make its healthy seed. Nay more; when you are able to read all that has been written on this subject, you will find that we have good reason to think that the flowerless plants of the Coal Period have gradually put on the beautiful colours, sweet scent, and graceful shapes of our present flowers, in consequence of the necessity of attracting insects, and thus we owe our lovely flowers to the mutual kindliness of plants and insects.

And is there nothing beyond this? Surely there is. Flowers and insects, as we have seen, act without thought or knowledge of what they are doing; but the law of mutual help which guides them is the same which bids you and me be kind and good to all those around us, if we would lead useful and happy lives. And when we see that the Great Power which rules over our universe makes each work for the good of all, even in such humble things as bees and flowers; and that beauty and loveliness come out of the struggle and striving of all living things; then, if our own life be sometimes difficult, and the struggle hard to bear, we learn from the flowers that the best way to meet our troubles is to lay up our little drop of honey for others, sure that when they come to sip it they will, even if unconsciously, give us new vigour and courage in return.

And now we have arrived at the end of those subjects which we selected out of the Fairy-land of Science. You must not for a moment imagine, however, that we have in any way exhausted our fairy domain; on the contrary, we have scarcely explored even the outskirts of it. The "History of a Grain of Salt," "A Butterfly's Life," or "The Labours of an Ant," would introduce us to fairies and wonders quite as interesting as those of which we have spoken in these Lectures. While "A Flash of Lightning," "An Explosion in a Coal-mine," or "The Eruption of a Volcano," would bring us into the presence of terrible giants known and dreaded from time immemorial.

But at least we have passed through the gates, and have learnt that there is a world of wonder which we may visit if we will; and that it lies quite close to us, hidden in every dewdrop and gust of wind, in every brook and valley, in every little plant or animal. We have only to stretch out our hand and touch them with the wand of inquiry, and they will answer us and reveal the fairy forces which guide and govern them; and thus pleasant and happy thoughts may be conjured up at any time, wherever we find ourselves, by simply calling upon nature's fairies and asking them to speak to us. Is it not strange, then, that people should pass them by so often without a thought, and be content to grow up ignorant of all the wonderful powers ever active in the world around them?

Neither is it pleasure alone which we gain by a study of nature. We cannot examine even a tiny sunbeam, and picture the minute waves of which it is composed, travelling incessantly from the sun, without being filled with wonder and awe at the marvellous activity and power displayed in the infinitely small as well as in the infinitely great things of the universe. We cannot become familiar with the facts of gravitation, cohesion, or crystallization, without realizing that the laws of nature are fixed, orderly, and constant, and will repay us with failure or success according as we act ignorantly or wisely; and thus we shall begin to be afraid of leading careless, useless, and idle lives. We cannot watch the working of the fairy "life" in the primrose or the bee, without learning that living beings as well as inanimate things are governed by these same laws of nature; nor can we contemplate the mutual adaptation of bees and flowers without acknowledging that it teaches the truth that those succeed best in life who, whether consciously or unconsciously, do their best for others.

And so our wanderings in the Fairy-land of Science will not be wasted, for we shall learn how to guide our own lives, while we cannot fail to see that the forces of nature, whether they are apparently mechanical, as in gravitation or heat; or intelligent, as in living beings, are one and all the voice of the Great Creator, and speak to us of His Nature and His Will.


The Fairy-Land of Science - 30/30

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