Gateway to the Classics: Stories to Tell to Children by Sara Cone Bryant
Stories to Tell to Children by  Sara Cone Bryant

The Little Cotyledons

This is another story about Margery's garden.

The next morning after the garden was planted, Margery was up and out at six o'clock. She could not wait to look at her garden. To be sure, she knew that the seeds could not sprout in a single night, but she had a feeling that something  might happen while she was not looking. The garden was just as smooth and brown as the night before, and no little seeds were in sight.

But a very few mornings after that, when Margery went out, there was a funny little crack opening up through the earth, the whole length of the patch. Quickly she knelt down in the footpath, to see. Yes! Tiny green leaves, a whole row of them, were pushing their way through the crust! Margery knew what she had put there: it was the radish-row; these must be radish leaves. She examined them very closely, so that she might know a radish next time. The little leaves, no bigger than half your little-finger nail, grew in twos,—two on each tiny stem; they were almost round.

Margery flew back to her mother, to say that the first seeds were up. And her mother, nearly as excited as Margery, came to look at the little crack.

Each day, after that, the row of radishes grew, till, in a week, it stood as high as your finger, green and sturdy. But about the third day, while Margery was stooping over the radishes, she saw something very, very small and green, peeping above ground, where the lettuce was planted. Could it be weeds? No, for on looking very closely she saw that the wee leaves faintly marked a regular row. They did not make a crack, like the radishes; they seemed too small and too far apart to push the earth up like that. Margery leaned down and looked with all her eyes at the baby plants. The tiny leaves grew two on a stem, and were almost round. The more she looked at them the more it seemed to Margery that they looked exactly as the radish looked when it first came up. "Do you suppose," Margery said to herself, "that lettuce and radish look alike? They don't look alike in the market!"

Day by day the lettuce grew, and soon the little round leaves were easier to examine; they certainly were very much like radish leaves.

Then, one morning, while she was searching the ground for signs of seeds, Margery discovered the beets. In irregular patches on the row, hints of green were coming. The next day and the next they grew, until the beet leaves were big enough to see.

Margery looked. Then she looked again. Then she wrinkled her forehead. "Can we have made a mistake?" she thought. "Do you suppose we can have planted all radishes?"

For those little beet leaves were almost round, and they grew two on a stem, precisely like the lettuce and the radish; except for the size, all three rows looked alike.

It was too much for Margery. She ran to the house and found her father. Her little face was so anxious that he thought something unpleasant had happened. "Papa," she said, all out of breath, "do you think we could have made a mistake about my garden? Do you think we could have put radishes in all the rows?"

Father laughed. "What makes you think such a thing?" he asked.

"Papa," said Margery, "the little leaves all look exactly alike! every plant has just two tiny leaves on it, and shaped the same; they are roundish, and grow out of the stem at the same place."

Papa's eyes began to twinkle. "Many of the dicotyledonous plants look alike at the beginning," he said, with a little drawl on the big word. That was to tease Margery, because she always wanted to know the big words she heard.

"What's 'dicotyledonous'?" said Margery, carefully.

"Wait till I come home to-night, dear," said her father, "and I'll tell you."

That evening Margery was waiting eagerly for him, when her father finished his supper. Together they went to the garden, and father examined the seedlings carefully. Then he pulled up a little radish plant and a tiny beet.

"These little leaves," he said, "are not the real leaves of the plant; they are only little food-supply leaves, little pockets to hold food for the plant to live on till it gets strong enough to push up into the air. As soon as the real leaves come out and begin to draw food from the air, these little substitutes wither up and fall off. These two lie folded up in the little seed from the beginning, and are full of plant food. They don't have to be very special in shape, you see, because they don't stay on the plant after it is grown up."

"Then every plant looks like this at first?" said Margery.

"No, dear, not every one; plants are divided into two kinds: those which have two food leaves, like these plants, and those which have only one; these are called dicotyledonous, and the ones which have but one food leaf are monocotyledonous. Many of the dicotyledons look alike."

"I think that is interesting," said Margery. "I always supposed the plants were different from the minute they began to grow."

"Indeed, no," said father. "Even some of the trees look like this when they first come through; you would not think a birch tree could look like a vegetable or a flower, would you? But it does, at first; it looks so much like these things that in the great nurseries, where trees are raised for forests and parks, the workmen have to be very carefully trained, or else they would pull up the trees when they are weeding. They have to be taught the difference between a birch tree and a weed."

"How funny!" said Margery dimpling.

"Yes, it sounds funny," said father; "but you see, the birch tree is dicotyledonous, and so are many weeds, and the dicotyledons look much alike at first."

"I am glad to know that, father," said Margery, soberly. "I believe maybe I shall learn a good deal from living in the country; don't you think so?"

Margery's father took her in his arms. "I hope so, dear," he said; "the country is a good place for little girls."

And that was all that happened, that day.

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