Gateway to the Classics: Plant Life in Field and Garden by Arabella B. Buckley
Plant Life in Field and Garden by  Arabella B. Buckley

The Shepherd's Purse

It is seven o'clock on a lovely summer morning. Jump up and look out of the window. It is a shame to be in bed when the sun is shining so brightly, and the birds are singing, and the bees are flying from flower to flower.

Why are the bees at work so early? They want to gather the yellow pollen-dust from the flowers, and the dew helps them to wet it, so that they can roll it up in little balls. Then they pack these balls into a groove in their hind legs, and fly away to the hive. There they mix it with honey, and make it into bee-bread to feed the young bees.

See how busy that woodpecker is, under the elm tree. He is catching insects to carry home to his little ones, which have been hatched more than a week. Further away in the field is a thrush struggling with a big worm: I expect that he too is getting a breakfast for his family.

How busy they all are, and you in bed! If I were you I would get up and pull up some weeds in the garden. Then you will be of some use, and you can learn many interesting things, while you are at work.

Here is a weed, growing among the cabbages. Do you know its name? It is called "The Shepherd's Purse" (see  picture, p. 10) because of its curious seed-pods. These grow on stalks up the stem of the plant, below the little white flowers. If you open one of them very carefully, you will find that there is a small bag on each side, which can be pulled away from the middle, when the pod is ripe, leaving the seeds hanging on a small division.


Shepherd's Purse

So the pod is a kind of purse, with two pockets, and we can pretend that the seeds are the shepherd's money.

Take hold of this plant, and I will tell you about its different parts. First look at the root.  That always grows downwards into the ground. It has small rootlets growing out of it. The root and the rootlets all have tender tips, and they drink in the food of the plant out of the ground.

You know that your father puts manure into the earth before he sows his seeds, or plants his fruit trees. Then the rain sinks into the earth and takes the juice out of the manure. This makes a, rich drink for the roots to suck in, and so the plants grow strong.

Next look at the stem.  You can tell where it begins, for a tuft of leaves grows close to the ground. A root never has any leaves on it, so where the leaves grow must be the stem. The place where the stem joins the root is often called the stock.

Look carefully at this tuft of leaves. You will see that they do not grow exactly one above the other. The leaves in the upper row always grow just between the leaves of the lower row. And as the stem grows upwards, and the leaves are farther apart, they still grow so that they are not exactly one above the other.

Why do you think they grow like this? Because they want to get as much sun as they can. If they grew exactly one above the other, the upper leaf would keep the sun away from the lower one. But now they get as much as there is to be had.

You see then that a plant has a root which grows downwards to take in water out of the ground, and stems to grow upwards and carry the leaves up into the sunlight. What the leaves do we will learn in the next lesson.

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