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

How Plants Store Food

Some plants live for one year only. Some live for two years. Some live for many years.

Have you not noticed that you have to sow mignonette, marigolds, and peas and beans fresh every year in the garden?—unless you keep the young seedlings, which grow from the seeds that fall. In the fields, wheat and oats only live till their grains are ripe, and then die away if they are left in the ground till winter comes.

In the same way chickweed, the corn poppy, and our old friend the shepherd's purse die when their seeds are ripe. These plants are like people who earn just enough to live from day to day, and cannot save for next year.

But if you want to have Sweet Williams, or Canterbury Bells in flower in the summer, you must sow the seeds the summer before. For these plants do not flower the first year. They only grow their root, and a short stem with leaves on it. The plant is busy making food, and storing it up in the root and stem, as starch and sugar and gum, so that it is ready to make a strong flowering plant next year.

Then after they have flowered and made their seeds, these plants die. They have only stored enough for a short life, and cannot live another year. Foxgloves, Thistles, and Wild Parsley behave in this way.

Lastly, you know that Snowdrops, Crocuses, Daisies, Primroses, Pansies, and Dahlias live on for many years, dying down in the autumn and coming up again in the spring. These plants send down the starch and sugar into the root, or the lower part of the stem, or into the bottom of the leaves underground.

Some of them grow more than two years before they try to flower. They are like people who save when they are young, and always go on saving, so that they have something to spare.

You can sometimes make a plant store up food. If you sow some mignonette and put one plant in a pot, and keep on nipping off the flower-buds so that it cannot make seeds, it will grow into a little shrub, and flower for two or three years.

Different plants store their food in different parts. The wild carrot and the acorn, which is growing into an oak, store theirs in the root. The carrot is fleshy and only lasts two years. But the root of the oak is woody and lives long.

The lesser celandine, you remember, stores its food in small white lumps like white sugar-plums, which are swollen roots with a bud at the top. The marsh marigolds, and the pretty yellow flags, which grow by the river, store theirs in an underground stem. You must follow the stalks of the marsh marigold right back till you come close to the roots, and there you will find the thick knob, which lives on, all through the winter, and sends up fresh leaves in the spring.

If you can get a long piece of the creeping stem of the yellow flag, you will see the marks of the places where the flowering stems have come up year after year. They follow each other along the stem till you come to the plant of this year. And beyond that is the bud for next year.

There is a very pretty plant called Solomon's Seal, which is wild in some parts of England, and is often grown in cottage gardens. It has a tall flower-stalk with rather narrow leaves, and lovely white flowers, with green tips, The flowers hang down all on one side of the stalk. If you dig up a piece of the stem of this plant you will see large scars like seals upon it. These are the places where the stems have grown year after year, and this is why it is called Solomon's Seal.


Primrose and Solomon's Seal

You can make out for yourself the mass of stems and buds people call a primrose root. I want now to show you an underground bud  or bulb. Dig up a wild hyacinth, usually called a blue-bell. You will find that it has a large knob at the bottom, with small roots growing out of it. Cut this knob in half, and notice that it is a bulb made of scaly leaves folded one over the other, exactly like an onion.

It you dig it up in the spring, the flower-stalk will be standing up in the middle, and when you pull the scaly leaves off one by one, you will find another bud very small  close to the bottom of the flower-stalk. If you dig up another plant in the autumn, the flower-stalk will have withered away, and the baby bud will be peeping out of the top of the bulb.

This is what has happened. After the hyacinth left off flowering, the leaves grew long and made food and sent it down to the scaly leaves underground. The bulb grew fat and strong, and the small bulb inside grew larger. Now it is ready to lie quiet all the winter. When the spring comes the little bulb will take the food from the thick scaly leaves, and grow into a new plant.

Bring six plants—two with food stored in the root, two in the underground stem, two in bulbs.

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