Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Flowerless Plants by Anna Botsford Comstock
Handbook of Nature Study: Flowerless Plants by  Anna Botsford Comstock


Teacher's Story

It is lucky for our peace of mind that our eyes are not provided with microscopic lenses, for then we should know that the dust, which seems to foregather upon our furniture from nowhere, is composed of all sorts of germs, many of them of the deadly kind. The spores of mold are very minute objects, the spore-cases being the little white globes, not larger than the head of a small pin which we see upon mold, yet each of these spore-cases breaks and lets out into the world thousands of spores, each one ready and anxious to start a growth of mold and perfectly able to do it under the right conditions; almost any substance which we use for food, if placed in a damp and rather dark place, will prove a favorable situation for the development of the spore which swells, bursts its wall and sends out a short thread. This gains nourishment, grows longer and branches, sending out many threads, some of which go down into the nutritive material and are called the mycelium. While these threads, in a way, act like roots, they are not true roots. Presently the tip ends of the threads, which are spread out in the air above the bread or other material, begin to enlarge, forming little globules; the substance (protoplasm) within them breaks up into little round bodies, and each develops a cell wall and thus becomes a spore. When these are unripe they are white but later, they become almost black. In the blue mold the spores are borne in clusters of chains, and resemble tiny tassels instead of growing within little globular sacs.

Molds, mildews, blights, rusts and smuts are all flowerless plants and, with the mushrooms, belong to the great group of fungi. Molds and mildews will grow upon almost any organic substance, if the right conditions of moisture are present, and the temperature is not too cold.

Molds of several kinds may appear upon the bread used in the experiments for this lesson. Those most likely to appear are the bread mold—consisting of long, white threads tipped with white, globular spore-cases, and the green cheese-mold—which looks like thick patches of blue-green powder. Two others may appear, one a smaller white mold with smaller spore-cases, and a black mold. However, the bread mold is the one most desirable for this lesson, because of its comparatively large size. When examined with a lens, it is a most exquisite plant. The long threads are fringed at the sides, and they pass over and through each other, making a web fit for fairies—a web all beset with the spore-cases, like fairy pearls. However, as the spores ripen, these spore-cases turn black, and after a time so many of them are developed and ripened that the whole mass of mold is black. The time required for the development of mold varies with the temperature. For two or three days nothing may seem to be happening upon the moist bread; then a queer, soft whiteness appears in patches. In a few hours or perhaps during the night, these white patches send up white fuzz which is soon dotted with tiny pearl-like spore-cases. At first there is no odor when the glass is lifted from the saucer, but after the spores ripen, the odor is quite disagreeable.


Bread mold, enlarged.

The special point to teach the children in this lesson is that dryness and sunlight are unfavorable to the development of mold; and it might be well to take one of the luxuriant growths of mold developed in the dark, uncover it and place it in the sunlight, and see how soon it withers. The lesson should also impress upon them that dust is composed, in part, of living germs waiting for a chance to grow.



Leading thought—The spores of mold are everywhere and help to make what we call dust. These spores will grow on any substance which gives them nourishment, if the temperature is warm, the air moist and the sunlight is excluded.

Method—Take bread in slices two inches square, and also the juice of apple sauce or other stewed fruit. Have each pupil, or the one who does the work for the class, provided with tumblers and saucers. Use four pieces of bread cut in about two-inch squares, each placed on a saucer; moisten two and leave the other two dry. With a feather or the finger take some dust from the woodwork of the room or the furniture and with it lightly touch each piece of bread. Cover each with a tumbler. Set one of the moistened pieces in a warm, dark place and the other in a dry, sunny place. Place a dry piece in similar situations. Let the pupils examine these every two or three days.

Put fruit juice in a saucer, scatter a little dust over it and set it in a warm, dark place. Take some of the same, do not scatter any dust upon it, cover it safely with a tumbler and put it in the same place as the other. A lens is necessary for this lesson, and it is much more interesting for the pupils if they can see the mold under a microscope with a three-fourths objective.


1. When does the mold begin to appear? Which piece of bread showed it first? Describe the first changes you noticed. What is the color of the mold at first? Is there any odor to it?

2. At what date did the little branching mold-threads with round dots appear? Is there an odor when these appear? What are the colors of the dots, or spore-cases, at first? When do these begin to change color? How does the bread smell then? What caused the musty odor?

3. Did the mold fail to appear on any of the pieces of bread? If so, where were these placed? Were they moist? Were they exposed to the sunlight?

4. Did more than one kind of mold appear on the bread? If so, how do you know that they are different kinds? Are there any pink or yellow patches on the bread? If so, these are made by bacteria and not by mold.

5. From the results of the experiments, describe in what temperature mold grows best. In what conditions of dryness or moisture? Does it flourish in the sunlight or in the dark?

6. Where does the mold come from? What harm does it do? What should we do to prevent the growth of mold? Name all of the things on which you have seen mold or mildew growing.

7. Examine the mold through a microscope or a lens. Describe the threads. Describe the little round spore-cases. Look at some of the threads that have grown down into the fruit juice. Are they like the ones which grow in the air?

8. If you have a microscope cut a bit of the mold off, place it in a drop of water on a glass slide, put on a cover-glass. Examine it with a three-fourths objective, and describe the spores and spore-cases.

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