Gateway to the Classics: Wild-Flower Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
Wild-Flower Study by  Anna Botsford Comstock

Flowers and Insect Partners

dropcap image T is undoubtedly true that while the processes of cross-pollenation and the complicated devices of flowers for insuring it can only be well taught to older pupils and only fully understood in the college laboratory, yet there are a few simple facts which even the young child may know, as follows:

1. Pollen is needed to make the seeds grow; some flowers need the pollen from other flowers of the same kind, to make their seeds grow; but many flowers also use the pollen from their own flowers to pollenate their ovules, which grow into seeds.

2. Flowers have neither legs like animals nor wings like butterflies, to go after pollen; so they give insects nectar to drink and pollen to eat, and thus pay them for fetching and carrying the pollen.

I taught this to a four-year-old once in the following manner: A pine tree in the yard was sifting its pollen over us and little Jack asked what the yellow dust was; we went to the tree and saw where it came from, then I found a tiny young cone and explained to him that this was a pine blossom, and that in order to become a cone with seeds, it must have some pollen fall upon it; and we saw how the wind sifted the pollen over it and then we examined a ripe cone and found the seeds. Then we looked at the clovers in the lawn. They did not have so much pollen and they were so low in the grass that the wind could not carry it for them; but right there was a bee. What was she doing? She was getting honey for her hive or pollen for her brood, and she went from one clover head to another; we caught her in a glass fruit jar, and found she was dusted with pollen and that she had pollen packed in the baskets on her hind legs; and we concluded that she carried plenty of pollen on her clothes for the clovers, and that the pollen in her baskets was for her own use. After that he was always watching the bees at work; and we found afterwards that flowers had two ways of telling the insects that they wanted pollen. One was by their color, for the dandelions and clovers hide their colors during dark, rainy days when the bees remain in their hives. Then we found the bees working on mignonette, whose blossoms were so small that Jack did not think they were blossoms at all, and we concluded that the mignonette called the bees by its fragrance. We found other flowers which called with both color and fragrance; and this insect-flower partnership remained a factor of great interest in the child's mind ever after.

"Roly-poly honey-bee,

Humming in the clover,

Under you the tossing leaves,

And the blue sky over,

Why are you so busy, pray?

Never still a minute,

Hovering now above a flower,

Now half buried in it!"

—Julia C. R. Dorr.

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