We left our plants, at the end of the last lesson, growing green leaves in the sunlight. Now they go on very quickly. Their roots take in water from the ground, and the leaves take in gases from the air.
When the plant has made plenty of roots, stems, and leaves, it begins to store up food for making flowers, in which new seeds will be formed. This is a very important work, for seeds are needed to grow up into new plants, and so many are destroyed by birds and insects or stifled by other plants that, if there were not plenty, the plants would die out.
So the seed-box, or ovary, is very carefully protected. It grows right in the middle of the flower, where it can be closely wrapped up in the bud. Even when it grows below the flower, as in the honeysuckle, the sticky tip is always safe inside the bud.
Gather a Primrose and Buttercup in the field, and a flower from the row of Peas in the garden, and look for their seed-boxes. In the middle of the butter-cup flower you will find a great number, shaped like pears standing upside down, with their stalks upwards, and in each of these seed-boxes there is the beginning of a little seed.
You will have to pull the yellow crown off the Primrose before you can see the little round seed-box sitting in the green cup. It has a tube growing out of it with a round knob on the top.
In the Pea-flower you will find one single pod inside the flower-leaves, and it has a long beak on the tip. When you open the pod you will see seven or eight white balls inside it, which are the baby peas. If you can cut open the seed-box of the primrose, you will find the same kind of balls, but very small indeed. These balls are soft and transparent. You can crush them with your fingers easily. They are not yet real seeds, but only bags of juice, called "ovules." Before they can grow into hard seeds, they must use some of the yellow grains out of the dust-bags which grow round them.
This is why the seed-boxes have tips, and beaks and knobs. The tip of the buttercup pods, the beak at the end of the pea-pod, and the knob at the top of the primrose-tube, are all sticky. The yellow grains stick to them like flies on fly-paper. Then the grains burst and send some juice down to the ovules in the seed-box, and turn them into real hard seeds.
As you go home pick any flower you see, and try to find its seed-box. You may perhaps pick a Poppy in the cornfield. That has a fine large seed-box, like a covered cup, with holes under the cover. When the seed-box is ripe, and hangs down its head, the seeds fall out at the holes. There are so many you could not count them.
You may pick a Violet, and when you have taken off the coloured leaves, you will find a very curious seed-box. For the tube, and the sticky knob at the top, are just like a bird's neck and head. The dust-bags which fit close round the seed-box are a lovely orange colour.
If you can find a pretty purple flower called the Marsh Mallow, you will see that the seed-box is like a round flat cheese, with a long tube standing up in the middle. This tube has eight or twelve red sticky points; there are a great many yellow stamens round it. Country children often call the seed-boxes of the mallow "cheeses," when they are ripe and the long tube has fallen off.
But very likely you may pick a Daisy or a Dandelion. Then you will be puzzled, for you will not find a seed-box in the middle. This is because a daisy or a dandelion is not one flower, but a great many flowers crowded together in one head.
Take a dandelion flower-head to pieces, and you will find that each tiny flower will come away from the rest. There are more than a hundred in one dandelion head. Take one of these florets in your hand and have a look at it. At the bottom there is an oval bag, that is the seed-box. On the top of it there are some fine hairs, these are the sepals. Then there is the yellow crown with a long strap to it. Inside the crown come the stamens, with very long dust-bags, which cling round the tube. On the top of the tube stand two yellow sticky horns.
So you see this tiny thing is a whole flower, growing with its companions on the dandelion head. The daisy is the same, with some little differences. See if you can make that out for yourself.
Find the seed-boxes of the pea, wallflowers, shepherd's purse, buttercup, primrose, poppy, marsh-mallow, and dandelion.