Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/61

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53
THE MILK IN THE COCOA-NUT.

bly in the native state from almost all possible animal depredators. First of all, the actual nut or seed itself consists of a tiny embryo plant, placed just inside the softest of the three pores or pits at the end of the shell, and surrounded by a vast quantity of nutritious pulp, destined to feed and support it during its earliest unprotected days, if not otherwise diverted by man or monkey. But, as whatever feeds a young plant will also feed an animal, and as many animals betray a felonious desire to appropriate to their own wicked ends the food-stuffs laid up by the palm for the use of its own seedling, the cocoa-nut has been compelled to inclose this particularly large and rich kernel in a very solid and defensive shell. And, once more, since the palm grows at a very great height from the ground—I have seen them up to ninety feet in favorable circumstances—this shell stands a very good chance of getting broken in tumbling to the earth, so that it has been necessary to surround it with a mass of soft and yielding fibrous material, which breaks its fall, and acts as a buffer to it when it comes in contact with the soil beneath. So many protections has the cocoa-nut gradually devised for itself by the continuous survival of the best adapted among numberless and endless spontaneous variations of all its kind in past time.

Now, when the cocoa-nut has actually reached the ground at last, and proceeds to sprout in the spot where chance (perhaps in the bodily shape of a disappointed monkey) has chosen to cast it, these numerous safeguards and solid envelopes naturally begin to prove decided nuisances to the embryo within. It starts under the great disadvantage of being hermetically sealed within a solid wooden shell, so that no water can possibly get at it to aid it as most other seeds are aided in the process of germination. Fancy yourself a seed-pea, anxious to sprout, but coated all round with a hard covering of impermeable sealing-wax, and you will be in a position faintly to appreciate the unfortunate predicament of a grower cocoa-nut. Natural selection, however—that deus ex machina of modern science, which can perform such endless wonders, if only you give it time enough to work in and variations enough to work upon—natural selection has come to the rescue of the unhappy plant by leaving it a little hole at the top of the shell, out of which it can push its feathery green head without difficulty. Everybody knows that if you look at the sharp end of a cocoa-nut you will see three little brown pits or depressions on its surface. Most people also know that two of these are firmly stopped up (for a reason to which I shall presently recur), but that the third one is only closed by a slight film or very thin shell, which can be easily bored through with a pocket-knife, so as to let the milk run off before cracking the shell. So much we have all learned during our ardent pursuit of natural knowledge on half-holidays in early life. But we probably then failed to observe that just opposite this soft hole lies a small, roundish knob, imbedded in the pulp or eatable portion, which