Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/63

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55
THE MILK IN THE COCOA-NUT.

have no special protection for their seeds are obliged to produce a great many of them at once, in order that one seed in a thousand may finally survive the onslaughts of their Argus-eyed enemies; but, when they learn to protect themselves by hard coverings from birds and beasts, they can dispense with some of these supernumerary seeds, and put more nutriment into each one of those that they still retain. Compare, for example, the innumerable small round seedlets of the poppy-head with the solitary large and richly-stored seed of the walnut, or the tiny black specks of mustard and cress with the single compact and well-filled seed of the filbert and the acorn. To the very end, however, most nuts begin in the flower as if they meant to produce a whole capsuleful of small unstored and unprotected seeds, like their original ancestors; it is only at the last moment that they recollect themselves, suppress all their ovules except one, and store that one with all the best and oiliest food-stuffs at their disposal. The nuts, in fact, have learned by long experience that it is better to be the only son and heir of a wealthy house, set up in life with a good capital to begin upon, than to be one of a poor family of thirteen needy and unprovided children.

Now, the cocoa-nuts are descended from a great tribe—the palms and lilies—which have as their main distinguishing peculiarity the arrangement of parts in their flowers and fruits by threes each. For example, in the most typical flowers of this great group, there are three green outer calyx-pieces, three bright-colored petals, three long outer stamens, three short inner stamens, three valves to the capsule, and three seeds or three rows of seeds in each fruit. Many palms still keep pretty well to this primitive arrangement, but a few of them which have specially protected or highly developed fruits or nuts have lost in their later stages the threefold disposition in the fruit, and possess only one seed, often a very large one. There is no better and more typical nut in the whole world than a cocoa-nut—that is to say, from our present point of view at least, though the fear of that awful person, the botanical Smelfungus, compels me to add that this is not quite technically true. Smelfungus, indeed, would insist upon it that the cocoa-nut is not a nut at all, and would thrill us with the delightful information, innocently conveyed in that delicious dialect of which he is so great a master, that it is really "a drupaceous fruit with a fibrous mesocarp." Still, in spite of Smelfungus with his nice, hair-splitting distinctions, it remains true that humanity at large will still call a nut a nut, and that the cocoa-nut is the highest known development of the peculiar nutty tactics. It has the largest and most richly stored seed of any known plant; and this seed is surrounded by one of the hardest and most unmanageable of any known shells. Hence the cocoa-nut has readily been able to dispense with the three kernels which each nut used in its earlier and less developed days to produce. But though the palm has thus taken to reducing the num-