Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/94

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
PRAIRIE-FLOWERS OF EARLY SPRING.

By BYRON D. HALSTED, Sc.D.,

PROFESSOR OF BOTANY, IOWA AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE.

BOTANY has so changed, broadened, and deepened, within the past twenty years, that it may seem like retrogression to talk of flowers. The average botanist of to-day has gone so far beyond mere blossoms, as such, in his study of minute anatomy or in his experiments upon vegetable physiology, that he sometimes almost forgets there are such things as sepals and petals. He must confine himself to a single cell, or at most a group of cells; a tissue, or possibly a tissue system, or else his associates will speak of him as being so broad that he must be shallow. The division of labor, in fact, has gone so far that one person studies pollen for a lifetime, while another counts that day lost in which he does not gain some new fact upon the end-less subject of chlorophyl. There are hundreds of noted botanists who pay no attention to flowering plants except as they are the hosts of, and subject to destructive inroads from, the almost countless species of cryptogamic plants belonging to the rusts, smuts, blights, mildews, and molds.

It therefore requires much courage in this age of advanced botanical thought to attempt to write upon a theme that is so broad as the one selected. "Spring flowers" bears the marks of wear, especially in the hands of those who can do almost anything better than make rhymes. The practical eye of the penetrating student of plant-life has gone beyond the beauty in flowers, and finds a golden thread of adaptation which the average "spring poet" has never dreamed of, even in his highest flights after the soul of things. However, for the genuine poets be it said that it was reserved for the immortal Goethe to first comprehend the true morphology of seemingly so simple a structure as a flower.

The season of flowers opened unusually early this year—how much more so than the average can only be told after observations have been taken over a series of years. Ten years from now it is hoped that the record will be so complete that, with watch in hand, the hour may be given when a certain flower may be expected. There is doubtless a floral clock for the year as there is one for the twenty-four hours of a single day. Perhaps there has been a great Phyto-convention held somewhere, and a majority, if not all, of the choice bloomers were in attendance. Each was assigned its place in the calendar, and if the petals do not unfold and fade away with the regularity of the unerring time-piece, it is no fault of the plant. Upon the surrounding circumstances, and not upon the plant, must rest any blame for irregularity. To any one who has made a careful inspection of the