Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/841

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

tage to the species where it occurred that it has been increased and developed from generation to generation through natural selection. Now, what such plants do for their offspring, the hyacinth and many others like it do for themselves. The lily family, at least in the temperate regions, seldom grows into a tree-like form; but many of them have acquired a habit which enables them to live on almost as well as trees from season to season, though their leaves die down completely with each recurring winter. If you cut open a hyacinth-bulb, or, what is simpler to experiment upon, an onion, you will find that it consists of several short abortive leaves, or thick fleshy scales. In these subterranean leaves the plant stores up the food-stuffs elaborated by its green portions during the summer; and there they lie the whole winter through, ready to send up a flowering stem early in the succeeding spring. The material in the old bulb is used in thus producing leaves and blossoms at the beginning of the second or third season; but fresh bulbs grow out anew from its side, and in these the plant once more stores up fresh material for the succeeding year's growth.

The hyacinths which we keep in glasses on our mantel-pieces represent such a reserve of three or four years' accumulation. They have purposely been prevented from flowering, in order to make them produce finer trusses of bloom when they are at length permitted to follow their own free-will. Thus the bulb contains material enough to send up leaves and blossoms from its own resources; and it will do so even if grown entirely in the dark. In that case the leaves will be pale yellow or faintly greenish, because the true green pigment, which is the active agent of digestion, can only be produced under the influence of light; whereas, the flowers will retain their proper color, because their pigment is always due to oxidation alone, and is but little dependent upon the rays of sunshine. Even if grown in an ordinary room, away from the window, the leaves seldom assume their proper deep tone of full green; they are mainly dependent on the food-stuffs laid by in the bulb, and do but little active work on their own account. After the hyacinth has flowered, the bulb is reduced to an empty and flaccid mass of watery brown scales.

Among all the lily kind, such devices for storing up useful material, either in bulbs or in the very similar organs known as corms, are extremely common. As a consequence, many of them produce unusually large and showy flowers. Even among our native English lilies we can boast of such beautiful blossoms as the fritillary, the wild hyacinth, the meadow-saffron, and the two pretty squills; while in our gardens the tiger-lilies, tulips, tuberoses, and many others belong to the same handsome bulbous group. Closely-allied families give us the bulb-bearing narcissus, daffodil, snow-drop, amaryllis, and Guernsey lily; the crocus, gladiolus, iris, and corn-flag; while the neighboring tribe of orchids, most of which have tubers, probably produce more