Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/241

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229
PRAIRIE FLOWERS OF LATE AUTUMN.

By the time December comes, and with it the season for the winter festivals, everybody in the village has his new clothes for the year, and all look neat and trim in fresh brown deer-skins and clean white mittens and breeches.

 

PRAIRIE FLOWERS OF LATE AUTUMN.
By BYRON D. HALSTED,

PROFESSOR OF BOTANY IN RUTGERS COLLEGE, N. J.

IT is not easy to satisfactorily decide why some plants bloom in autumn, while others produce their flowers only in spring. To have hepaticas in April is as much a matter of common expectation as for August to bring the first golden-rods and October a gorgeous display of asters. An unwritten law of Nature has been conformed to, and the result is a floral time-piece of the seasons, so accurate in its wonderful mechanism that one only needs to see the bouquet of a school-girl returning from her Saturday afternoon ramble in the woods to know the month of the passing year. Some time ago (The Popular Science Monthly, May, 1887) the writer prepared a paper upon "Prairie Flowers of Early Spring," in which it was stated that the first blossoms of the season gained an advantage by being first. There is a mutual adaptation existing between flowers and insects that the most casual observer can not gainsay. It is not only an advantage, but in many cases a positive necessity, that flowers be visited by insects in order to secure that transfer of pollen from one blossom to another which results in fertilization. The modern accepted view of all floral display is that it serves the purpose of attracting insects, and acts as a contrivance by means of which the fertilization of a flower by its own pollen is prevented. Botanists of earlier days did not force this truth upon the attention of others, and many persons better qualified to judge of human than natural history arrived at the erroneous, if not somewhat selfish, conclusion that floral forms and colors were primarily to beautify the earth and render it a pleasant habitation for man. No one can for a moment doubt that flowers are beautiful, but beauty is a secondary matter so far as the gratifying of man's taste for beauty in forms and colors is concerned. It is so planned that the qualities which render the floral structures so well adapted to the peculiarities of the insects are the ones which at the same time render them beautiful and thereby contribute to the pleasure of man. In this adjustment we may see the working of an Infinite Mind able to combine the two elements of utility and beauty so completely that it is not extravagant to say they are often inseparable.