About a month previous to Christmas we received our first seed catalogue, but it is only recently that I found time to delve into its depths to see the multitude of choice that it has to offer. I had not yet turned the second or third page when I all of a sudden wondered what the world would have been like had the evolution of flowers not taken place.
So I turned to the multi, floor to ceiling, shelved walls of my study to see what my world had to offer. From a book copyrighted in 1978 by the Estate of Loren C. Eisley, a bone hunter, (archeologist) here, in part, in his words, and mine, is what I found.
When the first flower bloomed on some raw upland late in the dinosaur age, it was wind-pollinated, just like its early pine cone relatives. It was a very inconspicuous flower because it had not yet evolved the idea of using the surer attraction of birds and insects to achieve the transportation of pollen. It sowed its own pollen and received the pollen of other flowers by the simple vagaries of the wind.
Many plants in regions where insect life is scant still follow that principle today. Nevertheless, the true flower – and the seed that it produced – was a profound innovation in the world of life.
In a way, that event parallels, in the plant world, what happened among animals.
Consider the relative chance for survival of the exteriorly deposited egg of fish in contrast with the fertilized egg of a mammal, carefully retained for months in the mother’s body until the young animal (or human being) is developed to a point where it may survive.
The biological wastage is less – and so it is with the flowering plants. The primitive spore, a single cell fertilized in the beginning by a swimming sperm, did not promote rapid distribution, and the young plant, moreover, had to struggle up from nothing. No one had left it any food except what it could get by its own unaided efforts.
By contrast, the true flowering plants (angiosperm itself means “encased seed”) grew a seed heart of a flower, a seed whose development was initiated by a fertilized pollen grain independent of outside moisture.
But the seed, unlike the developing spore, is already a fully equipped embryonic plant packed in a little enclosed box stuffed full of nutritious food.
Moreover, by feather-down attachments, as in dandelion or milkweed seed, it can be wafted upward on gusts and ride the wind for miles; or with hooks it can cling to a bear’s or a rabbit’s hide; or like some of the berries, it can be covered with a juicy, attractive fruit to lure birds, pass undigested through their intestinal tracts, and be voided miles away.
The well-fed, carefully cherished little embryos raised their heads everywhere. Those fantastic little seeds skipping and hopping and flying about the woods and valleys brought with them an amazing adaptability. When you come to think of it, our food comes from only three sources, all produced by the reproductive system of the flowering plants. The tantalizing nectars and pollens intended to draw insects for pollenizing purposes are responsible also for that wonderful winged jewelled creation, the hummingbird.
They also developed the juicy and enticing fruits to attract larger animals, including the Homo sapiens species, in which quantities of tough-coated seeds are concealed, as in the tomato, for example. Then, as if this were not enough, there is the food in the actual seed itself, the food intended to nourish the embryo. Like hot corn in a popper, these incredible elaborations of the flowering plants kept exploding. In a movement that is almost instantaneous, geologically speaking, the angiosperm has in effect, taken over the world, with the end result, if attention is directed, making healthy vegetarians out of us all. Should we not be leaning more towards the intended direction as patterned before us by the whims of Mother Nature?
Take care, ‘cause we care.