And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind…
Notice the general parts and functions of trees and plants.
I. THE ROOTS. Two important and special purposes.
1. To attach the plant or tree to the soil, and support it there in its proper position.
2. To select and draw suitable juices from the soil, for nourishment.
II. THE LEAVES. The principal organ of every plant. The seed in which the plant originates, when carefully examined, is found to be composed of a leaf rolled tightly, and altered in tissue and contents, so as to suit its new requirements. The bud also consists of leaves folded in a peculiar manner, and covered with hardened scales to protect them from the winter cold. And the flowers, the glory of the vegetable world, are merely leaves arranged so as to protect the vital organs within them, and coloured so as to attract insects to scatter the fertilizing pollen, and to reflect or absorb the light and heat of the sun for ripening the seed. If we pursue our study of leaves still further, and contemplate their chemical functions, we shall find each a marvel and a mystery in itself. Every leaf is an individual, gifted with peculiar powers; its stomata and other organs constitute a complete laboratory; it absorbs air, and exhales moisture; it elects the carbon, and sends forth as useless the excess of oxygen, it extracts from the sunbeam its chlorophyll, and with it adorns itself in the charms of verdancy. In a word, it embodies in its thin and distended form one of the most wonderful examples of organic chemistry. It is at once full of science and full of poetry.
III. THE FLOWERS. They are the most beautiful productions of the vegetable kingdom; and, as to the delicacy of their forms, the beauty of their colouring, and the sweetness of their odour, seem preeminently designed for the pleasure of man, for he alone of all the living tenants of the earth is capable of appreciating them. They also perform several important functions in connection with the reproduction of the species. Flowers exhibit many powers and properties which the science of man has never been able to explain. Some will instantly close upon the slightest touch. Some will flutter as if in alarm, upon sudden exposure to intense light. Some seem possessed of limited powers of locomotion; a certain species of wild oats, when placed upon a table, will spontaneously move; pea blossoms always turn their backs upon the wind; the heliotrope always faces the sun; the tulip opens its petals when the weather is fine, but closes them during rain and darkness. The pond lily closes its pure white leaves at night, as it lies on its watery bed, but unfolds them again in the morning. On the other hand, some flowers open only at night; that splendid flower, the night-blooming cereus, is of this kind; it opens but once, and that in the night, for a few hours only, then wilts and dies without ever admitting the light of day into its bosom. Some open and shut at certain hours, and that so regularly as to indicate the time of day, like the sindrimal of Hindostan, which opens at four in the evening and closes at four in the morning. Dr. Good, in his "Book of Nature," describes a water plant, valisneria spiralis, which, at a certain season, detaches itself from its stem, and, like a gallant suitor, sails complacently over the waters in pursuit of a mate, till he finds her. Other flowers there are, as the nepenthes, that will adroitly catch flies and devour them. Others again possess a most extraordinary luminous property; the nasturtium, if plucked during sunshine, and carried into a dark room, will there show itself by its own light; a plant that abounds in the jungles of Madura illumines the ground to a distance all around; and many species of lichens, creeping along the roofs of caverns, lend to them an air of enchantment, by the soft and clear light they diffuse. Who can explain to us these phenomena of flowers? Who but must see that the hand and counsel of Infinite Wisdom are concerned in the production of these vegetable wonders! I add but one fact more respecting flowers, and that is, the power which each flower has to regulate for itself the heat of the sun.
IV. THE SEEDS.
1. Look at the admirable contrivance of the vessels, or capsules, in which the various seeds are lodged and protected while they mature. These are so many, so diverse, and often so complicated in their forms and materials, that it would seem as if they had been adopted only for the sake of demonstrating the inexhaustible resources of the Divine invention. Some are invested in close tunicles, some are surrounded with hard shells, some are elaborately folded in leaves, some are deposited in rows within parchment pods, some are in cases lined with softest velvet, some are wrapped in wool, some are held as in blown bladders, some are placed between hard scales, some are defended by pointed thorns, some are housed as beneath a roof, some are within slits made in the edge of the ]eaves, some are buried in the heart of the fruit, and some in various other manners.
2. The fecundity of plants, or their capacity for producing seeds, presents us with another remarkable fact. The common cereals often yield from sixty to a hundred fold. One castor oil plant will produce 1,500, one sunflower 4,000, and one thistle 24,000 seeds in a single season.
3. Another interesting fact connected with seeds is the arrangement made for their dispersion. Sometimes the pericarp, or vessel containing the seed, opens elastically, as with a mechanical spring, and discharges the seeds contained in its cavity to a considerable distance. Some seeds, as those of the dandelion and thistle, are provided with a beautiful stellate down, which serves as wings, and by means of which they often travel many miles. Other seeds, as the burdock, are furnished with little hooks, by means of which they cling to men and beasts as they pass by, and are thus scattered far and wide. Birds, also, are important agents in this great work. Many of the heavier seeds, such as acorns, are gathered and buried by mice, squirrels, etc., of which, while part are consumed, many are left in the ground to germinate. Rains, and rivers, also, often carry seeds hundreds and even thousands of miles from where they were produced; and the ocean not unfrequently bears them to the shores of other continents, or wafts them upon the coral islands just risen from its bosom, and thus soon covers them with vegetation.
4. The seed having been dispersed and dropped in the soil, the next process to be noticed is its germination. To this certain conditions are necessary. A certain degree of heat must be had; at a temperature below freezing point, seed will not germinate, and if the temperature be up to, or very near, the boiling point of water, it will not germinate, but die. The most suitable temperature for each particular plant varies between these limits according to the nature of the plant. Again, if seeds have the necessary warmth and moisture, yet if exposed to bright light, they will not germinate; shade is always, absolute darkness sometimes, necessary for the success of the germinating process. If the seed enjoys all the required conditions of shade, water, air, and heat, it will grow and flourish. When a seed, a grain of wheat, say, is cast into the ground, from one end of it issues a plumule, or tender sprout; from the other a number of fibrous threads; the plumule immediately tends upward, and works for the air and light, and becomes a plant; the fibres also at once struggle downwards, and become the roots. "Now, what is a little remarkable," says Paley, "the parts issuing from the seed take their respective directions, into whatever position the seed itself happens to be cast. If the seed be thrown into the wrongest possible position, that is, if the ends in the ground point the reverse of what they ought to do, everything, nevertheless, goes on right. The sprout, after being pushed out a little way, makes a bend and turns upwards; the fibres, on the contrary, after shooting at first upward, turn down." This fact is not more wonderful than it is important; for, how unprofitable would be the labours of the husbandman, if only the grains that happened to be right end up would prove productive, for scarce one seed out of a hundred would be found in this position. Or, how endless would be his toil, if he had with care to place each particular seed in the ground with plumule end up. But for the present wise and happy constitution of the seed, by which each part proceeds in its right direction, and to fulfil its appointed office, where would be our daily bread? How manifest both the wisdom and goodness of God in this thing.
5. The longevity of seeds, or the power which they possess for retaining the vital principle for lengthy periods of time, is another remarkable fact to be noticed here. This is an important provision, as it supplies a safeguard against the extinction of the species under unfavourable circumstances, which may often occur. "In the time of the Emperor Hadrian, a man died soon after he had eaten plentifully of raspberries. He was buried at Dorchester. About thirty years ago the remains of this man, together with coins of the Roman Emperor, were discovered in a coffin at the bottom of a barrow, thirty feet under the surface. The man had thus lain undisturbed for some one thousand seven hundred years. But the most curious circumstance connected with the case was, that the raspberry seeds were recovered from the stomach, and sown in the garden of the Horticultural Society, where they germinated and grew into healthy bushes." What a wondrous creation, then, have we in a grain of seed! What a mystery is its life, that can thus well nigh immortalize its tiny and delicate organism, preserving it uninjured and unchanged through the lapse of hundreds and thousands of years!
V. THE EDIBLE AND OTHER USEFUL PRODUCTIONS OF PLANTS is another subject that demands our grateful consideration. He might have made all these of the same, or nearly the same, taste; but so far from this was His Divine generosity, that we have almost an interminable variety of fragrance and flavour, of sweetness and acid, of mellowness and pungency: and all so wonderfully suited to gratify our taste, to stimulate our appetite, and to yield us every required and desirable nutriment in health and in sickness. Then, too, plants not only feed, but clothe us.
(H. W. Morris, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.