With such a beautifully perfected mechanism for getting food it might seem as though all plants would be satisfied to lead that life of independence for which they are so splendidly equipped. Some of them, however, are like men in one respect: there seems to be no end to the chase after getting something for nothing. Those that stand on their own roots, get their food honestly, and take nothing for which they do not make prodigal returns, make up the great bulk of the vegetation of the earth. Their independence has dubbed them with the title autophytes, literally solitary or self-providing plants, and this thrifty mode of life is called autophytic. But a few kinds of plants, actually many millions of individuals, have more devious ways of getting their food and provide strong contrast to their sturdier associates.
These baser modes of life appear to have been rather insidiously developed, as though there had been some hesitation at even the smallest departure from the normal. Of course we must not forget that plants, while living things, are never reasoning ones, and that good and evil and all other qualities that are ascribed to plants are perfectly foreign to them. Throughout this book, and in many others, the habits of plants are spoken of as base, for instance, or good. What is actually the fact is that nature works in truly marvelous ways, and to our reasoning faculties these adjustments seem clothed with attributes they do not really possess. But the description of them in the terms of our everyday speech, the translation of their behavior into the current conceptions of mankind, does so fix them in our minds that they cease to be “just plants,” and we no longer put their habits in the category of those interesting things that nearly everyone forgets.