No feature of a landscape gives us more pleasure than its flowers, over which poets have sung and artists have painted their most charming pictures, even a musician has composed a very beautiful piano piece, “To a Water Lily.” But their true place in the scheme of nature has a deeper significance: the wonderful color and symmetry of their parts, the plan of their arrangement, their transformation into curious forms, like the Madagascar orchid, and hundreds of others—all these point to their supreme function, an act of self-sacrifice comparable only to the fall of a leaf when its task is done. Petals, too, wither and die when the fertilized ovary, already a mother, begins the slow process of maturing its young and the end of the flowering stage is reached. Such a climax is this in certain plants that the whole plant dies, as we have already noted in the case of the century plant. The toddy or wine palm of India, often sixty or seventy years old and more than a hundred feet tall, flowers only once, and, as if in recognition of the fact that it has done that for which it grew, slowly dies as the seed ripens. More humble annuals, like buckwheat, and hundreds of others, live only one brief growing season, produce flowers and seeds, and then die, leaving behind them the only means of perpetuating their kind. The dormant seed carries over the winter the life they were themselves unable to maintain, as perennials and woody plants do in their buds.
Little do we dream, as we walk over the commonest weed, that buried at its roots are these delicate arrangements for securing food and water. Osmosis allowed to act so that the “exchange” of liquids is all to the advantage of the plant, capillarity providing a constant water supply, and the very piling together of the soil so contrived that the life-giving air filters all through it—does it not seem as if all this were, if not a deliberate plan, certainly a more perfect one than mere man could have devised?