Leaves as Factories For The Making of Food

  • It must be clear enough from the start that to call a leaf a factory for the making of food forces us to decide at once whether this is a mere way of speaking, or whether, incredible as it may seem, anything as thin as a leaf can really produce food. As we eat lettuce, and millions of cattle graze every day, leaves as food producers win handily on that score. But to understand how food is produced in such a tiny factory demands that we walk about in it for a bit, study the inside of it and especially its many small chambers within which is not only the machinery, but some of the finished product stored up for later use.

    Unlike modern factories there are many entrances, from any one of which we can begin our tour of inspection. On the under side of nearly all leaves and on the upper side of some there are scores or even hundreds of small pores called stoma, so small that only with a microscope can they be seen. These entrances through the factory wall, are carefully guarded by a pair of watchmen whose business it is to see neither too much dry air gets in nor too much of the product of the factory gets out. They see to it, also, that waste products are thrown out at the proper time. These watchmen, or guard cells, as they are called, are constantly on the job, work almost automatically, but their chief function is connected with the proper ventilation of the place, and will be discussed later under “How Plants Breathe.”

  • Analyses of the tissues of plants show that they contain all of the elements that are to be found in the soil on which they grew. Any of these elements which are present in the soil in soluble form are carried into the plants with the soil water in which they are dissolved, whether they are needed by the plant for its nutrition or not. But in the case of those elements which are not taken out of the sap to be used by the plant cells in their activities, the total amount taken from the soil is much less than is that of the elements which are used in the synthetic processes of the plant. Hence, much larger proportions of some elements than of others are taken from the soil by plants. The proportions of the different elements which

    are used by plants as raw materials for the manufacture of the products needed for their growth varies with the different species; but a certain amount of each of the so-called "essential elements" (see below) is necessary to every plant, because each such element has a definite rôle which it performs in the plant's growth. A plant cannot grow to maturity unless a sufficient supply of each essential element comes to it from the soil.