Flowers, then, have things to offer to insects which the latter need. Nectar and pollen are the chief, and where these merely bread and butter objects are not enough, or sometimes in addition to them, the flower is dressed out in gorgeous colors or perfumed with a fragrance beyond the dreams of the fairest bride. What insects do to complete the fertilization of such a legion of beauties makes up the romance of the flowers. Perhaps not even in man himself is this creation of new life so surrounded with beautiful ideas. Also, as in man, it sometimes is bound up with an almost fiendish cruelty and cunning. Some of these visitors and what they do, but unfortunately only a very few, can be mentioned here.
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In recent years, as a matter of scientific interest, many sugar-like substances which contain from two to nine carbon atoms combined with the proper number of hydrogen and oxygen atoms to be equivalent to the same number of molecules of water in each case, have been artificially prepared in the laboratory and designated as dioses, trioses, tetroses, pentoses, hexoses, heptoses, octoses, and nonoses, respectively. Substances corresponding in composition and properties with the artificial tetroses and one or two derivatives of heptoses are occasionally found in plant tissues, and a considerable number of pentoses and their condensation products are common constituents of plant gums, etc.; but the great majority of the natural carbohydrates are hexoses and their derivatives.
While it is impossible, with our present knowledge, to even guess at the mechanism by which protoplasm condenses formaldehyde into sugars and these, in turn, into more complex carbohydrates, the structure and relationships to each other of the final products of photosynthesis are well known, and are discussed at length in the following chapter.
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While stems, such as the Big Trees or the giant cactus, may be among the largest of nature’s creations they may be also the smallest, as the duckweed that floats on ponds is the tiniest of all flowering plants and its flat expanded surface is wholly stem. Figure 12 on this page better illustrates this strange modification of a stem than words could do.
From what has been read it will be seen that stems are not “just stems”—they are among nature’s most ingenious devices to secure the survival of the plant. Whether buried in the ground, and producing, almost by stealth, buds that develop into mature plants, or thrusting leaves to the utmost limits of their reach, or climbing by an intricately varied mechanism, or changing their character to suit desert conditions, or floating on the water—it matters not. Each modification of form or use secures to the individual plant its chances to survive; and in most cases its only chance, as anyone may see by the sudden death which follows a series of changes which prevents a stem from performing its proper tasks.