If fertilization of all flowers were as simple as this, there would be no need of what follows, but actually in surprisingly few plants are the stamens and pistils so arranged, the ripening of the pollen and readiness of the ovule for impregnation so timed that the act can be accomplished in such direct fashion. For it is quite obvious that in flowers in which the whole drama of mating goes on within the petals, without the interference or help of any outside agency, the result will be a crop of young who know no other characters than those of the parents, and have nothing to look forward to but a closely inbreeding progeny, very little, if at all different from themselves.
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The next step in the process, the conversion of formaldehyde into sugars and starches, is not necessarily a photosynthetic one, as it can be brought about by protoplasm which contains no chlorophyll or other energy-absorbing pigment. It is, however, a characteristic synthetic activity of living protoplasm. There is little definite knowledge as to how the cell protoplasm accomplishes this important task. As has been pointed out, the polymerization of formaldehyde into a sugar-like hexose, known as "acrose," can be easily accomplished by ordinary laboratory reactions, and acrose can be converted into glucose or fructose by a long and difficult series of transformations. But such processes as are employed in the laboratory to accomplish these artificial synthesis of optically-active sugars from formaldehyde can have no relation whatever to the methods of condensation which are used by cell protoplasm in its easy, almost instantaneous, and nearly continuous accomplishment of this transformation.
Furthermore, these simple hexoses are by no means the final products of cell synthesis, even of carbohydrates alone. In many plants, starch appears as the final, if not the first, product of formaldehyde condensation. At least, the transformation of the simple sugars, which may be supposed to be the first products, into starch is effected so nearly instantaneously that it is impossible to detect measurable quantities of these sugars in the photosynthetically active cells of such plants. Other species of plants always show considerable quantities of simple sugars in the vegetative tissues, and some even store up their reserve carbohydrate food material in the form of glucose or sucrose. Attempts have been made to associate the type of carbohydrate formed in cell synthesis with the botanical families to which the plants belong, but with no very great success.
For each individual species, however, the form of carbohydrate produced is always the same, at least under normal conditions of growth. For example, the sugar beet always stores up sucrose in its roots, although under abnormal conditions considerable quantities of raffinose are developed. Similarly, potatoes always store up starch, but with abnormally low temperatures considerable quantities of this may be converted into sugar, which becomes starch again with the return to normal conditions.
Included in this group are several different kinds of compounds which have similar physical properties, and which, in general, belong to the type of organic compounds known as esters, i.e., alcoholic salts of organic acids. The terms "oil," "fat," and "wax," are generally applied more or less indiscriminately to any substance which has a greasy feeling to the touch and which does not mix with, but floats on, water. There are many oils which are of mineral origin which are entirely different in composition from natural fats. These have no relation to plant life and will not be considered here.