Margaret Sanger, "How Six Little Children Were Taught the Truth," 12 Nov 1911.
Published Article. Source: New York Call, November 12, 1911 .
This is Part 3 of an eight-part series of the same title. For Part 1, see Oct. 29, 1911, for Part 2, see Nov. 5, 1911, for Part 4 see Nov. 19, 1911, for Part 5 see Nov. 26, 1911 and Dec. 3, 1911, for Part 6 see Dec. 10, 1911., and for Part 7, see Dec. 17, 1911.
Last week we learned that the Buttercup family lived within the petals of the Butterfly House. And we learned that the pollen from the stamen, or father, must reach the pistil, or mother, before the little eggs or seeds contained in the mother can begin to grow and develop into new plants. But the flower cannot move about as can animals, so they must depend on insects and outsiders to bring the pollen into the little nest where the eggs are. But unless there is some object attracting insects, bees, moths and butterflies, etc., to visit the flowers, they would not come to them, so the flowers have many attractions, such as their color and their odor. But the most important, and the one which is sweet is the little bag of nectar or honey contained in many flowers which all insects love and will go far to get. When the insect visits the father, it rubs against his pollen, and the pollen sticks to its head or legs. Then as it visits the mother, if the stigma (which is the top of the pistil, or mother) is ready for the pollen, it shows this by becoming moist, and sometimes sticky. Then the pollen clings to the stigma, and down it goes through its tiny tube, to the little nest of ovules, or seeds, where it at once causes the seeds to become alive. Then they grow and grow until their time comes to burst forth and develop new plants themselves.
Now, it is also important that the little visitors who come for the nectar, or honey, should fly from flower to flower and not crawl, because in doing so the pollen would drop off and never reach the mother flower, who are anxiously awaiting this important substance, so that their little seeds, or babies may begin to grow. Consequently they have many ways of keeping out the crawling insects. Mrs. Buttercup has a very hairy stem, and this makes it a very hard journey for Mrs. Ant and others to come into the Buttercup house for a little sip of honey. She often starts there, but gets so tired out that she gives up the trip and returns to her family without any honey for them. This plan of growing a hairy stem is only one of the interesting ways the flowers have of keeping out the insects who cannot help them carry out the one object for which they exist - to make more flowers.
Some of the flowers have a little trap door to their sac of honey, which only the weight of the bee can open. Others keep their nectar in long tubes, or at the bottom of long tubes, so that only bees with long tongues can reach it. An example of this is in the Orchid of Madagascar, which has a nectar tube eleven inches long, and depends upon one certain kind of moth for its existence.
It is related that when Darwin was confronted with the evidence of this flower as against one of his theories he insisted that such an insect must live - even before it had been discovered! Again, other flowers keep their petals closed, and the petals must be forced apart in order to get the honey by a strong bumblebee. The flowers that are fertilized by the insects are called "insect loving." Those that are fertilized by the wind are called "wind loving," etc.
The buttercup was thought not to need the insects to carry its pollen to the stigma -- it was for some time thought to be what is called self-fertilizing. But the discovery of the small sac of nectar shows that it must have a purpose, and that purpose to attract insects to bring pollen from other father flowers to fertilize the tiny seeds.
The stigma is not always ready to accept the pollen, but when it is ready it becomes moist, and in some flowers sticky, which shows it is in condition to accept the pollen, and that the seeds are ready for their development. This condition often lasts only a few hours, but sometimes a few days.
The boys had now been taught and had seen how the pollen reaches the baby seeds. They had been taught the importance of the pollen for the growth of the seeds. They had seen that after the pollen reaches the seeds, that they are given new life, that they remain right in their little nest and are nourished by the pistil, a mother flower, until they are full grown or matured. Now as this process is the whole object of the individual plant, what happens then?
The boys were shown that as soon as the seeds begin to grow the petals, or the mother flower, begin to wither, and it seemed as if the flower gave of its beauty, form and youth in order that the baby seeds should grow and mature.
The boys were then taught that the plant depends on the earth and air for its nourishment, and as the various flowers have various ways of keeping the crawling insects out of their honey sac, so have they different ways of spreading or scattering their seeds after they have matured. If all the seeds of all plants fell right down near the parent plant there might not be nourishment enough to provide all the seeds with food.
So again the outsiders assist them as they did in carrying the pollen. This time it is the wind which does much to assist them in this work. The birds, too, eat of the seeds and drop some of them on other ground. The wind serves the milkweed and dandelion; the birds help the fruits, berries, and the herdick, or "burrs," help themselves by catching on the clothing of passerby, or the fur and hair of animals.
Then there are those seeds which are in pods - sweetpeas, beans, peas, etc.. Some of these dry and curl up, and as this is done, it throws the seeds to various places. Then there are those seeds which are in [burrs] , nuts, chestnuts, etc., which also burst open at a certain time, some of them explode, and this process scatters the seed over an area of several yards. But the wind seems to be the most important messenger in helping the flowers scatter their seeds.
The boys were also taught that the plants breathe and need care; that their struggle for existence is intense. They are also taught of the beautiful development of the flower under cultivation, and Mrs. Buttercup and Mrs. Daisy were both taken from the field and cultivated, given plenty of light, water and the proper soil, best suited to the needs of each, and the results were wonderful.
The boys each were given small gardens of wild flowers, which they cared for themselves, and the following year they each had small vegetable gardens.
Every flower had a life story, they were told, and each a different story - interesting, intense and true.
Bobby's mother found that the boys absorbed this information readily and very quickly. Although they studied the flowers for an entire year, they also studied the frogs and birds, together with the flowers. The mammals and humans were taken up during the winter.
Much more time could have been spent on the flowers alone, but as the boys were ripe for information about themselves, Bobby's mother combined the first three subjects, and we shall see next week what they learned about the frogs.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project