This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The world is full of wonders to every one who has not made up his mind to be astonished at nothing he may see. To the thoughtful mind there is much in nature to inspire wonder and admiration. The wise adaptation of means to ends, and the beautiful harmony that exists throughout all the realm of organic nature lead the mind free from bias to the inference that some wise intelligent power orders and governs all these relations and harmonies. Perhaps nowhere in nature is there a more manifest exhibition of wisdom in the adaptation of means to the accomplishment of a worthy purpose than is seen in the various methods employed in nature for the dissemination of plants by the distribution of seeds.
In looking at this subject with an intelligent eye the mind cannot shut out the conviction that some intelligent designer must have been employed in planning this scheme that has so much of both excellence and variety to recommend it to the judgment. To say that all this is to be attributed to chance is to endow chance with all the attributes of a Deity, which is the very reverse of the idea intended to be conveyed by the term. In the sense intended it is perfectly absurd to attribute this or any other work to chance, for in that sense chance is nothing, and consequently can do nothing. So we regard it as the result of evolution: but I cannot see that this relieves the difficulty, even if the truth of the theory of evolution be admitted. Evolution is simply the working out of certain results under the operation of law. But what is this law? It is not correct to say that it is force, though I think many make this mistake.- Law is only the established order or manner in which force operates, so that if we admit the intervention of law and a thousand or ten thousand secondary causes, still this law must have originated with a Law-giver- and' behind all these-secondary causes the mind must rest at last on the great First Cause, the Author of all other-causes. But I did not start out to write a moral or philosophical essay, but to call attention to-some of nature's methods of distributing the vegetable kingdom over the world.
In producing these results we find three classes of agents-at work: the waters, the winds and animals,, besides certain arrangements within the plants themselves for the accomplishment of this purpose. And we find the seeds themselves-adapted to these different means of transportation. The light character of many seeds well adapts them to floating from place to place,, while their impervious coverings protect them while being carried long distances by the currents-of the ocean or of rivers, and then when they, lodge on some island or other shore they readily-spring up and grow. What, for instance, can be better adapted to floating from island to island than the tough, corky covering of the cocoanut.. The seeds of grasses and other plants are washed down from the higher grounds by streams, and they are thus widely distributed.
The seeds of many plants, as of the dandelion, thistle and a long list of similar plants are furnished with a tuft of downy or silky pappus> that will enable them, when ripe, to float away on the breeze and thus be scattered far and wide. The seeds of some species of poplar, cottonwood, are attached to a bunch of fine cotton that serves as a buoy to bear them up-through the air by means of which they are frequently carried many miles from the parent tree. Seeds are often disseminated through animal agency. Animals frequently carry seeds and nuts away and bury them for winter food,, where they are forgotten and left to grow.. Many seeds of fruits are swallowed by birds and carried to distant places and voided uninjured,, and there spring up and grow. Thus- the seeds-of cherries, grapes, gooseberries, blackberries and many others of like nature are sown broadcast over a large extent of country. During am invasion of the Rocky Mountain Locust into Iowa a few years ago, they left the ground' where they fed thickly strewn with the seeds of some species of grass, new to that locality which they had brought from the far north-west. Many seeds are provided with hooked barbs by which they cling to clothing find the coats of animals, and are; carried, about from, place to, place.
Many people are familiar with the cockle bur,the Spanish needle, the " beggar lice," and burdock, and how tenaciously they adhere to any surface where they can get a hold. To this we may add the sand bur, Cenchrus tribuloides, with its sharp spines, one of the most execrable weeds I have made the acquaintance of. Some seeds, as of the maple, ash, elm, etc., are furnished with a wing that causes them to sail off some distance in falling: The locust, Judas tree, or red bud, and others have a light pad that will often sail off to a considerable distance, thus scattering their seeds. Some kinds of bean have the pod so arranged that when it burst it suddenly twists into a coil, throwing the seeds a considerable distance; this habit in the Impa-tiens or touch-me-not, geranium, etc., is well known. The squirting cucumber, Momordica elaterium, when ripe, bursts with a considerable report, throwing its seeds many feet distant. A few plants, when their seeds are ripe, travel over the country and sow them themselves. A good example of this is the "tumble weed," about the true name of which the doctors disagree.
Two species grow here, the larger, which is the tumble weed here, grows in a thick cluster of very slender branches, and these so numerous that the bunch, which is often as big as a hogshead, can scarcely be seen through. When ripe they are torn from the roots by the wind, and then they roll and tumble, often at the speed of a race horse, till they meet an obstruction that they cannot surmount, and there they rest till the wind changes, and then they start again, and this is kept up till they are worn out and broken to pieces. Their seeds are thus scattered over all the country. A plant that grows on the deserts of Africa, the Rose of Jericho, Anas-tatica hierochuntica, when ripe, curls into a ball, becomes detatched from the soil and rolls about before the wind till a light shower of rain falls, when it opens its seed pods, drops its seeds which germinate in about eighteen hours. The wisdom of the arrangement here is seen when we remember that if it remained where it grew the whole plant would probably be covered by the drifting sands, and if its seeds did not germinate quickly while the transient moisture lasted they never could grow at all.
Thus does nature care for her children.
I was very much interested in the " Distribution of Plants," by Rev. L. J. Templin, in the January number of the Gardener's Monthly. It has been a subject of interest to me. I think birds are common carriers. A very familiar instance is of the cedar bird distributing Juni-perus Yirginiana. I have in mind a good hedge of cedar which has grown up along a rail fence; the seeds were voided by'birds while sitting on the fence. It may be that birds are the cause of rare plants being found in new localities. It is well known that Long Island, particularly the eastern extremity is a resting and feeding ground for migratory birds. Through their agency doubtless may be ascribed the appearance of plants not common to this section of country. Mr. Young and myself found a number of rare plants, mostly around ponds. For example, Rhyncospora nitens, Gray; not before reported north of North Carolina. Runiex Englemanni, a western species; Galactia mollis, Mx., a southern species; Polygonum ramosissimum, Mx., a western species, and Eleocharis tricostata, Torr., a southern species.
Dr. Allen, of New York, found on Montauk Point, in 1878, Glauciurn luteum, Scop., in great abundance. I believe aquatic birds carry particles of mud on their feet containing seeds; possibly this has been one way of plant distribution. The way Hamamelis Virginica has of distributing its seeds is wonderful. The pods explode and send the seed with considerable force. I have found seeds fifteen feet from the pods in which they grew, and that after the pods were taken from the trees.