This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
The palm, in some ways, is simpler than the pine. It has less bark, and its stem does not branch. Its bark often seems to be mere bundles of loose, dry fibres left by leaves that fell as the stem grew upward. These leaf scales are easily stripped off, and the fibres are so long and strong that they can be woven and twisted. They hint at true bark. The flowers of palms are borne on a fleshy spike at the top, between the cluster of feathery leaves. They are small and green, as in the pines, and do not look like flowers at all. The seeds of palms and pines form very much as they do in the fern, but the little whip-lash turns into yellow grains of pollen. The making of pollen was a big step forward. Pollen grains can be carried like dust on the wind, to more distant plants. Sometimes, in the desert, the pollen of date palms hover like a yellow mist over the trees. You can see this yellow dust in pine woods in the spring. It has a spicy smell.
The pines and the palms are very useful to men. The pines furnish many building woods, tar, turpentine, resins and gums. The palms furnish food in dates, cocoanuts, sago (a starchy pith), sugar, oil from palm nuts and cocoanuts, dyes, gums, building material and fibres. In pines and palms, nature made plants of very much longer life than she had ever made before. Some giant red-woods of California are known to be hundreds of years old. The highest of the cone-bearers have very strong, thick bark and show rings of yearly growth in their wood.
Next, nature began to cover her seeds. The seeds were still single leafed, and the leaves straight-veined. She began to make ribbon-like leaves growing at regular distances on stems. Any little grass plant is an example. How many ribbon-leafed plants can you think of? Wheat, oats, rye, rice—yes, all the cereal grains, from grasses to the tall, wide, banner-bladed corn stalk. Sugar cane belongs to this family, and your bamboo fishing pole. Water flags, rushes and cat-tails belong to it, too, and onions, lilies and other bulb plants. In the bulb plants the stems are crowded into round fleshy crowns that are often buried. And they bear beautiful flowers.
All these plants, too, have single-leafed seeds. Plant some grains of corn. After they begin to sprout pull them up, one every day and watch them grow. The plant sprouts from one side of the grain, always. The first shoot looks like a blade of grass rolled from one side to another. The leaf and stalk veins lie side by side in long straight lines. The plants have no true bark, or rings of growth. Most of them live only one season. Their seeds are fertilized by pollen carried by the wind, as in palms and pines, and like them are borne on stalks or spikes. A head of wheat or an ear of corn is something like a pine cone, but the seeds are covered and protected. This class of plants gives us a great variety and quantity of grain foods, for men and animals and birds.
Last of all, Nature made plants with the two-leafed seeds, net-veined leaves, hard-wood stems that always show rings of growth, stiff bark, beautiful flowers and fruit. The very earliest of these still have wood only a little harder than pines and palms. And they bear their seeds on soft, feathery, or furry cones or spikes. These are the willows, alders and poplars with their tassel-like catkins. Far above these are the crown-bearers, or true flower-making plants. These are the orchard trees, rose bushes and strawberry vines, with their loose, gaily colored, fluttering petals. Their seeds are not only covered, they are often buried in fruit pulp, or hidden in pods and shells.
Very likely you think the crown-bearers are the highest of all plants. That is because you think of them as the most useful to human beings. But they are not more useful than many of the grasses and palms. By "highest" in plants and animals, is meant those that are most useful to themselves. It is the first business of every living thing to eat and grow and reproduce itself. Those that can do these things best, that can live and grow under the hardest conditions, and that can make and scatter the greatest number and hardiest seed, are the highest of all.
So, above the crown-bearers are the funnel flowering plants of the morning-glory and clover. And above them are the composite flowers that live, great numbers of them, packed and crowded into one flower head, like people in a city. These are the daisy, the sunflower, the chrysanthemum, the aster, the purple-headed thistle, the — guess! A little flower with a gold crown on his head— the common yellow dandelion!
If you don't believe it open a dandelion head in full flower. Split the green cup down one side and spread the head open. See the tiny stems crowded in that cup, like flowers in a vase. Every yellow petal is a funnel that is folded around little seed-making hairs and knobs, powdered with yellow pollen grains. Try to count the ripe seeds on a gray, gauzy globe of dandelion. Watch them fly and scatter in the air. The seeds are not only well covered, but they have feather wings. You know how hard it is to kill dandelions out of grass. If you cut off the tops, new tufts of leaves spring up. If you dig out the roots some rootlets or root-tips remain to start new plants. And every flower head grows and scatters dozens of seeds. The thistles are just as bad. This family gives us some beautiful flowers, some plants that are useful, but a great many that are troublesome weeds, that we have to rout out year after year. Of all the plants those that bear composite flowers make the best fight for life, and win out under the hardest conditions. So they are the highest.
So you see how the single yeast-cell, that is born, grows to full size, sprouts a new bud and dies in a moment of time, has developed into the hundred-flowered, tough and stubborn, yellow dandelion. See Gymnosperms, Conifers, Palm, Datepalm, Grass, Wheat, Oats, Rye, Rice, Barley, Corn, Plate of Cereal Grains, Volume III, page 1650, Bamboo, sketch of Filipino in "Travel Stories" for uses of bamboo, Lily and other bulb plants, Monocotyledons (single-leafed seed), Dicotyledons (two-leafed seed), Compositae, Dandelion, Thistle, etc.