This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
The acorn is really a kind of nut. And you might say that all of our forest nuts are made in much the same way as acorns. The chestnut seed-cone grows on the same twig as the pollen-catkin. As there are to be three nuts in one bur, it has three mouths to be fed with pollen, all set in one prickly cup.
The black walnut doesn't bloom until May. It's catkin has forty pockets of gold-dust, each one a sort of treasure shelf under a green scale. But the nut blossom is no bigger than a grain of wheat. You have to look sharp to find it. Two or three of them often grow together, on the tip of the branch, after the leaves come out. Small as they are, each has two mouths open for pollen. Why two, for one nut? Crack a walnut, a hickory nut, an English walnut or a pecan. These nuts are in two, fat, wrinkled leaves, with a woody partition between them. But they are joined across the middle like Siamese twins.
You can make a very close guess as to what the fruit of many trees will look like by studying the blossoms that hold the little eggs. You know the sweet, three-cornered little nuts of the beech tree, don't you? The squirrels know them. Three nuts are fitted together in the husk, so, in the egg blossom, which is just a tiny grain, there are three little, three-cornered mouths to be fed. The pollen blossom is a globe-shaped bell, with a dozen powder-tipped threads.
What would you think the blossom of the wild grape should look like? A many-branched cluster of flowers, for one thing. The flowers have five petals and five pollen threads, and a many-celled egg cup for the many seeds of the grape. But the flower petals do not flare open. They are almost closed into little grape shaped globes around the seed-making parts. The flower stalk, with ever so many branches and separate flowers on it, may be only an inch or two long, but it is a whole baby bunch of grapes.
Do you notice that the grape has both of its flowers, the seed cup and the pollen threads, set in one blossom? This is the first one of the kind we have found. The catkin bearers, the maples, the elms and all the nut trees have two kinds of flowers. One is a pollen maker that falls as soon as the yellow food is scattered. The other is an egg blossom that is fed, and stays on the tree awhile to ripen the seeds. In the grape, the two flowers are brought together, and set in a five-petaled cup, or ball.
The same is true of the wild crabapple and hawthorn trees of the woods. Plants with these united flowers are called crown-bearers. They are of a higher order than those that have to make two kinds of blossoms to grow seed. The crabapple blossom is so large that you can find out just how it is put together. The stem ends of all the parts are packed in a solid green cup that swells out on the end of the stalk. In that cup are little eggs in five nests. Growing up from the nests are five, hollow, white columns with moist, spongy buttons on top. Around these columns is circle after circle of yellow-tipped pollen threads, as many as thirty of them. And outside of these is the rosette of five pink petals, held up by the five green sepal scales, or flaring lips of the egg cup.
Bees brush the yellow pollen onto the white columns, and the grains of gold-dust send hair-like roots down to the little seed eggs.
Then the petals fall, the seed cup closes and swells, the sepals dry into five little brown scales at the flower end. The apple grows big and juicy, and ripens brown seeds in five satin-horn lined nests in the heart.
The crown-bearers do not use their own pollen, but exchange it with flowers on other trees of the same kind. Such a flutter of silken, scented petticoats; such a buzzing of bees and hovering of butterflies as goes on in those huge bouquets of pink and white! Beside what we call the wild fruit trees—all trees and low plants, too, bear fruits, for fruits are seeds, you know—there are the honey locusts, the horse chestnut and buckeye trees, and many crown-flowering shrubs, in American forests.
The honey locusts hang out long clusters of pink butterfly blossoms, like nosegays of little sweet peas. The honey bees go frantic with delight over them. In June, the horse chestnut gives its second surprise party of the year. Don't miss that for anything. You can find these handsome trees in lawns, parks and along village streets.
The swollen cone of the horse chestnut flower bud is in the heart of a cluster of five-fingered leaves, often a foot long and broad. The big white blossoms are on erect, many-branched spikes, so they form a giant bouquet. Each blossom is a fluttery, ruffly cup, penciled and dotted with purple and yellow. They are deep honey pots, into which bees tumble, head first, jostling the hanging pollen pockets and bumping into seed column tips. When the petals fall in a little snow storm, the seed grow in husks, into dark brown nuts, much like big, flattened acorns. The horse chestnut is a foreign cousin of the American buckeye tree. The Ohio buckeye that gives its name to the state, has clusters of smaller greenish flowers, and the sweet buckeye long, narrow, yellow flowers in green cups.
Under the lowest limbs of the tall forest trees are the flowering shrubs. The wild briar berries have clusters of white rose-like blossoms. There are bouquets of white-flowered dogwoods, pink sprays of red-bud, and yellow torches of the spice bush. The elder shrubs have showy parasols of tiny white blossoms, and the laurel makes banks and drifts of pink snow on rough hillsides.
This is the forest in flower, as the Indian boy knew it. Do you wonder that he loved it? If you learn to know it and love it as he did, it will call you out every day from March to June.