This section is from the "The New Student's Reference Work Volume 5: How And Why Stories" by Elinor Atkinson.
That was a great day in your family when you stood alone for the first time. It was just as great a thing in the plant world when the first fern leaf lifted on its slender stem and stood alone. Its little bones were still very soft and weak and tender. But see how long it took Mother Nature to get up to the standing alone stage of plant babyhood.
Everything in nature, among plants and animals, grows slowly, just as a baby does. It takes a baby a year to grow strong enough to stand alone, sometimes. A further time is needed for baby to learn to walk, and twenty-one years for him to grow to a man. After she made a fern leaf stand entirely alone, on a very uncertain, wobbly stem, it took thousands of years, through many, many, slow changes, to make a tree, with a stiff trunk, with stout bark, many branches and leaves, and the perfect flower and fruit.
In every upward step taken by plant life there is a story, just as interesting as the stories of the cell, the fungi, the green algae, the liver-worts, the mosses and the ferns. It would take a big book to trace all of these steps. We cannot do that here, but we can follow the big steps, in one short chapter, so you may always know in what very large class any plant you may see, belongs.
For a long, long time, Nature just made larger and larger ferns, with taller and stiffer stems that were able to hold up a great number of leaves. At last she made tree-ferns, with tufts of leaves on the tops. These plants have no flowers, but bear single, naked seeds. Next, Nature seemed to learn to put a number of naked seeds on a spike or cone. There are two branches of this family, the pines and the palms. In many ways they are alike, but in some they are quite different. They both have a tall stem, made up of bundles of straight fibres. In the palm this trunk does not branch. In the pine the branching is high and scanty. Both have straight-veined leaves
You know the clusters of needle-like leaves of the pine, don't you? They are not so very different from the fan-leaf of certain palms. There are many varieties of pines, or what we know as evergreens, or cone-bearing trees. There are the spruces, the hemlocks, the cedars, the cypresses, yews and firs. The giant redwoods of California are cone-bearers, too. They all have straight-grained, soft wood, and bear their seeds in scaly cones. Each hard, woody scale of a pine cone bears a pair of naked seeds. These seeds are one-leafed, like a grain of corn. That is, the new plant grows from one side of the seed. In higher plants, like peas and beans, the seed split into two leaves.