The Life of the Spider HTML version

The Spiders’ Exodus
Seeds, when ripened in the fruit, are disseminated, that is to say, scattered on the surface
of the ground, to sprout in spots as yet unoccupied and fill the expanses that realize
favourable conditions.
Amid the wayside rubbish grows one of the gourd family, Ecbalium elaterium,
commonly called the squirting cucumber, whose fruit—a rough and extremely bitter little
cucumber—is the size of a date. When ripe, the fleshy core resolves into a liquid in
which float the seeds. Compressed by the elastic rind of the fruit, this liquid bears upon
the base of the footstalk, which is gradually forced out, yields like a stopper, breaks off
and leaves an orifice through which a stream of seeds and fluid pulp is suddenly ejected.
If, with a novice hand, under a scorching sun, you shake the plant laden with yellow fruit,
you are bound to be somewhat startled when you hear a noise among the leaves and
receive the cucumber’s grapeshot in your face.
The fruit of the garden balsam, when ripe, splits, at the least touch, into five fleshy
valves, which curl up and shoot their seeds to a distance. The botanical name of
Impatiens given to the balsam alludes to this sudden dehiscence of the capsules, which
cannot endure contact without bursting.
In the damp and shady places of the woods there exists a plant of the same family which,
for similar reasons, bears the even more expressive name of Impatiens noli-me-tangere,
or touch-me-not.
The capsule of the pansy expands into three valves, each scooped out like a boat and
laden in the middle with two rows of seeds. When these valves dry, the edges shrivel,
press upon the grains and eject them.
Light seeds, especially those of the order of Compositae, have aeronautic apparatus—
tufts, plumes, fly-wheels—which keep them up in the air and enable them to take distant
voyages. In this way, at the least breath, the seeds of the dandelion, surmounted by a tuft
of feathers, fly from their dry receptacle and waft gently in the air.
Next to the tuft, the wing is the most satisfactory contrivance for dissemination by wind.
Thanks to their membranous edge, which gives them the appearance of thin scales, the
seeds of the yellow wall-flower reach high cornices of buildings, clefts of inaccessible
rocks, crannies in old walls, and sprout in the remnant of mould bequeathed by the
mosses that were there before them.
The samaras, or keys, of the elm, formed of a broad, light fan with the seed cased in its
centre; those of the maple, joined in pairs and resembling the unfurled wings of a bird;
those of the ash, carved like the blade of an oar, perform the most distant journeys when
driven before the storm.