First posted March 2013. Other lessons in this series are here.
A natural history lesson: Primrose Seeds
Book studied: "The Life of a Primrose," in The Fairy-Land of Science, by Arabella B. Buckley. First part of the chapter only for today.
Have you ever seen any primroses? What do you think they look like? In England, they are one of the first wildflowers to come up in spring, in March when we still have snow on the ground here. They are not roses; they are in a family called the primulas, which also includes cowslips and pimpernels. Their name comes from the Italian words for “first thing.” The best-known English primroses have pale yellow flowers, with five heart-shaped petals and bright yellow-orange centres. (Sometimes they are other colours.) They have been a very popular decoration on things like teacups. Look at these photos and see if you can pick out the primroses. (An image search for "primroses embroidered" also brought up some great photos of all kinds of primroses--cookies, crocheted, stitched, and real.)
(Photo of Primula vulgaris found here)
We don’t have the same species of primroses in Canada, although we do have a bluish-purple wildflower in the same family called the Dwarf Canadian Primrose or Lake Mistassini Primrose. There is a really interesting story about how Louis the Sixteenth’s personal botanist discovered the Canadian primrose for him in 1786, but this lesson is about English primroses.
(Photo of Primula mistassinica found here)
The teacher giving this lesson had asked each student to bring a primrose flower, or a whole plant if they could find one. This is what she told them:
WHEN the dreary days of winter and the early damp days of spring are passing away, and the warm bright sunshine has begun to pour down upon the grassy paths of the wood, who does not love to go out and bring home posies of violets, and bluebells, and primroses? We wander from one plant to another picking a flower here and a bud there, as they nestle among the green leaves, and we make our rooms sweet and gay with the tender and lovely blossoms. But tell me, did you ever stop to think, as you added flower after flower to your nosegay, how the plants which bear them have been building up their green leaves and their fragile buds during the last few weeks? If you had visited the same spot a month before, a few of last year's leaves, withered and dead, would have been all that you would have found. And now the whole wood is carpeted with delicate green leaves, with nodding bluebells, and pale-yellow primroses, as if a fairy had touched the ground and covered it with fresh young life. And our fairies have been at work here; the fairy "Life," of whom we know so little, though we love her so well and rejoice in the beautiful forms she can produce; the fairy sunbeams with their invisible influence kissing the tiny shoots and warming them into vigor and activity; the gentle rain-drops, the balmy air, all these have been working, while you or I passed heedlessly by; and now we come and gather the flowers they have made, and too often forget to wonder how these lovely forms have sprung up around us.
There is a beautiful little poem by Tennyson, which says—
"Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower; but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is."
Do you remember two years ago in school when we sprouted different kinds of birdseed in a shoebox? Do you remember examining the inside of seeds, seeing how everything was in there, ready to make the plant grow? Since flower seeds are too small to examine easily, the teacher here soaked almond-kernels for the students to split in half and examine. We will use dried beans from our garden. This is what the teacher said:
If you peel the two skins off your seed, the two halves will slip apart quite easily. One of these halves will have a small dent at the pointed end, while in the other half you will see a little lump, which fitted into the dent when the two halves were joined. This little lump is a young plant, and the two halves of the almond are the seed-leaves which hold the plantlet, and feed it till it can feed itself. The rounded end of the plantlet sticking out of the almond, is the beginning of the root, while the other end will in time become the stem. If you look carefully, you will see two little points at this end, which are the tips of future leaves. Only think how minute this plantlet must be in a primrose, where the whole seed is scarcely larger than a grain of sand! Yet in this tiny plantlet lies hid the life of the future plant.
Narration to follow. In the next lesson we will talk about what happens to the primrose seed when it falls into the ground. Here is some homework for you: go and look in our dish cupboards, both the everyday dishes and the teacups, and see if you can find any decorations of primroses.
Note: we decided to enhance this part of the study by taking some of the soaked beans and letting them sprout (glass jar with damp paper towels). We've done that other times through the years, but it seemed like a good opportunity for hands-on review.