On the Fertilisation of Winter-Flowering Plants

Abstract

THAT the stamens are the male organ of the flower, forming unitedly what the older writers called the “andrœcium,” is a fact familiar not only to the scientific man, but to the ordinary observer. The earlier botanists formed the natural conclusion that the stamens and pistil in a flower are intended mutually to play the part of male and female organs to one another. Sprengel was the first to point out, about the year 1790, that in many plants the arrangement of the organs is such, that this mutual interchange of offices in the same flower is impossible; and more recently, Hildebrand in Germany, and Darwin in England, have investigated the very important part played by insects in the fertilisation of the pistil of one individual by the stamens of another individual of the same species. It is now generally admitted by botanists that cross-fertilisation is the rule rather than the exception. The various contrivances for ensuring it, to which Mr. Darwin has especially called the attention of botanists, are most beautiful and interesting; and the field thus opened out is one which, from its extent, importance, and interest, will amply repay the investigation of future observers. For this cross-fertilisation to take place, however, some foreign agency like that of insects is evidently necessary, for conveying the pollen from one flower to another. The question naturally occurs, How then is fertilisation accomplished in those plants which flower habitually in the winter, when the number of insects that can assist in it is at all events very small? I venture to offer the following notes as a sequel to Mr. Darwin's observations, and as illustrating a point which has not been elucidated by any investigations that have yet been recorded. I do not here refer to those flowers of which, in mild seasons, stray half-starved specimens may be found in December or January, and of which we are favoured with lists every year in the corners of newspapers, as evidence of “the extraordinary mildness of the season.” I wish to call attention exclusively to those plants, of which we have a few in this country, whose normal time of flowering is almost the depth of winter, like the hazel-nut Corylus avellana, the butcher's broom Ruscus aculeatus, and the gorse Ulex europœus; and to that more numerous class which flower and fructify all through the year, almost regardless of season or temperature; among which may be mentioned the white and red dead-nettles Lamium album and purpureum, the Veronica Buxbaumii, the daisy, dandelion, and groundsel, the common spurge Euphorbia peplus, the shepherd's purse, and some others.

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BENNETT, A. On the Fertilisation of Winter-Flowering Plants. Nature 1, 11–13 (1869). https://doi.org/10.1038/001011a0

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