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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsProserpina: Studies Of Wayside Flowers, Volume 1 - Chapter 13. The Seed And Husk
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Proserpina: Studies Of Wayside Flowers, Volume 1 - Chapter 13. The Seed And Husk Post by :Hans_Klein Category :Nonfictions Author :John Ruskin Date :May 2012 Read :745

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Proserpina: Studies Of Wayside Flowers, Volume 1 - Chapter 13. The Seed And Husk

CHAPTER XIII. THE SEED AND HUSK

{219}

1. Not the least sorrowful, nor least absurd of the confusions brought on us by unscholarly botanists, blundering into foreign languages, when they do not know how to use their own, is that which has followed on their practice of calling the seed-vessels of flowers 'egg-vessels,'(65) in Latin; thus involving total loss of the power of the good old English word 'husk,' and the good old French one, 'cosse.' For all the treasuries of plants (see Chapter IV., Sec. 17) may be best conceived, and described, generally, as consisting of 'seed' and 'husk,'--for the most part two or more seeds, in a husk composed of two or more parts, as pease in their shell, pips in an orange, or kernels in a walnut; but whatever their number, or the method of their enclosure, let the student keep clear in his mind, for the base of all study of fructification, the broad distinction between the seed, as one thing, and the husk as another: the seed, essential to the continuance of the plant's race; and the husk, {220} adapted, primarily, to its guard and dissemination; but secondarily, to quite other and far more important functions.

2. For on this distinction follows another practical one of great importance. A seed may serve, and many do mightily serve, for the food of man, when boiled, crushed, or otherwise industriously prepared by man himself, for his mere _sustenance_. But the _husk of the seed is prepared in many cases for the delight of his eyes, and the pleasure of his palate, by Nature herself, and is then called a 'fruit.'

3. The varieties of structure both in seed and husk, and yet more, the manner in which the one is contained, and distributed by, the other, are infinite; and in some cases the husk is apparently wanting, or takes some unrecognizable form. But in far the plurality of instances the two parts of the plant's treasury are easily distinguishable, and must be separately studied, whatever their apparent closeness of relation, or, (as in all natural things,) the equivocation sometimes taking place between the one and the other. To me, the especially curious point in this matter is that, while I find the most elaborate accounts given by botanists of the stages of growth in each of these parts of the treasury, they never say of what use the guardian is to the guarded part, irrespective of its service to man. The mechanical action of the husk in containing and scattering the seeds, they indeed often notice and insist on; but they do not tell {221} us of what, if any, nutritious or fostering use the rind is to a chestnut, or an orange's pulp to its pips, or a peach's juice to its stone.

4. Putting aside this deeper question for the moment, let us make sure we understand well, and define safely, the separate parts themselves. A seed consists essentially of a store, or sack, containing substance to nourish a germ of life, which is surrounded by such substance, and in the process of growth is first fed by it. The germ of life itself rises into two portions, and not more than two, in the seeds of two-leaved plants; but this symmetrical dualism must not be allowed to confuse the student's conception, of the _three organically separate parts,--the tough skin of a bean, for instance; the softer contents of it which we boil to eat; and the small germ from which the root springs when it is sown. A bean is the best type of the whole structure. An almond out of its shell, a peach-kernel, and an apple-pip are also clear and perfect, though varied types.

5. The husk, or seed-vessel, is seen in perfect simplicity of type in the pod of a bean, or the globe of a poppy. There are, I believe, flowers in which it is absent or imperfect; and when it contains only one seed, it may be so small and closely united with the seed it contains, that both will be naturally thought of as one thing only. Thus, in a dandelion, the little brown grains, which may be blown away, each with its silken parachute, are every one of them a complete husk and {222} seed together. But the majority of instances (and those of plants the most serviceable to man) in which the seed-vessel has entirely a separate structure and mechanical power, justify us in giving it the normal term 'husk,' as the most widely applicable and intelligible.

6. The change of green, hard, and tasteless vegetable substance into beautifully coloured, soft, and delicious substance, which produces what we call a fruit, is, in most cases, of the husk only; in others, of the part of the stalk which immediately sustains the seed; and in a very few instances, not properly a change, but a distinct formation, of fruity substance between the husk and seed. Normally, however, the husk, like the seed, consists always of three parts; it has an outer skin, a central substance of peculiar nature, and an inner skin, which holds the seed. The main difficulty, in describing or thinking of the completely ripened product of any plant, is to discern clearly which is the inner skin of the husk, and which the outer skin of the seed. The peach is in this respect the best general type,--the woolly skin being the outer one of the husk; the part we eat, the central substance of the husk; and the hard shell of the stone, the inner skin of the husk. The bitter kernel within is the seed.

7. In this case, and in the plum and cherry, the two parts under present examination--husk and seed--separate naturally; the fruity part, which is the body of the husk, adhering firmly to the shell, which is its inner {223} coat. But in the walnut and almond, the two outer parts of the husk separate from the interior one, which becomes an apparently independent 'shell.' So that when first I approached this subject I divided the general structure of a treasury into _three parts--husk, shell, and kernel; and this division, when we once have mastered the main one, will be often useful. But at first let the student keep steadily to his conception of the two constant parts, husk and seed, reserving the idea of shells and kernels for one group of plants only.

8. It will not be always without difficulty that he maintains the distinction, when the tree pretends to have changed it. Thus, in the chestnut, the inner coat of the husk becomes brown, adheres to the seed, and seems part of it; and we naturally call only the thick, green, prickly coat, the husk. But this is only one of the deceiving tricks of Nature, to compel our attention more closely. The real place of separation, to _her mind, is between the mahogany-coloured shell and the nut itself, and that more or less silky and flossy coating within the brown shell is the true lining of the entire 'husk.' The paler brown skin, following the rugosities of the nut, is the true sack or skin of the seed. Similarly in the walnut and almond.

9. But, in the apple, two new tricks are played us. First, in the brown skin of the ripe pip, we might imagine we saw the part correspondent to the mahogany skin of the chestnut, and therefore the inner coat of the {224} husk. But it is not so. The brown skin of the pips belongs to them properly, and is all their own. It is the true skin or sack of the seed. The inner coat of the husk is the smooth, white, scaly part of the core that holds them.

Then,--for trick number two. We should as naturally imagine the skin of the apple, which we peel off, to be correspondent to the skin of the peach; and therefore, to be the outer part of the husk. But not at all. The outer part of the husk in the apple is melted away into the fruity mass of it, and the red skin outside is the skin of its _stalk_, not of its seed-vessel at all!

10. I say 'of its stalk,'--that is to say, of the part of the stalk immediately sustaining the seed, commonly called the torus, and expanding into the calyx. In the apple, this torus incorporates itself with the husk completely; then refines its own external skin, and colours _that variously and beautifully, like the true skin of the husk in the peach, while the withered leaves of the calyx remain in the 'eye' of the apple.

But in the 'hip' of the rose, the incorporation with the husk of the seed does not take place. The torus, or,--as in this flower from its peculiar form it is called,--the tube of the calyx, alone forms the frutescent part of the hip; and the complete seeds, husk and all, (the firm triangular husk enclosing an almond-shaped kernel,) are grouped closely in its interior cavity, while the calyx remains on the top in a large and scarcely withering star. {225} In the nut, the calyx remains green and beautiful, forming what we call the husk of a filbert; and again we find Nature amusing herself by trying to make us think that this strict envelope, almost closing over the single seed, is the same thing to the nut that its green shell is to a walnut!

11. With still more capricious masquing, she varies and hides the structure of her 'berries.'

The strawberry is a hip turned inside-out, the frutescent receptacle changed into a scarlet ball, or cone, of crystalline and delicious coral, in the outside of which the separate seeds, husk and all, are imbedded. In the raspberry and blackberry, the interior mound remains sapless; and the rubied translucency of dulcet substance is formed round each separate seed, _upon its husk; not a part of the husk, but now an entirely independent and added portion of the plant's bodily form.

12. What is thus done for each seed, on the _out_side of the receptacle, in the raspberry, is done for each seed, _in_side the calyx, in a pomegranate; which is a hip in which the seeds have become surrounded with a radiant juice, richer than claret wine; while the seed itself, within the generous jewel, is succulent also, and spoken of by Tournefort as a "baie succulente." The tube of the calyx, brown-russet like a large hip, externally, is yet otherwise divided, and separated wholly from the cinque-foiled, and cinque-celled rose, both in number of petal and division of treasuries; the calyx has eight points, and nine cells. {226}

13. Lastly, in the orange, the fount of fragrant juice is interposed between the seed and the husk. It is wholly independent of both; the Aurantine rind, with its white lining and divided compartments, is the true husk; the orange pips are the true seeds; and the eatable part of the fruit is formed between them, in clusters of delicate little flasks, as if a fairy's store of scented wine had been laid up by her in the hollow of a chestnut shell, between the nut and rind; and then the green changed to gold.

14. I have said '_lastly_'--of the orange, for fear of the reader's weariness only; not as having yet represented, far less exhausted, the variety of frutescent form. But these are the most important types of it; and before I can explain the relation between these, and another, too often confounded with them--the _granular form of the seed of grasses.--I must give some account of what, to man, is far more important than the form--the gift to him in fruit-food; and trial, in fruit-temptation.

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