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Colours of Fruits. It is when we come to the essential parts of plants on which their perpetuation and distribution depends, that we find colour largely utilised for a distinct purpose in flowers and fruits. In the former we find attractive colours and guiding marks to secure cross - fertilisation by insects; in the latter attractive or protective coloration, the first to attract birds or other animals when the fruits are intended to be eaten, the second to enable them to escape being eaten when it would be injurious to the species. The colour phenomena of fruits being much the most simple will be considered first.
The perpetuation and therefore the very existence of each species of flowering plant depend upon its seeds being preserved from destruction and more or less effectually dispersed over a considerable area. The dispersal is effected either mechanically or by the agency of animals. Mechanical dispersal is chiefly by means of air-currents, and large numbers of seeds are specially adapted to be so carried, either by being clothed with down or pappus, as in the well-known thistle and dandelion seeds; by having wings or other appendages, as in the sycamore, birch, and many other trees; by being thrown to a considerable distance by the splitting of the seed-vessel, and by many other curious devices. Very large numbers of seeds, however, are so small and light that they can be carried enormous distances by gales of wind, more especially as most of this kind are flattened or curved, so as to expose a large surface in proportion to their weight. Those which are carried by animals have their surfaces, or that of the seedvessel, armed with minute hooks, or some prickly covering which attaches itself to the hair of mammalia or the feathers of birds, as in the burdock, cleavers, and many other species. Others again are sticky, as in Plumbago europæa, mistletoe, and many foreign plants.
All the seeds or seed-vessels which are adapted to be dispersed in any of these ways are of dull protective tints, so that when they fall on the ground they are almost indistinguishable ; besides which, they are usually small, hard, and altogether unattractive, never having any soft, juicy pulp; while the edible seeds often bear such a small proportion to the hard, dry envelopes or appendages, that few animals would care to eat them.
1 For a popular sketch of these, see Sir J. Lubbock's Flowers, Fruits, and Leaves, or any general botanical work.
The Meaning of Nuts. There is, however, another class of fruits or seeds, usually termed nuts, in which there is a large amount of edible matter, often very agreeable to the taste, and especially attractive and nourishing to a large number of animals. But when eaten, the seed is destroyed and the existence of the species endangered. It is evident, therefore, that it is by a kind of accident that these nuts are eatable ; and that they are not intended to be eaten is shown by the special care nature seems to have taken to conceal or to protect them. We see that all our common nuts are green when on the tree, so as not easily to be distinguished from the leaves ; but when ripe they turn brown, so that when they fall on to the ground they are equally indistinguishable among the dead leaves and twigs, or on the brown earth. Then they are almost always protected by hard coverings, as in hazel-nuts, which are concealed by the enlarged leafy involucre, and in the large tropical brazil-nuts and cocoanuts by such a hard and tough case as to be safe from almost every animal. Others have an external bitter rind, as in the walnut; while in the chestnuts and beechnuts two or three fruits are enclosed in a prickly involucre.
Notwithstanding all these precautions, nuts are largely devoured by mammalia and birds; but as they are chiefly the product of trees or shrubs of considerable longevity, and are generally produced in great profusion, the perpetuation of the species is not endangered. In some cases the devourers of nuts may aid in their dispersal, as they probably now and then swallow the seed whole, or not sufficiently crushed to prevent germination ; while squirrels have been observed to bury nuts, many of which are forgotten and afterwards grow in places they could not have otherwise reached.1 Nuts, especially the larger kinds which are so well protected by their hard, nearly globular cases, have their dispersal facilitated by rolling down hill, and more especially
? Nuture, vol. xv. p. 117,
by floating in rivers and lakes, and thus reaching other localities. During the elevation of land areas this method would be very effective, as the new land would always be at a lower level than that already covered with vegetation, and therefore in the best position for being stocked with plants from it.
The other modes of dispersal of seeds are so clearly adapted to their special wants, that we feel sure they must have been acquired by the process of variation and natural selection. The hooked and sticky seeds are always those of such herbaceous plants as are likely, from their size, to come in contact with the wool of sheep or the hair of cattle; while seeds of this kind never occur on forest trees, on aquatic plants, or even on very dwarf creepers or trailers. The winged seed-vessels or seeds, on the other hand, mostly belong to trees and to tall shrubs or climbers. We have, therefore, a very exact adaptation to conditions in these different modes of dispersal; while, when we come to consider individual cases, we find innumerable other adaptations, some of which the reader will find described in the little work by Sir John Lubbock already referred to.
Edlible or Attractive Fruits. It is, however, when we come to true fruits (in a popular sense) that we find varied colours evidently intended to attract animals, in order that the fruits may be eaten, while the seeds pass through the body undigested and are then in the fittest state for germination. This end has been gained in a great variety of ways, and with so many corresponding adaptations as to leave no doubt as to the value of the result. Fruits are pulpy or juicy, and usually sweet, and form the favourite food of innumerable birds and some mammals. They are always coloured so as to contrast with the foliage or surroundings, red being the most common as it is certainly the most conspicuous colour, but yellow, purple, black, or white being not uncommon. The edible portion of fruits is developed from different parts of the floral envelopes, or of the ovary, in the various orders and genera. Sometimes the calyx becomes enlarged and fleshy, as in the apple and perr tribe; more often the integuments of the ovary itself ire enlarged, as in the plum, peach, grape, etc. ; the receptacle is enlarged and
forms the fruit of the strawberry; while the mulberry, pineapple, and fig are examples of compound fruits formed in various ways from a dense mass of flowers.
In all cases the seeds themselves are protected from injury by various devices. They are small and hard in the strawberry, raspberry, currant, etc., and are readily swallowed among the copious pulp. In the grape they are hard and bitter; in the rose (hip) disagreeably hairy ; in the orange tribe very bitter; and all these have a smooth, glutinous exterior which facilitates their being swallowed. When the seeds are larger and are eatable, they are enclosed in an excessively hard and thick covering, as in the various kinds of “stone ” fruit (plums, peaches, etc.), or in a very tough core, as in the apple. In the nutmeg of the Eastern Archipelago we have a curious adaptation to a single group of birds. The fruit is yellow, somewhat like an oval peach, but firm and hardly eatable. This splits open and shows the glossy black covering of the seed or nutmeg, over which spreads the bright scarlet arillus or “mace," an adventitious growth of no use to the plant except to attract attention. Large fruit pigeons pluck out this seed and swallow it entire for the sake of the mace, while the large nutmeg passes through their bodies and germinates; and this has led to the wide distribution of wild nutmegs over New Guinea and the surrounding islands.
In the restriction of bright colour to those edible fruits the eating of which is beneficial to the plant, we see the undoubted result of natural selection ; and this is the more evident when we find that the colour never appears till the fruit is ripethat is, till the seeds within it are fully matured and in the best state for germination. Some conspicuously coloured fruits are poisonous, as in our deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), cuckoo-pint (Arum) and the West Indian manchineel. Many of these are, no doubt, eaten by animals to whom they are harmless; and it has been suggested that even if some animals are poisoned by them the plant is benefited, since it not only gets dispersed, but finds, in the decaying body of its victim, a rich manure heap. The particular colours of fruits are not, so far as we know, of any use to them other
1 Grant Allen's Colour Sense, p. 113.
than as regards conspicuousness, hence a tendency to any decided colour has been preserved and accumulated as serving to render the fruit easily visible among its surroundings of leaves or herbage. Out of 134 fruit-bearing plants in Mongredien's Trees and Shrubs, and Hooker's British Flora, the fruits of no less than sixty-eight, or rather more than half, are red, forty-five are black, fourteen yellow, and seven white. The great prevalence of red fruits is almost certainly due to their greater conspicuousness having favoured their dispersal, though it may also have arisen in part from the chemical changes of chlorophyll during ripening and decay producing red tints as in many fading leaves. Yet the comparative scarcity of yellow in fruits, while it is the most common tint of fading leaves, is against this supposition.
There are, however, a few instances of coloured fruits which do not seem to be intended to be eaten ; such are the colocynth plant (Cucumis colocynthus), which has a beautiful fruit the size and colour of an orange, but nauseous beyond description to the taste. It has a hard rind, and may perhaps be dispersed by being blown along the ground, the colour being an adventitious product; but it is quite possible, notwithstanding its repulsiveness to us, that it may be eaten by some animals. With regard to the fruit of another plant, Calotropis procera, there is less doubt, as it is dry and full of thin, flat-winged seeds, with fine silky filaments, eminently adapted for wind-dispersal ; yet it is of a bright yellow colour, as large as an apple, and therefore very conspicuous. Here, therefore, we seem to have colour which is a mere byproduct of the organism and of no use to it; but such cases are exceedingly rare, and this rarity, when compared with the great abundance of cases in which there is an obvious purpose in the colour, adds weight to the evidence in favour of the theory of the attractive coloration of edible fruits in order that birds and other animals may assist in their dispersal. Both the above-named plants are natives of Palestine and the adjacent arid countries. 1
The Colours of Flowers. Flowers are much more varieel in their colours than fruits,
1 ('anon Tristrun's Noturul Iristory of the Bible, l']). 483, 484.