Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The mouth of plants

kw: musings, embryology

This morning I did the mini-delivery of the newspapers. A few neighbors have an agreement: whoever gets out first will put the newspapers on the porch for the others. Sometimes the papers get delivered a little later, and my neighbor across the street has gone to work already. Then I do it. Today was such a day. It was nice to be out on a spring-like morning, seeing the just-past-full moon about to set.

I happened to be thinking about plants. A friend of my wife's gave her flowers yesterday. We had them in a vase, and seeing them standing in the water reminded me of something I read a few years ago.

All metazoans, multi-celled creatures, all plants and animals, develop in a similar way. Once the ovum is fertilized it begins to divide. People with great diligence have watched this early development process, carefully noting where the embryo's features are formed, in relation to the original cell. At a certain point, the embryo is a hollow sphere, and then one side buckles in to form the "inside". In animals, this "inside" becomes the alimentary canal. In plants, it is the vascular system. One point becomes the mouth of animals, and that same point becomes the root of a plant. In either case, that particular point is the location where the male gamete entered the ovum.

What I was thinking about was this. The "mouth" of a plant is its root system. Not only does it make sense—that is the locus of intake—but embryology shows it. As I walked down my driveway, I looked at the dogwood tree on the lawn, imagining it as an animal perched on its mouth, sucking from the ground. Then I saw all the little grass plants as tiny versions of the same thing.

I dunno. Is this too nerdy? I just thought it is cool.

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