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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Nature Notes for November.

by S. A.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 736


          "Autumn, laying here and there
          A fiery finger on the leaves,"

has come and gone, almost; the leaves have gone too, almost; the cleared space reveals much that has been lost to sight since early May draped all the trees with green. The great stems and branches are revealed, one sees clearly their form and their colour, and quite as clearly that they are not bare, except of leaves. All of them bear buds, each after its own kind in size and shape and colour, just as each has its own sort of branch in girth and length and colour, as well as attitude. On some of them is still "the fruit which in our winter woodlands looks a flower" at any other time of the year, but this, the Spindle tree, Enonymus europaeus, Linn., is easily overlooked; it has no peculiarity of any sort to draw attention to it, its flowers even are small and green and share in the general insignificance, till October comes, and then late in the month when the leaves are gone, the little tree is transformed into a veritable burning bush, visible from afar. A first sight of it in this state is ever memorable. The outer coat of the four-lobed fruit is crimson, and when it splits, the seeds are not thrown out, they remain visible within, and the colour arrangement is extraordinary, for they are scarlet. A bush or tree, in this its early November state, is one of the most brilliant things in nature, but it is a glorious sight that is not too often seen; it is not every Spindle tree, nor even half of all the Spindle trees there are that bear fruit at all, and of those that do, it is not always that they cover themselves so profusely that the flame-colour is simulated. The reason of the spare fruiting of these trees is not to be told in a few words, it forms an interesting chapter in the evolution of form that is going on now as ever, and it is to be found by such as care to read it unspoiled by transcription in one of the precluding chapters of Darwin's Forms of Flowers. The sight of a bush in fruit may stimulate those who live in its neighbourhood to search for the flowers in early summer, and so to realize perchance the various forms and their meaning. The brilliant seeds have likewise their structure to be made out, the scarlet jacket they wear is a sort of extra garment achieved by very few seeds of plants at all, an extra wrapping which may in this case be pure ornament or of a use not yet made out, it is called an aril and grows up round the seed as the seed grows till it is finally completely enveloped.

The Alder trees that dwell by lake or stream have much to be made out in their winter state, their buds are a lovely purple colour, their catkins, the two sorts which are the flower buds of next year's spring, are of another hue of reddish purple; as well as these, there are the solid and full cones, the fruit of last spring's flowers, and, perhaps, also the skeleton and empty cones from which the seeds of the previous year's flowers have long dropped. In a pleasant little book recently published by Professor Miall, called Round the Year, one may read of the ways of these seeds, their mode of distribution, which answers the question--why do these trees always live on water margins? The winds of winter shake the Alder cones till the ripe nutlets of which they are built up fall, many of them, into the water by which they have grown. They do not perish there, they do not sink, they float away as the current goes. They are built up to be waterborne, these tiny nutlets, they cannot be wetted even by the water that carries them, so much oil is there about them; in their seed cases are many little air spaces--water-tight compartments that keep them floating an indefinitely long time on the surface; they may be drifted hither and thither as the winds drive the waters of the lake, or they may travel down the stream till the spring finds them still floating or stranded on some wet margin where they may germinate and so anchor themselves for life as did the generations before them.

In all November there are fruits to be found, scarlet hips, crimson haws, black sloes, these are everywhere, and, being of one family, their different structure is noteworthy. It is not every year that the oaks bear a great crop of acorns as they seem all to have done this year. The last great acorn year was 1896, three years ago; sometimes the interval is longer, as much as five years. The drain upon the tree to produce this store of fruit is so great that it needs from three to five years to re-store sufficient material for another such crop.

In the years of mild autumn weather there are not a few wild flowers to be found lingering through the month, perhaps to December. Daisies may be flowering indeed all through December, if the days are warm and sunny. I have found the larger daisy (Chrysanthemum Leucanthemum, Linn.) blooming as late as the 20th of November. The little weedy Erphorbias may survive till near the year's end, a climbing fumitory, the autumn gorse, a small Veronica, a vetch, Vicis sepium, Lamium purpurium, Fool's parsley, these and many more may be found as long as the weather lasts mild and open.

S. A.


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