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On The Wings Of The Wind
by [?]

Of course, you know my friend the squirting cucumber. If you don’t, that can be only because you’ve never looked in the right place to find him. On all waste ground outside most southern cities–Nice, Cannes, Florence: Rome, Algiers, Granada: Athens, Palermo, Tunis, where you will–the soil is thickly covered by dark trailing vines which bear on their branches a queer hairy green fruit, much like a common cucumber at that early stage of its existence when we know it best in the commercial form of pickled gherkins. As long as you don’t interfere with them, these hairy green fruits do nothing out of the common in the way of personal aggressiveness. Like the model young lady of the books on etiquette, they don’t speak unless they’re spoken to. But if peradventure you chance to brush up against the plant accidentally, or you irritate it of set purpose with your foot or your cane, then, as Mr. Rider Haggard would say, ‘a strange thing happens’: off jumps the little green fruit with a startling bounce, and scatters its juice and pulp and seeds explosively through a hole in the end where the stem joined on to it. The entire central part of the cucumber, in short (answering to the seeds and pulp of a ripe melon), squirts out elastically through the breach in the outer wall, leaving the hollow shell behind as a mere empty windbag.

Naturally, the squirting cucumber knows its own business best, and is not without sufficient reasons of its own for this strange and, to some extent, unmannerly behaviour. By its queer trick of squirting, it manages to kill at least two birds with one stone. For, in the first place, the sudden elastic jump of the fruit frightens away browsing animals, such as goats and cattle. Those meditative ruminants are little accustomed to finding shrubs or plants take the aggressive against them; and when they see a fruit that quite literally flies in their faces of its own accord, they hesitate to attack the uncanny vine which bristles with such magical and almost miraculous defences. Moreover, the juice of the squirting cucumber is bitter and nauseous, and if it gets into the eyes or nostrils of man or beast, it impresses itself on the memory by stinging like red pepper. So the trick of squirting serves in a double way as a protection to the plant against the attacks of herbivorous animals and other enemies.

But that’s not all. Even when no enemy is near, the ripe fruits at last drop off of themselves, and scatter their seeds elastically in every direction. This they do simply in order to disseminate their kind in new and unoccupied spots, where the seedlings will root and find an opening in life for themselves. Observe, indeed, that the very word ‘disseminate’ implies a general vague recognition of this principle of plant-life on the part of humanity. It means, etymologically, to scatter seed; and it points to the fact that everywhere in nature seeds are scattered broadcast, infinite pains being taken by the mother-plant for their general diffusion over wide areas of woodland, plain, or prairie.

Let us take as examples a single little set of instances, familiar to everybody, but far commoner in the world at large than the inhabitants of towns are at all aware of: I mean, the winged seeds, that fly about freely in the air by means of feathery hairs or gossamer, like thistle-down and dandelion. Of these winged types we have many hundred varieties in England alone. All the willow-herbs, for example, have such feathery seeds (or rather fruits) to help them on their way through life; and one kind, the beautiful pink rose-bay, flies about so readily, and over such wide spaces of open country, that the plant is known to farmers in America as fireweed, because it always springs up at once over whole square miles of charred and smoking soil after every devastating forest fire. It travels fast, for it travels like Ariel. In much the same way, the coltsfoot grows on all new English railway banks, because its winged seeds are wafted everywhere in myriads on the winds of March. All the willows and poplars have also winged seeds: so have the whole vast tribe of hawkweeds, groundsels, ragworts, thistles, fleabanes, cat’s-ears, dandelions, and lettuces. Indeed, one may say roughly, there are very few plants of any size or importance in the economy of nature which don’t deliberately provide, in one way or another, for the dispersal and dissemination of their fruits or seedlings.