On The Seashore Part 4

3. How can you tell a live Shrimp from a live Prawn?

4. How does the Barnacle obtain its food?

5. Give the names of five crustaceans.

LESSON VI.

PLANTS OF THE Sh.o.r.e.

To pick a bunch of gay flowers you would look in the fields and hedge-rows, and not by the sea. Flowers, as you know, love moist soil, and not dry sand; and, like us, they prefer one food to another. Sand they do not like, and salt is a poison to them. Both of these are enemies to plant life.

Also, flowers choose sheltered spots. They do not like rough winds, and the glare of the sun shrivels them up. Yet there are plants with pretty flowers to be found by the sea, and many others with small, dull flowers. These seaside plants have to fight for their lives. The dry, shifting sand, and the salt spray, are enough to kill them, you would think. They have no shelter from the strong sea wind, nor from the fierce glare of the summer sun. The puzzle is, how do they live among so many enemies? For you know that the flowers of the field would at once die if you planted them in salt and sand. They would starve to death.

Even the strongest seaside plants shun that part of the beach washed by the waves. They leave that to the seaweeds.

Let us look first at some plants which have their home on the sand-hills. Here is a fine one, like a thistle, with stiff p.r.i.c.kly leaves, and a stiff blue stem. In August it has blue-grey flowers. This plant is called Sea Holly, its leaves being like those of the holly. It has an unpleasant smell, yet its roots are used for making some kinds of sweets.

Now try to pull up a plant of Sea Holly. You find it no easy task. Then dig away the sand, and you see that its large roots have gone deep and far. All these plants of sandy places grow like that. Sand has no food or drink to give to plants. So they send their roots out, like plants in a desert, until they find what they want. Besides food and drink, they need a firm anchor in the loose sand. The Sea Holly, with its roots deep down and far-spreading, can hold its own, though the gale tears at it and throws its sandy bed here and there.

We pa.s.s many small creeping plants as we walk in the dry sand. There is a pretty Sea Convolvulus, with its stems deeply buried. It is a cousin of the common Bindweed. Then we see many plants of Thyme, and a few ragged bushes of Gorse. We notice that several little plants grow near the Gorse, as if they had crept there for shelter. The sea breeze has blown the sand into heaps, and even on these dry, thirsty hillocks we see many tufts of gra.s.s.

[Ill.u.s.tration: 1. THE COMMON LOBSTER. 2. HERMIT CRAB.]

These Couch Gra.s.ses and Dune Gra.s.ses, as they are often called, are coa.r.s.e and hard. Cattle pa.s.s them by in disgust. Yet they are the most useful plants on the sh.o.r.e. They can live and spread where other plants die. They have very long underground stems, which go through and through the dry, loose sand. The wind does its best to bury them in sand, but they send up hard, sharp buds, and go on living, and spreading.

Bit by bit, the sand is held together by the matted stems of these gra.s.ses. It becomes firm, instead of loose; the wind can no longer blow it about. Then other plants can grow in that place. You know how men go out to the wild parts of the earth and, by hard work, make those places ready for others to settle there. Well, the sand-gra.s.s works like that.

It prepares the way for useful plants to grow in places where they could not grow before.

Quite near to the sea we shall find a very strange little plant. It has no leaves, only fleshy, jointed stems. It is known as the Gla.s.s-wort, being full of a substance useful in making gla.s.s. It belongs to a family which seems to delight in deserts and salty soil! They have all sorts of dodges to help them live in such places. For instance, their leaves are fleshy. Squeeze them, and they are like wet, juicy fruit.

The Sea Beet is also a member of this family. The Red Beet, as well as the Mangel-wurzel, we owe to this humble seaside plant. Most of our sugar comes from the Sugar-beet.

Another useful plant is the Sea Cabbage, which grows on some parts of our sea coast. It is rather a ragged, tough kind of Cabbage, and perhaps you would not choose it for your dinner-table. We have more tempting sorts in our gardens--Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Cauliflower, but long, long ago the wild seaside cabbage was the only one growing. Men found it to be eatable, and began to plant it near their huts or caves. From that small beginning all our garden cabbages have come.

Walking a little farther from the sea, we leave the sand and come to stones, rocks and cliffs. We pa.s.s a pretty plant, the Sea Lavender, and another, the Sea Stock. They love best the sandy, muddy parts of the sh.o.r.e. Their lilac flowers look bright and pretty. Coming to the rocky places, we find tufts of the flower known as Sea Pink or Thrift. Its leaves are like gra.s.s, and its flowers form a round pink bundle at the top of a bare stalk.

There are many tufts of Thrift growing among the rocks; and each tuft has a number of pink flowers. In some places you could step from one tuft to another for several miles. Bare and ugly stretches of coast are made into a gay garden by this lovely flower.

Here and there on the rocks is a plant with large yellow blossoms--the Yellow Horned Poppy. It is a handsome plant, and you are surprised to see such fine flowers among dry shingle, sand, or rock; but the Horned Poppy is well able to stand the salt spray and storms of its favourite home. When the petals have dropped, a green seed-pod is left. It is very long--nearly twice as long as this page and looks much more like a stem than a seed-pod.

Sometimes this seaside poppy is seen growing high up the face of the cliff, where only the jackdaw and sea-birds can find a footing; and many another plant may be seen there too. The cliffs are full of cracks, some tiny and some wide. In these places there is always a certain amount of dirt and grit. You could hardly call it "soil," and most plants would starve if you planted them in such a place.

[Ill.u.s.tration: SEA LILY.]

These plants of the rock and cliff are not so proud. They have very long and very thin roots, admirably suited to pierce the grit, and explore the cracks in the rock, to find the moisture they need. Besides this, they have fleshy leaves which help them to keep alive. The Stone-crop and the Penny-wort are well-known plants of this kind. They grow where you would least expect to find a living plant. Neither heat nor thirst seems to kill them. Mother Nature has found many a wonderful way of helping her children to live.

EXERCISES

1. Why do plants which grow in sand have such long roots?

2. In what way are the gra.s.ses growing on the sand so useful?

3. Give the names of four flowering plants of the sh.o.r.e.

4. Where would you look for the Stone-crop and Penny-wort?

5. Why do these two plants have such thin roots?

LESSON VII.

FLOWER-LIKE ANIMALS.

The prettiest of the creatures of the sh.o.r.e is the Sea Anemone. No one can see it without being reminded of a flower, an Aster or Daisy, with a thick stalk and many coloured petals; but, knowing how it is made, and how it lives, we place it in the Animal Kingdom, though among the lowliest members of that Kingdom. It is a cousin of that strange creature, the Jelly-fish, which we shall look at in another lesson.

[Ill.u.s.tration: SEA ANEMONE.]

When the tide falls, you can walk among the rocks and pools by the sea, and find Anemones in plenty. They are fixed to the rocks. Some are under the ledges, out of sight, others are low down, half buried in the wet sand; and others are on the sides of the rocks, looking like blobs of green, brown, or red jelly. Feel one of them. It is slimy, and rather firm, not so soft and yielding as the Jelly-fish. You cannot easily pull it from the rocks without harming it; but you will find other Anemones on stones and sh.e.l.ls; and these you can put in a jar of sea-water, with some weed, and carry home to examine later on.

When covered with sea-water the ugly blobs of jelly open out like beautiful flowers. In some places along our coast the floor of the sea is like a flower garden, gay with thousands of coloured Anemones.

Those little "petals" are really _tentacles_, used for catching and holding food. We will use a shorter word and call them feelers. They are set in circles round the top of the Anemone, and there are many of them.

The Daisy Anemone, for instance, has over seven hundred feelers. Each feeler can be moved from side to side, and can also be tucked away, out of sight and out of danger; but, when hungry, the animal spreads them widely, for, as we shall see, they are the net in which it catches its dinner.

The whole body of the Anemone is like two bags, one hanging inside the other. The s.p.a.ce between the two bags is filled with water. The feelers are hollow tubes which open out of this s.p.a.ce; so they, too, are filled with water.

[Ill.u.s.tration: CRUSTACEA.

1. THE LARVA OF A LEAF-BODIED CRUSTACEAN CALLED PHYLLOSOMA.

2. A PRAWN-LIKE CREATURE, SHOWING THE FRONT LIMBS THAT ARE USED FOR GRASPING PREY.

3. A CRAB.

4. THIS IS A SHRIMP-LIKE CREATURE CALLED c.u.mA SCORPIOIDES.]

The Anemone can press the water into them, and so force them to open out. In rather the same way you can expand the fingers of a glove by forcing your breath into them. The Anemone, you see, can open or close just as it pleases.

What does it eat, and how does it find food? Perhaps you have watched an open Anemone in a pool, or in a gla.s.s tank, and seen it at its meals. A small creature swims near, and touches one of the feelers. Instead of darting away, it appears to be held still; and then other feelers bend towards it and hold the victim. Then they are all drawn to the centre of the Anemone, carrying their prey with them; and the feelers, prey and all, are tucked out of sight.

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