by Patrick J. Morris, DVM
Copyright 1996, Patrick J. Morris, DVM
"So why plants orient themselves toward the sun should be
obvious to everyone. How plants do this is the question I'm
concerned with." Harold Howell paused for a moment to consider
how to phrase the question. Forty years ago the students looked
past minor ambiguities in the wording of test questions. Today,
it seemed that the teacher was required to submit the exam to the
all of the analytical review of a supreme court appointee. Well,
maybe it wasn't really that bad, but it was getting close.
"OK, so here's question number three. I want you to
describe to me the physiologic processes involved with the
plant's ability to position leaves and flowers at an angle
approximately perpendicular to the incident angle of the sun's
rays. In addition, describe BRIEFLY how the plant maintains this
angle as the incident angle of the sun's rays change during the
course of the day. Are there any questions?"
Harold scanned the room, most of the faces were bright,
intellect abounded in the upper level biology class. This was
what teaching was all about. Students in this class were
starving for more knowledge. Scoring this test would be a
breeze, though the greatest concern was that the students got
what they needed.
"Very well then, you may begi..."
One hand shot up into the air. The Apache opal bracelets
quickly identified the owner as Taryn, Taryn Anne Fogarty.
Lowering his head to escape the direct observation of any
competent lipreaders Harold cursed softly to himself. He'd
almost managed to get a test off without having someone christen
it with a dumb question. He tried to ignore the wavering
extremity, but the hand beckoned stiffly, insistently, as if
existence itself hinged on the content of the contribution.
"Ms. Fogarty, you have something to add?"
"I was wondering, Mr. Howell. What does the sun get in
Harold sighed heavily and sat down on the corner of the desk
and removed his reading glasses. After rubbing on the bridge of
his nose for a second he looked up and scanned the class. "Does
anyone have a course outline with them?"
Several hands shot up into the air, revealing the needed
information. Harold got up and walked quickly over to the
nearest volunteer, glancing at the wall clock quickly. He needed
to get things going if he was going to carry this off. In all of
the campus there were only three professors left who gave pop
quizzes and wore bow ties to class. Whipping his reading glasses
up into position he flipped quickly through the schedule for a
second or two, then ran a finger down one page, stopping abruptly
close to the bottom of the page. "Philosophy 101, 248 Hurrell
Hall, 2:00 to 2:50 PM Mondays and Fridays, Professor William
Luer, lecturer. Ms. Fogarty I believe that you'll find the
answers to your question in Dr. Luer's class. For the time
being, though it may seem a bit unfair, I want to concentrate on
what the plants are doing."
The hand dropped slowly back toward the desk like a leaf
floating down from fleeting arboreal life. That is how she would
have seen it. The test proceeded without another hitch. All in
all it was just another day in class as the perpetual wheel of
knowledge rolled ever onward, from infinity and into infinity,
onward and onward. Yes, all was fine, except that now the seed
of the question had planted itself into his mind. There it would
lie dormant, awaiting some cognizant Zeitgeber that would awaken
it into a flourishing blossom. It would wind around inside of
his mind like a wild dust devil, sending him into an intellectual
moebius circuit that would drive him to the brink of madness.
"Thank you Ms. Fogarty," Harold whispered hoarsely. There
was something there, some kind of eerie significance that can
only be found in the innocent ramblings of an out of place
flowergirl. Surely there was a good explanation for the shape of
a flower. It was the floral organ that was responsible for
reproduction. Form followed function and vise versa after all.
Insects, hummingbirds, herbivorous animals spread the pollen and
seed, both benefit mutually from the exchange. The circle of
life completes itself. Nothing else whatsoever is required.
Harold toggled the switch on the VCR remote once again to
rewind the tape he'd recorded off of the educational channel.
Scientists were observing very strange. The sun was oscillating,
expanding and contracting in a way never before observed. It was
as if some kind of transition was taking place in the depths of
the "solar environment" as the scientists liked to refer to it.
He stared at the infrared filtered image of the sun as it wobbled
and jiggled like some kind of gelatin bubble suspended in mid
His attention was drawn again, as it had been all night
toward a floral rendering that hung over the fireplace. Passive,
vulnerable, harmless. Wasn't the flower the definition of
innocence? But then there was the striking similarity to the
parabolic mirror. Coincidence? A gloomy light began to filter
into the window as Harold gazed out at his garden. They were out
there, phytic sentinels. They were guarding some deep, dark
secret of existence that, if discovered would soundly rub the
noses and analagous rostral structures of others within the
animal kingdom deep into their own dung. What did the sun get
In the plume of expanding gas the molecules that once
made up a small planet known to the sentients inhabiting it as
earth coalesced with the remnants of a medium yellow star. All
in all the transition had taken only a few seconds to complete.
The supernova sent a wild, raging stream of solar wind racing
outward, toward the boundless stretches of the known universe.
The spores of the starspawn sailed outward, riding on the gust of
plasma toward the depths of interstellar space. There, the spawn
would emerge to tame another wild star into obedient submission
to allow the alternate generation of phytic life to emerge anew.
In each case, once the light and energy were adjusted to within
the tight tolerances necessary for proper growth and development
life would blossom all around the starspawn, feeding off of the
intermediate forms until the final bloom. Sometimes, as in the
case of the last planet intelligent life would arise, only to
wither in the sporeburst that would spread the seed of the next
generation out into the far reaches of space. As the spores from
Harold Howell's garden sped on a journey through the millenial
aestivation there was a twinge of regret. The human known as
Harold Howell, professor of botany, gardening hobbyist. He had
always tended them so carefully, with so much tenderness, right
up to the moment of the solar flash.
It was always difficult, the letting go, for the starspawn
loved all life. Yet, without the starspawn these other lifeforms
would clearly be impossible. Two or three billion years, that
was all the time that could be provided until the star became too
difficult to contain. Two to three billion years for the evolved
life to break free of the planet before incineration obliterated
all but the starspawn. Eventually one of the intelligent forms
will manage to figure it all out and escape before the nova to
follow the starspawn into the next system. Yes, it was
inevitable, then the starspawn would no longer be so alone in the
universe. Someday, it will happen.