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Pine Cones on Willow Trees

scales, cone, life, found and twig


Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?" 1 asked myself incredulously, -- or pine cones of willow hedges ? " I was walking along a country road, on either side of which was a willow hedge. I was watch tl flu, cymn,r1 F1-. 9-mrmer 11,1111,Ill Cr to L""J ,t(l11,11_16 foliage, and wondering how the willow could ever have come to be the symbol of grief. These roadside trees invited me to be in love with life, and lifted up into the air long withes to show that with fine equanimity they could rise superior to the hedge trimmer's hatchet and shears.

It was among these lusty shoots that I found a shorter one that ended abruptly in a green scaly knob. I never had seen its like before. Jt was at seeing this that I paused and asked myself thews tiun. The knob was made on the pattern of 41, pine cone, with regular. closely overlapping scales. Pine cones on willow trees? Pliny \voulcl,have allowed:it, 1•11-0 ,et if drityri cinders made possible through the art of grafting. But I was not so easily satisfied as Pliny. I knew that the willow bore a long cluster of pods. Cutting off the twig thmt bore this unknown fruit. 1 made search for more, and got in all a dozen of them. The same cone-like knobs occurred on some heart-leaved willows that reached out to me as I crossed a bridge. They were smaller, hut seemed identical in kind. Sitting down on the hack porch. I selected a fair speci men, and cut it open lengthwise. My knife dragged heavily toward the tip, for the scales were tufted with a thick cottony substance. At the base was a woody core, from which all the scales appeared to rise. In the core was a hollow, and above the hollow—enclosed in the innermost set of scales—lay something that excited my curiosity to the limit. It was long and tapering and white and felt soft when I poked it with the point of my knife blade. 1 lifted it out, cradle and all, and parting the silk blanket, saw within a little fat white grub " with a dimple in its chin." It seemed unused to being wakened in this manner, and squirmed a little, as a Add xvill do in a troubled dream. But I was not ing its discomfort at that moment. Whose baby are you? I low did you get here?" 1 didn't expect an answer direct. so set looking for evidence. was no door leading into the secret chamber. The scales were entire as I took them out one by one. I must have cut through the hole in opening the cone.

Selecting a fresh specimen. I scanned the outside of twig and cone with care. One by one I removed and examined the ;wales. They were perfect, and in the very cure lay :nn)ther larva just like the first one. I couldn't wait till these creatures grew up to have the answers to my questions. They might die in infancy. And so I went to the books. There 1 promptly found the picture of cone, and the complete story of its growth.

It would seem that the willow sap, bitter as it is b., us, suits the taste of a certain tiny midge-like

fly, which belongs to a family of insects known as gall-gnats. Before the young willow shoots are \yell started these airy winged flies are out among them. The female selects a thrifty and ambitious terminal bud, and piercing its tender tissues, lays an egg in its very center. Out of this egg hatches the maggot which begins at once to eat the walls of the prison in which it is horn. Knowing no other life, it is happy, and utterly unconscious that it is thwarting the plans of the tree in the carrying out of its own. But the twig ceases to lengthen. The leaves that were in embryo in the bud, and predestined to unfold and adorn the twig as siunnier comes on. are stunted and developed into broad curving scales that crowd each other until further growth is impossible. The soft silky covering unfolding leaves is kept, a pathetic reminder of what. they were and what they might have become.

When autumn comes the willow leaves fall, but these scales remain. The full-grown larva lies within its little cradle, and knows only that it has had enough to it wants to sleep. Thus the Nvinter passes, and the early spring brings the quiet transformation to a pupa. Out of the chrysalis and out of the end of the dry and loosened cone emerges the winged adult in the spring, to :join its fellows from other cones, and with them to dance away in the \Vart/1 its brief span of life. Before they die the females lay their eggs, and the story of their life is repeated in their offspring.

The cones often remain on the tree for some time after their :wales are dead and their inmates have escaped. But there are no gnats in last year's nests. Wherewithal would they be fed? I found a strange colony life existing in sonic of these pine cone galls. Between the scales were many larva of a " guest midge—close relative of the proper inmate. As the latter kept always to her place hi the center, leaving aniple and unused guest chambers between the scales—and these full of a delectable and nutritiints sap—why should the intruders not occupy the space and feast on the soft, leafy scales, praising Allah for both! Su reasoned the mother of fifty or sixty little pinky orange creatures which C found sleeping, each in a silken web, and each lying in a socket eaten out by him while lie was yet a hungry larva.

I found in several cones the eggs, long, curved, and pencil-like, of some green grasshopper, or katydid. They lay in fours and sixes —parallel, tucked in between the scales, in no case interfering with the comfort of the " guest" which certainly had no rirlit to rise up against the invaders even had there been a crowding. "Squatter sovereignty was Idainly the policy of each, and neither could well complain. There seemed to be room for all, with no over lapping claims and no trouble, in this model tenement house.