This page last changed on Sep 27, 2007 by mbruozas.
A Plant Story
"It's happened, it's happened!" shouted Maria.
"What's happened?" asked Eduardo, looking up from his bowl of breakfast cereal. The Sugar Pops were almost gone, it was mostly milk now.
"Sonny popped!" said Maria.
"Who's Sonny?" Eduardo was trying to decide whether to drink the milk or just leave it.
"Sonny the Sunflower I planted. He's popped!"
"How do you know it's a 'he'?" asked Eduardo, reasonably. "It's just a flower."
"With a name like 'Sonny' what else could he be?" asked his sister, "Anyway, it doesn't matter. The important thing is he was just a tiny bud yesterday and this morning he's a great big sunflower. With petals! Come and see!"
"OK," said Eduardo. He picked up his bowl, poured the milk down the sink, and put the bowl in the dishwasher along with the spoon. Then he followed his sister out to the backyard.
Sonny had indeed popped. Overnight, it seemed, the sunflower had grown until it was by far the tallest plant in the garden and now all of a sudden it had a beautiful brown and yellow flower on the very top of its long stem.
"How did that happen?" asked Eduardo.
"What do you mean 'how'? It just happened! Isn't he beautiful?" said Maria.
"Yeah, but how? I mean when? I mean it didn't just happen by magic!"
Maria was about to reply when a voice came to them from the direction of the house. They looked and saw their mother walking toward them. "Oh, there you are," she said, "I've been looking all over for you. Did you put away your breakfast dishes?" she asked Eduardo.
"Yes, Mom," said Eduardo, "But look! Look what happened to Sonny!"
"I know dear," said his mother, "I saw it this morning. Isn't it pretty? You did a good job planting and watering it," she said to Maria.
"Eduardo wants to know how it happened," said Maria. "How could a tiny little seed and some water turn into this beautiful flower?"
"Oh, it took a bit more than that," said their mother, with a mysterious little smile. "But I tell you what," she went on, "Aunt Elvira is coming over today and she might be able to show you a thing or two."
"Aunt Elvira?" said Maria, "Why didn't you tell us? She's cool! Eduardo, remem-ber the time she took us to"
"Ssshh!" said Eduardo, "She said it was a secret, remember?"
"Oh that's right," said Maria. "I forgot." She turned to her mother. "Well, anyway, Aunt Elvira is definitely the coolest. I bet she'll know all about Sonny."
"We'll see," said her mother.
Eduardo and Maria had been waiting for Aunt Elvira all morning. They were star-ing out the window of Maria's room which had a good view of the street, and had just about given up when they finally saw her red sports car screech around the corner and pull into the driveway of their house. They rushed downstairs to greet her.
Aunt Elvira was no ordinary aunt. For one thing, she didn't look like an ordinary aunt. Her hair was flaming red and long enough so she could sit on it. Her eyes were as green as grass and her nose turned up like a ski jump. She wore rings on every finger and too many necklaces to count.
But the most extraordinary thing about Aunt Elvira was not her appearance at all. Strange and wonderful things had been known to happen when she was with Eduardo and Maria - especially when their parents were not around! The kids could hardly wait to see what would happen this time.
"So what have you two been doing with yourselves?" she asked, getting out of her little car as Eduardo and Maria ran up. "Not just sitting around, I hope! Life is too short for that!" She had on a bright purple shirt with yellow polka dots and tight pink pants the exact color of fresh bubble gum. On her feet she wore yellow socks that matched the polka dots and shoes that looked like baby alligators, complete with teeth at one end and tiny tails at the other. She was carrying an enormous cloth bag and her hair was pinned up in a big ball that sat on top of her head and made her look about ten feet tall.
"Sonny popped!" said Maria.
"Sonny your sunflower? I was wondering when that would happen."
"You remembered his name!" exclaimed Maria.
"Of course I did. I wouldn't forget an important thing like that!" said Elvira.
"Eduardo did," Maria said, looking scornfully at her brother.
"I did not," said Eduardo, "I knew it all along. I just forgot it for a second when you told me that he popped."
"Come see him," said Maria, "he's beautiful!" She grabbed Elvira's hand and dragged her around the house to the flower garden in the back.
"That's a big sunflower!" exclaimed Elvira, as soon as she saw Sonny, "You must have very good soil in your garden. And you must have watered him regularly, too," she said, turning to Maria.
"I did," said Maria, proudly.
"I still don't understand something," said Eduardo, "Where did this great big plant come from, anyway? I saw the seed that Maria planted - it was tiny. I don't see how something this big could possibly grow out of such a small seed, I don't care how much water she put on it!"
"Oh, it's not just the water," said Elvira. "Plants need lots of things to grow. And they don't just grow, either. I bet you didn't know that plants move around just like you do! I'll show you, but first let me go say 'Hi' to your mom." And she turned and went into the house leaving Maria and Eduardo to wonder what new adventure was about to start.
In a few minutes Elvira came out the back door and walked over to Eduardo and Maria. "Your mother is making lunch for us all," she said, "so we only have a few min-utes." She reached into her bag and pulled out a flat plastic object with buttons on one side.
"That looks just like the remote control on our TV," said Eduardo. "The one Maria is always hogging!" Maria glared at him but said nothing.
"It is, kind of," said his aunt, "But a regular remote only controls the TV. This one is a little different. Watch!"
She pressed a button on the remote control. "Notice anything different?"
"Not really," said Eduardo.
After a few moments Maria said, "It's awfully quiet."
"See that zinnia over there?" said Elvira, pointing to a pretty orange flower two rows away. "Look closely at it." The two children went over and peered at the zinnia.
"There's a bee flying around it," said Maria. She bent over to look more closely. "Oh, no it's not! It's just hanging there!" she exclaimed. And sure enough, the bee was hanging motionless in mid-air an inch or two above the flower. Even its wings had stopped moving.
"Look out in the street," said Elvira, "Do you see anything different?"
Eduardo and Maria raced to the back fence and looked over it. "Nothing is mov-ing," Eduardo reported, "The cars are all stopped."
"That man walking by is frozen!" said Maria, pointing. "He's got one foot in the air and one on the ground. He looks just like a statue!"
"That's because I pressed "Stop" on the remote control," said Elvira, "This is a magic remote. It works on the real world instead of the television. It stops time!"
"How come we're moving around, then?" Eduardo wanted to know.
"It doesn't work on us," replied Elvira, "just the rest of the world. Watch what else I can do!" She pressed another button and the cars and the people in the street started to move backwards. "I've hit 'Rewind'" said Elvira, "Time is running in reverse."
"That is so cool!" said Maria, "Can you fast forward it, too?" She was thinking how she would love to be able to fast forward right through her homework.
"Sure," said Elvira, "but right now I want to show you something. Come back here and watch your sunflower while I speed up the rewind!"
Elvira hit the "rewind" button several more times and things really started to go crazy. The sun moved across the sky and set in the east. It turned dark and the stars came out. But just a few seconds later the sun rose again and started to move across the sky. When it was halfway across Elvira pressed the "Stop" button and the sun stood still once more.
"Look!" said Elvira, "Look at Sonny!" At the tip of the sunflower plant, where a few minutes before there had been a large flower, now there was only a bud.
"I get it," said Maria, "We've gone back to yesterday. Sonny is only a bud."
"Right," said Elvira, "Now let's go all the way back. Back to before Sonny was even born!" She pressed the Rewind button again and again. Day and night flew by so quickly that they seemed just a flicker. The sunflower got smaller and smaller until it dis-appeared into the ground. Elvira pressed Stop.
"Now watch closely," said Elvira. "I'm going to run time forward, not as fast as be-fore but fast enough. Each day will take less than a minute. Watch what happens to Sonny."
Time started up again. Eduardo and Maria watched as a green stem poked timidly out of the soil and little bumps began to form along its sides. As the days went by the stem got taller and the bumps turned into leaves. By the time the plant was about a foot tall, the children noticed an odd thing.
"Sonny is moving!" said Maria, "He's not just growing, he's turning, too. It's just like he's alive!"
"He is alive, silly!" said Eduardo, "Just because he's a plant..."
"Yeah, but I never realized that plants could move like that. Notice that he only seems to do it during the daytime, too. At night he just droops."
"Do you notice anything special about the way Sonny moves?" asked Elvira. Maria and Eduardo stared intently at the plant. For a few minutes nobody said anything as the sun moved across the sky rising in the east and setting in the west. Night followed day and day followed night, over and over again. A bud began to form at the top of the sun-flower plant.
After a while Eduardo spoke up: "It looks as though Sonny is pointing toward the sun!"
"He's pointing the tops of his leaves at the sun," corrected Maria, "The rest of him isn't moving. I wonder why he does that."
Suddenly the bud opened up and out popped a flower. The sun stopped moving.
"We're back in the present," said Elvira, "No more fast forward for us. This is a magical remote control but it can't see into the future!"
"That was crazy!" said Eduardo, "Do plants really do that?"
"Move to follow the sun like that. It was almost as if Sonny was trying to get a tan at the beach!"
"Not every plant does it, but a lot of them do," said Elvira, "People don't notice that they move because they do it so slowly."
"But why do they do it?" asked Maria. "They can't really get a tan, can they?"
"No they don't tan," said Elvira, "but they do need the sun for other things. I prom-ise to show you that later, but right now I think I hear your mom calling us to come in for lunch."
"OK," said Maria, "But remember, you promised!"
Eduardo and Maria could hardly sit still during lunch. They had no idea what Aunt Elvira was going to show them except that it was sure to be unusual.
"Maybe she'll get Sonny to talk to us and tell us why he does moves around that way!" said Eduardo.
"No way," Maria said, "Plants can't talk!"
"I didn't think they could move either," said Eduardo, "until she showed us they could. Who knows what else plants can do?"
"We'll soon find out," said Maria.
But it wasn't so soon, after all. As soon as lunch was over and they had put their dishes in the sink, Eduardo and Maria rushed out to see what Sonny was doing. Sure enough, the sunflower's leaves were broadside to the sun, soaking in the rays. Maria was so proud of the sunflower she wanted to give Sonny a hug, but she was afraid it might hurt him.
They waited for Elvira to come out and show them why Sonny moved. They waited a long time, but Elvira stayed inside, talking to their mother. Finally, just when they were sure she had forgotten all about them, she came rushing out.
"Are you ready?" she called out, "We'd better hurry now. We don't have much time!"
"Why? What's going to happen?" asked Maria, but Elvira didn't answer. Instead she reached into her enormous bag and pulled out something that looked like a magnify-ing glass. It had a thick handle with a lot of buttons on it.
"Oh, we have one of those in school," said Eduardo. "It makes things look bigger."
"This one is a little different," said Elvira. "It doesn't just make things look bigger, it actually makes them bigger. Watch what it does to Sonny!"
She walked over to the sunflower plant and put the magnifying glass close to one of its leaves, and pressed a button. Immediately the leaf started to grow. Before long it was bigger than Eduardo and Maria put together!
"If you look closely now you'll see that this leaf has little holes all over it," said Elvira. "They're called 'stomata' and they're going to come in very handy."
"Why?" asked Maria. The leaf was still growing. The little holes were getting big-ger and bigger. The nearest one was already as big as her head.
"Because they will let us get into the leaf." said Elvira. "Like this!" She grabbed Eduardo and Maria by the hand, gave a little jump, and sailed with them through one of the stomata.
"This is just like Alice in Wonderland!" said Maria, "Only we're going down a leaf hole instead of a rabbit hole!"
"This is getting spooky!" said Eduardo. They had been traveling for some time now, holding tightly onto Aunt Elvira and getting deeper and deeper into the leaf.
"We're almost there!" said Elvira, "I think it's just around this turn... Oh yes, here we are!"
"Where?" asked Maria.
"We're in the photosynthesis factory!" said Elvira.
"The photosynthesis factory. This is where the leaf makes food."
"Oh," said Maria. She looked around. They seemed to be floating in the middle of a very big room, so big that they could hardly see the walls. All around them everything was green. Even the light was green. Eduardo's face looked green in the green light.
"I don't see any food here," said Maria.
"That's because it's still too small to be seen," said Elvira. "I guess I'll have to use my special magnifying glass some more!" She took it out and pressed the button. All around them the room started getting bigger and bigger. The walls disappeared and so did the ceiling and the floor. Elvira, Eduardo, and Maria were floating in a big green space. Elvira held the magnifying button down for a long time. Finally she said, "OK, now you can begin to see them."
"See what?" asked Eduardo.
"The molecules. The little ones come in here," Elvira pointed, "and the big ones go out there. Wait a minute, let me focus this thing and try to make it clearer." She fiddled with a knob on the magnifying glass and pretty soon Eduardo and Maria were able to see what was going on.
"What are those blobby things?" asked Maria.
"Those are the molecules I was talking about," said Elvira.
The molecules were all different sizes and shapes. The little ones moved very fast, the bigger ones just lumbered around. When two molecules bumped into each other they usually bounced off, but every once in a while they stuck together.
"I've slowed time down a lot with my remote control," said Elvira, "Otherwise you wouldn't be able to see much. The little molecules move faster than a rifle bullet."
"It's confusing," said Eduardo, "With everything bouncing around like this, it looks like the bumper cars at the fair."
Maria said: "I don't see why you call it a 'factory.' Aren't factories supposed to make stuff? I don't anything being made by this factory."
"It looks complicated," said Elvira, "but it's pretty simple, really. I can show you what's happening. I have one more trick up my sleeve!" She pressed some buttons on her magnifying glass and most of the molecules disappeared. "I've made all the big mole-cules invisible for the time being," said Elvira. "Tell me what you see now."
"I see blue molecules and red molecules," said Eduardo.
"The blue ones are straight and the red ones are curved," said Maria.
"The red ones look like little boomerangs," said Eduardo.
"The colors of the molecules aren't real," said Elvira. "The magnifying glass colors them that way so that you can see them and tell them apart. Really molecules are so tiny they don't have colors. But they do have names. The red ones are water and the blue ones are carbon dioxide."
"You mean regular 'water,' like the stuff we drink?" asked Maria.
"Exactly. You gave the plant those red molecules when you watered it," said Elvira. Maria looked pleased.
"Where did the carbon dioxide molecules come from?" Eduardo wanted to know. "What is carbon dioxide, anyway?"
"I know, I know!" said Maria. She put her hand up and waved it as though she were in school. "Carbon dioxide is a gas. It's the air you breathe when you breathe out."
"You remembered," said Elvira. "Very good!"
"So Sonny got those blue molecules when we breathed on him?" asked Eduardo.
"He might have, but you didn't really have to breathe on him," said Elvira, "There's enough carbon dioxide in the air already."
"I see something weird!" said Maria. She hadn't been paying attention to the con-versation. Instead, she had been watching the blue and red molecules very closely. "Every once in a while a red molecule meets up with a blue one and then they both dis-appear! Where do they go?"
"Remember I made a lot of the molecules invisible," said Elvira, "so it wouldn't be so confusing. When molecules come close to each other sometimes they stick together and turn into a different molecule. That's called a chemical reaction."
"Oh I get it," said Maria, "You mean the red and blue molecules turned into some-thing else that's invisible to us."
"Exactly," replied Elvira. "I can show you that too. This magnifying glass can do practically anything! Let me see now, which button do I push? Oh, here it is!"
New molecules appeared. They were much bigger than the water and carbon diox-ide molecules and they were colored green. Maria and Eduardo stared at them for a long time. There weren't very many of them, but if you looked closely you could sometimes see one appear out of nowhere. It was like looking for shooting stars.
"These are sugar molecules," said Elvira. "Exactly the same kind of sugar that you eat."
"I ate some of those this morning!" Eduardo said. "I had Sugar Pops for breakfast."
"Sugar Pops are full of sugar," Elvira agreed, "and it all comes from plants like this one that take water and carbon dioxide molecules and turn them into sugar molecules. Plants make food that way. Do you see what's happening to the sugar molecules, by the way?"
"They're all moving off in this direction," said Maria, pointing.
"They're going toward the roots of the plant. That's where most of them will be stored until the plant needs them. This plant will keep on making sugar until - uh oh, I was afraid of that!"
"Afraid of what?" asked Maria, anxiously. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing to worry about," said Elvira, "But do you notice anything different?"
"There are fewer green molecules," said Eduardo. "No new ones are being made and the old ones are leaving for the roots."
"The factory is shutting down!" said Maria. "Why?"
"Do you remember the question you asked me before lunch?" asked Elvira. "Think about it and you'll figure out what just happened. While you're thinking, though, we have to get out of here. It's getting late. Follow me!"
Getting out of the leaf didn't seem to take as long as getting in. Pretty soon they were back at the same stoma they had come in by.
"Let's get off this leaf and then I'll make everything small again," said Elvira. She held down a button on the magnifying glass. "There, now everything is back to normal."
"We must have been in there a long time," said Maria, looking at her watch, "The sun is setting."
"Exactly," said Elvira. "Now do you understand why the factory shut down?"
"I bet it needs light to run!" said Eduardo, excitedly. "It needs the sun to make elec-tricity or something. Like those calculators that run on solar cells."
"You're absolutely right!" said Elvira, beaming at Eduardo. "The leaves in a plant are kind of like solar cells. They use the sun's energy to make the food factory run."
"And that's why Sonny turns his leaves to the sun!" said Maria. "He's getting the most energy he can while the sun is up!"
"Right again," said Elvira. "You see? I promised I'd explain why Sonny's leaves move like that."
"Kind of a long explanation!" said Eduardo, "But I'm glad you showed us that fac-tory. That was cool! You could have just told us the answer, I suppose, but this was a lot more fun!"