Pancakes


The early seas of Shalimar progressed from a rich "chemical soup" to a rich biological one. Many kinds of unicellular organisms lived and reproduced in the upper layers of the warm water. Some eventually began to stick together in clumps of various shapes. These clumps tended to be clones of a single cell, perhaps one that had been detached from another clump. The clumps increase in size by cell division, and break apart when their size begins to interfere with the welfare of their individual members.

The primary need of the cookers, which perform the same role as plants on earth, is for light, which affects how they can successfully clump together. We have named one group of linked plant cells Pancakes, because they form flat, thin plates that float at the surface of the water. This staying together seems to provide advantages in that some of the gases that they excrete are on the underside of the plate, and so provide a little buoyancy to hold the group close to the surface of the water.

As the pancake gets larger, more gas can be trapped on its underside. Pancakes are very thin and flat, which allows each individual cell to have access to the water. Pancakes are also fragile, because of their thinness. Wave action can break them apart easily. The earliest ones were probably less than a quarter of an inch across, and so thin as to be virtually invisible. As they continued to exist, additional layers of cells were added, forming interior layers of cells whose function was to support the growth of the cells above them. This development reduced the light being received by the cells on the bottom of the pancake. These lowest cells then began to grow root-like projections which stabilized the floating group further and with which they also began to intercept and feed on organic debris in the water. There are many Pancakes in Shalimar's oceans today.

Because the pancakes are floaters, they are able to live anywhere that the water is warm, without any necessity for adaptation to the nature of the sea bottom. They are most plentiful in shallow, sheltered waters, where they are not subject to much wave agitation. They are not found in the higher latitudes where the oceans may freeze.

Eventually, some of the pancakes in the shallow water found their trailing roots getting buried in the silt. The roots had already been used to digest organic flotsam that had become tangled in their fibers: from debris digestion to using the roots to extract nourishment from soil was a short step. The stability that anchored roots gave the pancake was advantageous in some areas, and the roots gradually fused together to form a rooted trunk that divided into roots at the base. They also grew longer, and probed deeper into the mud. These pancakes were turning into another group: tables.

Tables began as rooted pancakes. Once affixed to the sea bottom, they had to find ways to adapt to the variable depths of the water. Their range was restricted so long as they had short stems, and they could easily get buried under the silt. In some the stems grew longer, in others roots grew out to the edge of the disk, adding support and simplifying the transport of materials. Then the roots extended out beyond the edge of the disk, making a small branch, and supporting a smaller disk at its tip. Once the adaptation of linking disks together had been made, the plant could easily grow taller and could also cover a larger total area with smaller and less fragile components. Some of these tables appear as a circle of small disks at the surface: more deeply rooted varieties have extended their small individual disks to form long ribbons. As tables have retained the interior gas reservoirs that developed in the pancakes, their leaves float readily.





© Elizabeth Anne Viau, 1996. This material may be used freely for instructional purposes but not sold for a price beyond the cost of reproduction. Please e-mail me at eviau@earthlink.net if you use this material. I'd be interested to know how it works for you!