Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

I Latbly witnessed an instance of the effect of lightning on a fine large thriving oak-tree, in Richmond Park. Soon after the tree had been struck, I went to examine it, and found that all the main branches had been carried away, one large limb being sixty paces from the tree. The tree itself, which might have contained from two to three loads of timber, was split in two, and every atom of bark so completely stripped from it, that on removing the turf which surrounded the butt of the tree, the bark had disappeared even below the surface of the earth. Not one of the small shoots or branches could be found, but the ground was strewed with a quantity of black brittle substance, which pulverized in the hand on being taken up. The tree was standing near some others, which were uninjured. A person who was near the spot at the time, informed me that the noise and crash was tremendous, and that the destruction of the tree was instantaneous. When one considers that though some of the large limbs were found, yet that others, as thick and thicker than a man's leg, had disappeared, and had probably been crushed into powder, some idea may perhaps be formed of the effect produced by lightning. Jesse. /

God has given to every man a peculiar constitution. No man is to say, "I am such or such a roan, and I can be no other—such or such is roy way, and I am what God has made me." This is true, in a sound sense; but in unsound sense, it has led men foolishly and wickedly to charge their eccentricities, and even their crimes, on God. It is every man's duty to understand his own constitution, and to apply to it the rein or the spur, as it may need. All men cannot do, nor ought they to do, all things in the same way, nor even the same things. But there are common points of duty, on which all men of all habits are to meet. The free horse is to be checked, perhaps, up hill, and the sluggish one to be urged: but the same spirit, which would nave exhausted itself before, shows itself, probably, in resistance down hill, when he feels the breaching press on him behind; but he must be whipped out of his resistance. Cecil.

ANNIVERSARIES IN MAY.' MONDAY, 27th On this day is kept the anniversary of the Venerable Bede, one or the fathers of the English Church. He was born within the domains of the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul at J arrow, in Northumberland, in the Bishopric of Durham, into which he was received at seven years, and within whose walls he passed his whole life, although the vast fame he obtained for learning and the ecclesiastical virtues, caused Pope Sergius to send him pressing invitations to settle at Rome. He wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the Saxons, a work which retains its celebrity to this day. His last work was the translation of St. John, which he is said to have completed only a few hours before his death in 735. He was buried in the church of his convent, 1564 John Calvin, the celebrated Reformer, died at Geneva. He

was born at Noyon, in France, 10th of July, 1509. 1600 The Matins of Moscow.—On this day, at the hour of matins, about six in the morning, Prince Demetrius, and all the Poles who were in Moscow, the ancient capital of Russia, were massacred by the Russians. 1725 The Order of the Bath was revived by King George II.

TUESDAY, 28th. 1546 Cardinal Beaton, the head of the Roman Catholic party in Scotland, and who distinguished himself in that country by his blood-thirsty cruelties as much as his contemporary, Bonner, did in England, was assassinated in the Castle of St. Andrew's. The immediate cause of this deed was revenge for the burning alive of a learned and pious preacher, George Wishart. The Cardinal was an exulting witness of this horrible spectacle from his own windows. 1672 The Dutch Fleet defeated in Solebav, on the coast of Suffolk, by the English, commanded by the Duke of York (afterwards King James 11.) in person.

1828 Died the lion. Mrs. Anne Seymour Darner, a celebrated

sculptress, the productions of whose chisel entitle her to no mean rank.

1829 Died Sir Humphry Davy, one of the most eminent Chemists

and experimental Philosophers of his time. Independent of his reputation in the scientific world, his invention of the Safety Lamp will endear his memory to every friend of humanity to the latest generation.

WEDNESDAY, 29th. This day is set apart as a festival, in memory of the restoration of King Charles II. to the throne of the three kingdoms, in the year 1660. On this day, also, in commemoration of the King's fortunate concealment in an oak-tree, in Boscobel Wood, after his defeat, in 1631, at tVorcester, it is still in some places the custom to wear gilded oak-apples in the hate, to decorate the houses, churches, and public buildings with oak-boughs, and to indulge in general rejoicing and holiday. In some cities of England, processions are sull made •« this day, or were within a few years: but the observance of it is falling off.

1453 Constantinople taxen by Mahomet II., Emperor of the Turks, and thus the Greek, or Eastern Empire, was finally overthrown, after an existence of ten centuries. THURSDAY, 30th.

1431 The celebrated French heroine, Joan of Arc, was burned by the English, at Rouen, as a witch and sorceress.

1498 Columbus sailed from St. Lucar, in Spain, on his third voyage of discovery.

J>74 Died Charles IX. of France, who not only ordered the massacre of St. Bartholomew, but took part in it himself, by firing from his palace windows on his own Protestant subjects.

1640 Died, at Antwerp, Peter Paul Rubens, the most eminent historical painter of the Flemish school. He was also an experienced statesman, a man of universal learning, and spoke several languages. He resided some time in England, painted some of the apartments in Whitehall, and was knighted by King Charles I.

1744 Died, at Twickenham, Alexander Pope, the poet.

1778 Died, at the age of eighty-five, the infidel Voltaire. During a long life he strained all his powers of wit, to undermine and overturn the belief in Christianity. His death-scene was frightful; conviction burst upon him without a ray of hope to accompany it, and he expired in mental torments that no pen can adequately describe.

1832 Sir James Mackintosh, an eminent statesman, lawyer, and writer, died, aged sixty-nine.

FRIDAY, 31st.

1520 King Henry VIII. embarked at Dover, to hold an interview with Francis I. of France. It took place in a field near Ardres, a small town not far from Calais. The splendour displayed, not only by the two sovereigns, but by all the noblemen who attended them, caused the place of their meeting to be called the " Field of the Cloth of Gold."

1533 Coronation of Queen Anne Boleyn.

1809 Joseph Haydn, the celebrated musician and composer, died at Vienna, aged seventy-seven.

THE MONTH OF JUNE.

This month was the fourth in the Alban, or old Latin Calendar, and Romulus gave it the same rank in his, he also assigned to it thirty days, while in the Alban Calendar it had but twenty-six. Numa took from it a day, which Julius Casar restored to it, while he confirmed the rank; and June has ever since remained the sixth month of the year. Our Saxon ancestors, whose chief riches consisted in their flocks and herds, derived many of their names from the habits of animals that they tended, thus June was by them called VVeyd Monat in the earliest times, because, says Vcrstegan, " their beasts did then weyd in the meddoices, that is to say, goe to feed there." It was afterwards called Sere Monath, or dry month ; and 6urely if there is a month in the year, in which the variableness of the English climate is less felt than another, it is in the month of June, when the fields are enamelled with a thousand flowers, the air impregnated with the perfume of the new hay, and with the various blossoms that adorn the fruit-trees, promising future abundance, while every sense is gratified by their E resent beauty and fragrance. The ancients represented this month y a young man, clothed in a mantle of dark grass-green colour, having his head ornamented with a coronet of bents, king-cobs, and maiden-hair, bearing on his arm a basket of summer fruits, and holding in his hand an eagle. In his right he held the sign Cancer, the Crab, which the sun, entering on the 22nd, makes the summer solstice; and that orb, being then apparently stationary, but about to recede, is aptly typified by a crab, whose motions are either sideways or retrograde, and which, in that eccentricity of motion, ditlcis from all other animals.

ANNIVERSARIES.

SATURDAY, 1st.

St. Nicomede. He is said to have been a scholar of St. Peter,

and suffered martyrdom under the Emperor Domitian.

1416 Jerome, of Prague, the friend and companion of John Huss, was burned alive at Constance, in Germany, for preaching the doctrines of Wycliffe.

1794 The grand French Fleet, commanded by Villaret Joyeuse, was met at sea, about 1000 miles from the north-west coast of France, by the English Fleet, under Lord Howe, and entirely defeated. This is called Lord Howe's Victory, and was the first of the grand series of naval triumphs achieved by our seamen during the revolutionary war.

1812 The Island of St. Vincent was nearly destroyed by an eruption of the Souffriere Volcano.

SUNDAY, 2nd.

Trinity Sunday.—This is always the Sunday next following the

day of Pentecost, or VV hitsunday, and from this Sunday all the rest

take their denomination until Advent Sunday.

1653 The English Fleet, under General Monk, (afterwards Duke of Albemarle,) defeated that of the Dutch, under the celebrated Van Tromp; the engagement lasted two days.

1780 The dreadful Riots, still known by the name of the " Riots of 1780," broke out. They lasted nearly a week, during which two Roman Catholic chapels, the prison of Newgate, and many private houses were set on fire.

1802 The House of Commons voted £10,000 to Dr. Jenner, for his discovery of Vaccine Inoculation.

1811 Christophe and his Wife were crowned King and Queen of Ilayti. The new monarch assumed the name of Henry I.

LONDON:

Published In Weekly Numbers, Price One Penny, And In Monthly Parts, Fbice Sixpence, By

JOHN WILLIAM PARKKK, WEST STRAND.

Sold by all Booksellers and Newsreaders in the King-dorm

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][graphic][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE COMMITTEE OF GENERAL LITERATURE AND EDUCATION, APPOINTED BY THE SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE.

[merged small][graphic][merged small]

Ir a person accustomed to habits of observation, and generally acquainted with Nature and her laws, could be suddenly transported to some distant country, his first emotion over, he would look round and endeavour to ascertain where he was. If he found himself in or near a city, or among buildings, and with human beings before him, the knowledge we suppose him to possess, would enable him to decide, from the style of architecture of the former, and from the costume and features of the latter, to what part of the world he had been conveyed. If far from any signs of man or his habitations, he would still be able to form some opinion of what quarter of the globe, and, to a great degree, what portion of it, he was in, from the animals which surrounded him. If he saw the majestic elephant, or the graceful giraffe browsing on the trees, or the crouching lion in the thicket, he would know that he was in Africa: if vast herds of buffaloes, feeding in boundless plains, watered by mighty rivers, presented themselves to his view, his conjectures would turn to North America; and if the kangaroo bounded past him, or the oppossum sprang from bough to bough, Australia, and its unexplored tracts, would infallibly suggest themselves to his mind. In short, without multiplying examples, he could, in proportion to the extent of his knowledge of natural history, form a tolerably correct opinion of the country which had received him, to within a few hundreds of miles.

Let us, however, carry our supposition a step furthor; let us imagine no living animal in sight, no quadruped, no bird; not a fish in the waters, not an insect in the air; the stranger might still form a tolerably precise guess as to

* In this paper we have given the substance of an essay of Baron Humboldt's, comparatively little known in this country. The interest and novelty of the subject, we considered, would render it acceptable to our readers..

Vol. II.

The question, "How?" we are now going

where he was. to answer.

That organic vigour, and redundancy of life, increase as the genial warmth augments from the pole to the equator, is well known; but with this general increase some peculiar beauties are reserved for each portion of the earth; magnitude and variety of vegetation to the tropics, verdant meadows, and the early renovation of nature by the breath of spring, to the temperate climes. Every zone, moreover, has its peculiar traits of character, as it has its peculiar advantages; in an analogous manner as we recognise a distinct physiognomy in individuals, so there is a certain natural physiognomy which exclusively belongs to each particular region.

What the artist intends to express by the phrases of "Swiss scenery" and " Italian skies," is founded on the obscure conception of this local natural character; the blueness of the heavens, the brilliancy of the light, the mistiness of the distance, the character of the plants, the contour of the mountains, all concur to decide the general impression of a district.

But in all parts of the world, the mineral creation presents the same appearance. The granite rock, the limestone mountain-chain, the basaltic column, are the same in Iceland or Sweden, as they are in Mexico and Peru; if, therefore, the character of different countries depends on external objects viewed collectively, it is, indisputably, the' vegetation which chiefly contributes to mark it; it is seldom that animals appear in quantities sufficient to give a feature to the scene, and the restlessness of the individuals removes them from our view; but trees affect our imagination by their magnitude and stability, flowers by the brilliance of their colours, herbs by the freshness of their verdure

58

It is not by the parts of plants, to which botanists resort for the purposes of classification, that character is given to scenery; and it is not easy to express what this character does depend on, since it cannot be referred to any one part of a plant, but to several, mutually influencing and modifying each other; generally speaking, however, a few great peculiarities may be pointed out, as those on which the " physiognomy of vegetation" appears to depend.

The first, and most obvious, is the mode of branching, or ramification, of a tree or plant. The reader will easily comprehend the importance of this characteristic, if he recall to mind the striking difference between a poplar, an oak, and a beech, even in the depth of winter, when no foliage contributes to distinguish them. The branches of the first form acute angles with the main stem; both are straight, giving the tree a pyramidal appearance, which, in contrast with others, renders it so ornamental in plantations; the upright cypress, general in Italy and the Levant, has a similar port. The " gnarled" and " knotted" oak are epithets as familiar as they are just, and perhaps there is no other tree to which they would so exactly apply. The most careless observer of Nature has been struck with this obvious character of oaks, and can distinguish them at all times by their contorted branches; while the beech, though it does not admit of being described in words, has an' air as distinct from the former as all have from the birch, the ash, and the willow. If such striking distinctions in the characters of plants can be pointed out in the limited Flora of our own country, it may be easily comprehended, that a great variety of forms must be presented in the numberless trees of foreign climes; and that though these distinctive traits may be too fine for description, they are sufficiently decided to arrest the eye, and affect the general features of the locality. If it be remarked, that only in one season of the year can the branches of a tree be seen, these being concealed by the foliage during the greatest part of the year in temperate, and during the whole of it in tropical latitudes, it must be remembered that, in the same manner as the form of an animal is governed by that of its skeleton, though this, being concealed by the muscles and skin, is not seen, so the general contour of plants is influenced by the arrangement of their branches, though these may be hidden by their verdure.

The next important feature of vegetation depends on the form and size of the leaves; not that these qualities of individual leaves can be perceived, but as influencing the great masses into which the foliage arranges itself. Before, however, proceeding to consider these effects, the reader must be apprized, that the term leaf is not always correctly applied in common language. Each distinct piece x)f green substance, variously veined, and having a small stalk, is usually called a leaf; but in many plants several of these, borne by a common stalk, only compose one leaf, and this is scientifically termed a compound leaf. If a leaf, in this correct sense of the word, be gathered off a rose-bush, it will be found to consist of a stalk with five leaflets, or leaves, attached to it, two on each side and one at the end. The compound leaf of the horse-chestnut consists of seven distinct leaflets, long and pointed at the ends, attached at the extremity of a stalk, something like a hand; and in the acacia, the leaf consists of a stalk, bearing many small oval leaflets arranged on each side of it. These examples are sufficient to enable the reader to understand, that the principal characters derived from the foliage, depend on the leaves being compound or simple.

It might at first appear that where little difference in point of size exists between the leaves of a tree with simple, and the leaflets of one with compound leaves, little difference could be produced by the arrangement of these in each plant. To explain that this is not the fact, let the bough of an elm or lime-tree be examined, and it will be found that its simple leaves are set round the stem in a particular order; and this arrangement is constant in all trees of those species. The compound leaves of trees are arranged in a similar constant manner round their common branch; and therefore, if the simple leaves of a plant could be replaced by compound ones of several leaflets, the effect of these, in influencing what artists call the "touch" of the foliage, or its character, would be very marked. The ash owes its light and graceful port to its having compound leaves, the leaflets of which are of a long, oval figure; the palmate leaves of the horse-chestnut, from their individual form and arrangement on the boughs, group themselves

into roundish masses, which give that tree a heavy, tmpicturesque air, in the eye of an artist, beautiful as it appears on lawns and in woods. In the Keeping willow, the long slender leaves co-operate with the peculiar pendent ramification of that plant, to confer a very decided and wellknown character, from which its popular name was derived, while the similarly-formed leaves of the common willows, standing erect on the long upright boughs, have an opposite, though equally marked, character. In fenny countries, as Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, where this tree abounds, the landscape owes its feature to them, so as to afford a striking illustration of the present subject. It is unnecessary to dwell further on this, by pointing out the effects of large leaves, such as those of the sycamore and plane-tree; but one class of plants must be here presented to the reader's notice, as directly bearing on the question. This is the exensive tribe of cone-bearing trees, such as the fir, pine, larch, cedar, &c, all of which have their sharp leaves of a very peculiar kind, which give plantations, or even solitary trees, of this order, a distinctly recognisable character.

That the colour of leaves very materially influences the features of vegetation, is too obvious to need remark. The gloomy air of the last-named tribe of trees is a sufficiently well-known proof, and the limits of this paper would not allow of citing many examples of the effects of different shades of green, in distinguishing groups of different plants, uniting in a landscape; but there is another peculiarity attendant on foliage, that may have escaped the observation of many, and which, as intimately connected with pictorial effect, must be briefly noticed.

Though all objects reflect light, and therefore appear to partake of the colour of those surrounding them, yet the degree in which they do this mainly depends on the comparative polish or roughness of their surface. In the case of a mirror or a piece of still water, the reflection is perfect, and not only the colour, but the form of other objects is returned to the eye; when the degree of smoothness of surface is so inferior to this, as not to admit of reflecting form, still colour is reflected to a great degree. The scarlet colour of a piece of cloth exposed to a strong light is distinctly reflected from a white wall, or sheet of paper, or even from any smooth coloured object,

To apply these remarks to the subject before us, let the reader take a laurel-leaf, and holding it up between his eye and the sky, he will see its real, or what painters term its local colour, and he will find this to be much brighter or greener than the leaf will appear in any position where light is not seen through it; but if he hold the leaf and look on the surface obliquely, he will find that it will no longer look green at all, but will appear of the colour of the nearest object from which it can receive and reflect light to the observer's eye. Thus in the open air it may be made to appear blue, from the azure of the sky; or green, from the grass; or red, from a brick wall, and so on; and the same thing may be remarked of any leaves which have a polished surface. Now, though a similar effect is observable in the leaf of any other tree which is rough, like an elm-leaf, or a strawberry-leaf, it is in so much slighter a degree as barely to be perceivable by common observers, since the light of the surrounding objects is chiefly absorbed by the leaf, and only that reflected to the eye, by which its own colour is made apparent; so that the reflected colour of those objects is merged, as it were, in the local green tint of the leaf, or only concurs to vary the shade of this to a very limited extent compared to that of the former example.

The two surfaces of the leaves of most plants vary much in colour, as may be decidedly observed of the willow, aspen, and other trees, and it is also to be remarked, that the upper surface is always the darkest in colour, and smoothest in texture. In nature, or in the open air, from the general position of the leaves, the upper surface of those which are polished reflects the colour of the sky, and the true tint of the foliage is lost in, or greatly modified by, this reflected light; and the leaves of such plants, instead of appearing green to the spectator, appear of a blueish cast. In tropical, or warm countries, where the tint of the sky is very intense, this reflected colour augments in proportion. The "dusty," "grayish," "dull" hue of an olive-ground, so often complained of by travellers in southern Europe, is attributable to the smooth leaves of that plant reflecting the blue of the sky, and thereby, having their own verdant hue neutralized. The olive, as cultivated for crops, is a low plant, seldom rising so high. as the spectator's eye, and consequently he does not see a light passing through the transparent leaves, but only the subdued verdure of the upper sides of these: whereas, in walking in a grove of tall trees, though the local colour of the foliage may be quite as sombre as that of the olive, yet the transmitted light is much brighter and gayer, from partaking only of the real green of the leaves.

[graphic]

These preliminary observations will enable the reader to gain an insight into the various ways in which vegetation is modified in appearance, and therefore in turn regulates pictorial or landscape effect. We shall now proceed to the more immediate illustration of our subject.

There are sixteen forms of plants, which, according to those travellers who have paid attention to the subject, appear principally to characterize the vegetable physiognomy of the globe; but, doubtless, it will be found that others must be added, when more knowledge is obtained of portions now little, if at all known; as for instance, the greater part of Africa, south America, and Australia. We shall proceed to give B plain account of each of these forms, divested of all botanical or scientific terms, adding any curious or interesting facts connected with each group, which may bring them more forcibly home to the mind of our readers: and we shall commence with those forms peculiar to tropical countries.

We begin, then, with the Palms, the noblest species of vegetation. All nations have acknowledged their superiority, and the earliest were inhabitants either of a country where Palms are abundant, or of provinces immediately bordering on one. Their tall, slender, unbranched stems, crowned by elegant feathery foliage, composed of a few gigantic leaves, cause them to differ in appearance from all other trees; and if an aged and gnarled oak in our own island, or the enormous baobabs of Senegal, convey an idea of more strength combined with great age, we must not forget, that the lofty palm is not the production of a few years, and that an appearance of youth may be combined with long duration, and great power. The stem is sometimes irregularly thick, as in that termed Corozo del Sin a; sometimes slender like a reed, as in the Piritu; it is scary in the Palma de Covej'a, and prickly in one species of Corozo. In the Palma real in Cuba, the stem swells out like a spindle in the middle, at the summit of these systems, which in some cases attain an altitude of upwards of 180 feet, a crown of leaves, either feathery or fanshaped, for there is not great variety in their general forms, spreads out on all sides, the leaves being frequently from twelve to fifteen feet in length. In some species they are of a dark-green and shining surface, like that of a laurel or holly; in others they are silvery on the under-side, like the leaf of a willow, and there is one species of palm with a fan-shaped leaf, adorned with concentric blue and yellow rings like the "eyes" in a peacock's tail. The flowers are not unworthy of the tree: those of the Palma real of the Havanah are of a brilliant white, visible from a great distance; but generally the blossoms are of a pale yellow. To these succeed very different forms of fruit: in one species it consists of a cluster of egg-shaped berries, of a brilliant purple and gold'.

The most magnificent of palms are the Jagua and Piriguao, in which, especially the former, nature has combined all the beauties of the tribe. In thick groups it crowns the granite rocks at the cataracts of Atures and Maypure, on the Orinoco; the slender polished stems rise to the height of from sixty to seventy feet, so that the crown, of seven or eight enormous airy leaves, is raised far above the thicket of foliage among which they grow. The light-green of the leaves, waving in the breeze on their slender stalks, singularly contrasts with the dense mass of vegetation below them. It is this palm which bears the enormous clusters of seventy or eighty purple

• Baron Humboldt in speaking of the difficulties the botanist has to encounter, in getting specimens of the palm-flowers for examination, says, " The traveller who prepares in Europe for a scientific journey, sees in his imagination scissors and crooked knives, which are to be fixed to the ends of long poles; and boys, who, with their feet tied by a string round the stem, are to climb the highest trees; every thing 13 to be got at in fancy; unfortunately, all these visions remain unrealized. In the Guyana he finds himself among Indians, whom poverty and uncivilization make rich and contented, so that neither gold nor presents can induce them to go three yards out of their path. This imperturbable indifference enrages the European so much the more, as he beholds these same fellows climb about every where with inconceivable facility, whenever urged by their own capricious fancy: as for example, to get at a monkey which they have wounded by their arrows, and which saves himself from falling by hanging by his tail."

and gold berries, and the fruit is wholesome as well as lovely, yielding an abundant farinaceous food, which is prepared in many ways by the inhabitants of the country.

The palm diminishes in beauty and size from the equator towards the temperate zones. The real palm-climate has a mean annual temperature of from 75° to 83° of Fahrenheit, that of England being about 50°. South America contains the finest portion of the Palm country; in Asia, the form is rarer; of the African Palms but little is as yet known, except one, the Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera), the most important to man of the whole tribe, though far less beautiful than the other species; this prospers in the south of Europe, in countries the mean temperature of which is 61° to 65°. There is but one species really indigenous in this quarter of the globe, the Chamserops, found in Italy and Spain, as far as the fourth degree of North latitude; this is dwarfish, usually not exceeding seven or eight feet in height; hence, a real grove of palms is the certain indication of a tropical clime. In our cult, we have endeavoured to give an idea of one, but our readers must not imagine it to be any real scene, for we have combined species which are not found growing together in nature.

Next to the date-palm in importance to man, as affording him food, is the Cocoa-nut Palm (Cocos nucifera), which is nearly as handsome as it is useful, and it is familiar to the imagination of all, even though they may never have seen it, either in reality or in paintings. Who has not sympathized with the circumnavigators' delight, at first obtaining a supply of the refreshing fruit in the South Sea Islands, after a protracted voyage has confined them to salted meat and tainted water; and what boy even does not recall, at the very name of a cocoa-nut tree, Robinson Crusoe and his desert island?

Associated with Palms, in all tropical countries, is the Banana tribe, comprising, beside plantain or banana, Heliconias, Strelitzias, and Amomums, plants with short juicy stems, crowned with large delicate silky leaves. The Banana has been cultivated from the earliest periods, according both to tradition and history. There is no plant which yields so great a quantity of food with so little care of cultivation, and in so small a space. Humboldt has calculated that four thousand pounds of bananas are grown where only one hundred pounds of potatoes, or thirty-three pounds of wheat, could be raised; accordingly, in equinoctial Asia, Africa, and America, and in the islands of the Atlantic and Pacific, wherever the mean temperature exceeds 75°, this plant constitutes the principal food of the inhabitants.

The original country of the banana is unknown; Asiatic mythology places it on the Euphrates, or at the foot of the Himalaya chain, just as Grecian fable assigns the fields of Enna, in Sicily, as the birth-place of the Cerealia, or grain-bearing grasses; but if the widely diffused cultivation of the last-named plants produces, in northern climates, monotonous fields and meadows, that of the banana, in the hot marshy countries of the tropics, widely diffuses one of the noblest and most graceful forms of the vegetable kingdom.

There is a large division of plants which do not bear flowers, and which are not propagated by seeds, as those are which do. These vegetables are small, especially in colder climates; they include the Moss, the Fungus, the Lichen, the Sea-weed, and others; but there is one tribe, the Ferns, which enters into our list, from some species of it being tree-like in port in warm latitudes; in ours they are low, though beautiful and graceful plants. They have, in early times, been considered as mysterious, and many poetic attributes have been given to them, which probably originated from their secluded station, and in the physiological peculiarity before mentioned, which in their case was obvious from their size, while it was overlooked in the diminutive moss, or fungus, or sea-weed, which indeed, in those days, were hardly considered as belonging to this natural kingdom. Some ferns are thirty to forty feet high; but, though confined to tropical regions, they do not bear great heat, and are, consequently, found on mountainous ridges, where, in shady places of South America, they are found accompanying the trees which yield the febrifugal barks. The stems of the ferns are not so slender as those of palms, and their foliage is more delicate and complex; but otherwise there is a resemblance between them, which may be traced even in the humble and well-known ferns of our country, adorning woody glades and shady lanes, where they have attracted the sympathy and attention of poets, to whom they have especially been deer'.

The class of flowerless plants to which Fems belong, merits further notice, from its affording those minute vegetables which, by their successive production and decay, prepare the soil to enable the barren rock in future ages to bear the lofty tree. When a volcano divides the boiling flood, and elevates a sterile mass from the bottom of the deep; or when the coral-insects have at last raised their dwellings above the surface of the sea; whatever it may be that brings the germs, whether wandering birds, or winds, or the waves, it is impossible to determine, the distance of the nearest coasts being taken into consideration: but no sooner does the breeze first fan the naked rock, than there forms on it what appear only as coloured spots, which are the simplest lichens: these increase in time, and by their decay afford a scanty stratum of mould, in which the minute seeds of more perfect, though still diminutive plants, transported thither by the same mysterious agencies, find a suitable nourishment. These, by their successive growth and death, increase the materials for the support of larger plants, till after the lapse of ages, trees adorn what was a silent desert, and man comes and takes possession of the fertile spot.

The above three forms of plants are peculiar to tropical countries of all parts of the world; that is to say, the species included in them only attain sufficient size to constitute characteristic vegetation, where warmth and moisture combine their effects.

If the classes of plants already mentioned as contributing to give a character to the vegetation of a country, are not familiar to those of our readers who have never left their own, or paid attention to this subject, the next tribe we must cite will surprise them still more, for the Mallow, only known to them as a small and insignificant weed, will appear totally incompetent to distinguish even the roadside on which they are accustomed to see it, far less to give individuality to a landscape. But this natural suggestion arises from not being aware that though the name of an order of plants is taken from one genus, which may be considered as its type, or that combining the various properties and characters which are peculiar to the whole, yet, botanically considered, orders of plants embrace plants as dissimilar, in size and aspect merely, as they are allied by more essential peculiarities of structure.

The common and marsh mallow, and a lavatera, are the only genera indigenous to Britain, of an order of plants that includes in it the gigantic Baobab (Adansonia digitata), or Monkey-bread, of the western coast and other parts of northern Africa, one of the most remarkable trees with which we are acquainted. A stem, not exceeding twelve or fourteen feet in height before it branches, but frequently sixty or seventy feet, or even more, in circumference, sends out arms which are equal to ordinary forest trees, and which, bowed down by their weight, touch the ground at forty or fifty feet distance from the trunk; while the roots, equally extensive, have been traced for a hundred and twenty feet, their extremities not being even then attained. The leaves are compound, and resemble those of the horse-chestnut, but have only five, instead of seven leaflets. The fruit looks like a longish gourd, or pumpkin, and is pleasant, nutritious, and wholesome; from its cool and acid flavour, it affords a grateful medicine in fevers and other complaints. The timber of this, like all trees of a comparatively rapid growth, is neither compact nor durable; it is, therefore, unmolested, or only visited for its fruit. That no plant could attain such a size in less than many centuries, is certain; but naturalists, applying to it those vague rules by which they estimate the age of other trees of a slower growth, have imagined, from its magnitude, that it was aged in proportion; and it has been frequently asserted to be the oldest organic living monument of our globe. (See Saturday Magazine, Vol. i., p. 156.)

But the Mallow-tribe has far higher claims to estimation than any the Adansonia can entitle it to: to this order belongs the Cotton Plant, perhaps to man the most important of all vegetable productions. What a host of associations does the very name call up. A territory, ten times more extensive, and four times more populous than the small island to which it belongs, yielding an obedience, founded on a perception of the advantages of the mild sway of its conquerors, receiving gradually but surely the bless

• The allusions to ferns made by our potts are striking to all who are conversant with their works

ings of intellectual civilization and the true faith; and ths» value of these brought more immediately home to their conviction, from circumstances connected with the plant under our consideration.

The Mallow-tribe, viewed in immediate connexion with the subject of this paper, is principally confined to warm latitudes, but in Italy the form begins to give a southern character to vegetation.

The Mimosa-form is no where found wild in northern countries, though we possess an acclimatized representative of it in the favourite Acacia of our shrubberies. It is indigenous only in warm countries, and principally confined to the tropics. It may easily be understood how decided a character large groves of these plants would possess, from their delicate airy foliage. It is one of those mysteries of nature which, equally numerous as wonderful, set all human knowledge at defiance to explain, that in North America, where the climate, under corresponding latitudes, is more severe, vegetation more varied and more luxurious is found than in Europe; and to this the Mimosa contribute. The tamarind-tree, the fruit of which is so well known, belongs to this order, and is a large and beautiful timber-tree in many tropical countries. The extraordinary degree of irritability shown in the leaves of the sensitive plant is familiar to us, by means of our hot-house specimens.

The Heaths, a group chiefly African, is known by name to all. In Northern Europe, the word is almost synonymous with barrenness and aridity. The genus which is familiar to us, consisting of gregarious plants, the terror of agriculturists, between whom and the powerful though humble-looking shrub-plant, there has been an unsuccessful war waged for centuries. The Heaths, properly so called, are confined to the Old World: not a single species of Erica (and there are 300 known) is found in America: but many other and very different genera of plants are included in the order in our view of vegetation. The whole, from a great similarity in port, forming a very decided characteristic tribe. In New Holland, where the Heath is also unknown, a numerous race of plants, called Epacridear, supply their place. Of the genera of larger plants belonging botanically to this order, the Azalea and Rhododendron are old favourites; but the real lover of nature, he who can "find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything," needs no foreign beauties to interest him in the tribe, when there are few scenes more lovely and more dear than our own wild commons, gay in a sunny day with the gorze and furze, and enamelled with the delicate bell-shaped blossoms of our Heaths. If the wastes of Australia are more splendid with the Epacris, the Stenanthcra, and other genera, yet they want that charm of association, that renders a village flock of geese, or a donkey grazing on a common, neither ludicrous nor contemptible in an Englishman's eyes.

The CACTtJS-tribe is, perhaps, one of the most singular of all vegetable forms. The plants composing it are leafless, and the stem, which is developed in the most varied and eccentric shapes, apparently to supply the place of foliage, presents a character little according with our ideas of a plant at all; it almost requires the splendid and fragrant blossoms of some species, to convince us that what we are contemplating belongs to the same kingdom of nature as the graceful banana or the lofty palm. The Nightblowing Cercus, the Cactus speciosissimus and speciosus, and many others, are the pride of horticulturists; but beauty of flower, or singularity of form, alone, are never the sole attributes of plants; in the Melon Cactus, the animals of the extensive parched plains of South America find a cool juicy refreshing food, to assuage their raging thirst. There is not, perhaps, a more striking phenomenon in natural history, than the fact of plants teeming with moisture and growing to a large size, in places where no other vegetable can withstand the burning temperature. In the deserts of the East, in Arabia, and those extensive plains where nothing save sand is seen on the ground, where the heat reflected from the earth dissipates the passing cloud, which hastens, as it were, to shed its refreshing moisture on a more grateful spot,—where no water ever rises from a spring, or falls from on high, and where the burning soil is intolerable to the foot even of the camel,—the WaterMelon attains the size of a foot and more in diameter; and, while all around is parched, offers in its cold and copious juice a draught to the traveller, which has often saved him from B lingering and painful death. In a similar

« AnteriorContinuar »