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THE pniCKLY TEAR (CACTUS INDICUs) AND COCHINEAL INSECT.
Some Cacti are thirty feet high, and roar their upright, branching, angular stems, like gigantic candelabra. Some of the parched plains of Cumana, New Barcelona, and other provinces, are thickly set with these singular plants, and present, at a distance, to the curious and astonished foreigner, the appearance of columns, &c. When old, the stems are very tough and durable, and the South American Indians employ them to make oars, door-sills, &c.
There are few plants which excite more agreeable sentiments than those belonging to the order Orchide*. If fanciful analogies could be permitted in treating a philosophical subject, these plants might be considered as the solitaries or the poets of vegetable existence. While grasses, trees, heaths, palms, and many others, form societies and congregate together like the inhabitants of cities, thriving in the brilliant sunshine of open plains, the orchidesB often love secluded shady retreats, and appear to shun all intercourse. Without however, overstraining a comparison, by assimilating their eccentric habits to those of the persons we have compared them with, it may he observed, that no flowers, however complicated or splendid, can exceed in singularity and beauty those of the tribe in question. One large class of the order bear blossoms, which so closely resemble insects in form, as frequently to mislead a person to whom they are a novelty, and which can never be contemplated, even by one .to whom they are familiar, without pleasurable surprise. In England we have four species of insect-like orchises, or, as they are scientifically named, Ophryses: they are all found en a chalky soil, as in Kent, Sussex, &c, and are early flowers. Tlie moist shady woods of tropical countries are the especial locality of the richest of these gorgeous plants, and there the number of flowers resembling insects, or ej>"en birds and animals, is more extensive. In South America, there are species named mosquito, butterfly &c, from the likeness they bear to those insects; while the brilliant lizard that darts among the pebbles and underwood, or the smaller monkeys that gambol on the boughs, have counterparts in the lifeless though gorgeous blossoms.
Besides those genera that have this character, numberless others equally beautiful, though less singular, enliven the recesses of the mountainous chasms, or the dense forests of such climates. Many of them are parasitical, and one of the most splendid in point of size and colour, climbs to the very summits of lofty trees in Cochin China, and envelops the mass of the wood, in one glowing dress of the richest crimson. This plant (Renanthera coccinea) is a favourite ornament of apartments in China: suspended from the ceiling in earthen vessels, its pendent flowers are as lasting as they are lovely. The name of Air Plant, is given to a nearly-related genus, from the property of living thus suspended with a very little vegetable mould, or damp moss surrounding its roots.
EFIDENDXUM ANTE.VNIFEKVM (ORCniDEiE.)
It might be here demanded, how a tribe of plants not commonly gregarious can give a feature to vegetation, and certainly none such could do so to a champaign landscape; but our hypothetical traveller through the air would as infallibly recognise the defiles of the Andes by the Dendrobia and Oncidia, as by a Vikunna or a Condor.
Within the Tropics, besides the Orchidca?, another tribe including the genera Pothos, Dracontium and Arum, consists of parasitical plants, clinging to the stems of aged trees; this order is remarkable for being the only one besides that of the Palms, that has the flowers enveloped in large leaves of peculiar form and colour, called Spathes; which in the Calla, commonly called the white Aram, a generally-cultivated favourite, is of a delicate white, and forms the attraction of the plant. We have one species of Arum, indigenous in England, known to children by the name of Lords and Ladies, which they give to its beautiful and curious flowers enveloped in an elegant herbaceous spathe, the root of this is eaten in the Isle of Portland, and a powder obtained from it is sent to London, and sold by the name of Portland Sago; generally, the order is highly poisonous, one West Indian species, is called Dumb Cane (Caladium) from its causing the tongue to swell, and producing the most violent pains, if incautiously bitten. In the tropics, the plants of this tribe attain a considerable size.
The luxuriance of tropical vegetation, though manifest on comparing any species of the tribes we have described growing in hot climates, with others analogous to them in temperate zones, is perhaps most apparent in climbing plants. The hop, the vine, the honeysuckle of Europe, are but feeble representatives, as picturesque objects, whatever they may else be, of the Lianes of America, as they are termed by the French. One of these, the Baukinia, often mounts its leafless stems to the very top of a gigantic mahogany-tree, or sometimes stretches obliquely between two, like the shrouds of a ship, and the Tiger-cat possesses singular facility in climbing along them.
A living French author, of no ill-founded celebrity, has given the following vivid picture of a forest scene, which cannot but delight, even in the unfavourable form of a translation. "Trees of all forms, of all colours, and of all perfumes, grow mingled together, overhanging the currents of the stream, scattered through the valleys, or ascending the steep sides of rocks and mountains to inaccessible heights, whither the eye is pained by following them; the wild vine, the Bignonia, the Paullinia, interlace at the foot of these, scale their branches, and creep to the very extremity of their boughs, from whence they sweep in festoons from the maple to the tulip-tree, from the tuliptree to the mahogany; forming grottoes, vaults, and porticoes, endless in numbers and variety. Sometimes straying from their supports, the Lianes traverse creeks of the rivers, over which they stretch verdant bridges, radiant with flowers: from the bosom of these masses, the magnolia elevates its steady pyramid, surmounted with dazzling white roses, and towers over the forest without a rival, except the palm, which balances near its fan-like leaves.
"A multitude of animals placed in these retreats by the hands of the Creator, diffuse over the scene the enchantment of animation. At the termination of the avenues, bears, intoxicated with grapes, are seen tottering on the branches; caribous bathe in a lake; black squirrels sport in the dense foliage; mocking-birds, Virginian doves, not larger than our sparrows, descend on the turf, crimson with strawberries; green parroquets with yellow crests, purple piverts, and the scarlet cardinal, climb round the lofty cypress-stems; the colibris glitters on the jasmins, and bird-snakes hiss as they hang from the woody vaults, swaying like the plants themselves."—Atala, by Chateaubriand*.
Baron Humboldt, in his essay, speaks of the talent of describing natural scenery in the following terms; the eloquence of which in the German, we can but feebly convey to our readers. "Just as an acquaintance with minerals is very different from a knowledge of geology, so does the power of describing individual objects in natural history differ from that of describing these taken collectively, or what we have termed the general physiognomy of Nature. George Foster, in his travels and smaller essays, Giithe, in the descriptions contained in so many of his immortal works, Herder, Buffon, St. Pierre and Chateaubriand, have with inimitable truth portrayed this character of particular countries. Such descriptions are not alone calculated to create a mental enjoyment of the noblest kind. No, the knowledge of the character of natural scenery in different climates, is intimately connected with the history of mankind and its culture: for even if the commencement of civilization was not decided by
physical circumstances alone, yet the direction of it, the
character of nations, its sterner or more lively tone,—essentially depend on the influence of climate. How powerfully did the Grecian sky influence the inhabitants! Was not the population of the more favoured portion of the globe, between the Oxus, the Tigris, and the vEgean Sea, earliest awakened to moral gentleness and tenderer feelings; and when Europe was again plunged in barbarism, did not religious enthusiasm, by suddenly opening an intercourse with the Holy Land, bring back to our ancestors, the milder virtues from those milder valleys. The poetry of Greece, and the ruder songs of the northern races, are in great measure indebted for their different characteristics,
* If, in the chill north, the bark of the trees is covered with dry lichens and Mosses; under the influence of a tropical sun, the trunks of the gigantic fig trees are decorated by the Cymbidium and the fragrant Vanilla; the lively green of the Pothoa and Dracontnim leaves, by contrast, render the flowers of the Orchidee more brilliant; climbing Bauhinis, Passion-flowers, and Banisteriecling round the forest-trees. It is frequently difficult for the naturalist to trace the different steins, their leaves and flowers, in this abundance of climbing p'.anta. A single tree, adorned with Paullinias, Bignooias.and Dcndrobia forms a mass of vegetatiom. which, if separated, would cover a considerable space of ground (Humboldt),
to the forms of animals and plants, to those of the moan tains and valleys which surrounded the poet, and to the air which fanned him. To recur to nearer objects, who has not felt his mind very differently attuned, when under the dark shades of a beech-grove, or when standing on a bill crowned with isolated fir-trees, or when in a meadow, the wind murmuring in the tremulous leaves of the birch; melancholy, serious, or pleasing images are called up by these vegetable forms of our father-land: the influence of the physical on the moral, this mysterious connexion between the inner and exterior worlds, gives to the study of Nature, when thus generalized, a peculiar and hitherto little-known charm."
Diametrically opposed to the climbing Lianes, the Aloktribe may be next mentioned, with its rigid stem and blueish thick serrated leaves. They are solitary plants, but from their magnitude, and the imposing appearance of their pyramids of flowers, they arrest the eye, and give a singular and melancholy feature to the parched tropical plains where they are found. One species of Aloe, (A. ilichotoma, Koker-tree,) a native of South Africa, has a stem of twenty feet high, with a crown of leaves, often four hundred feet in circumference. To this tribe belongs also, besides the Yucca, and many other beautiful plants, the Dragon-tree, the specimen of which, in the gardens of M. Franchi, at Orotava, in the Island of Teneriffe, excites the admiration of every visiter; it is about sixty feet high, and twelve in diameter at ten feet from the ground. It is known to have attained, its present enormous size as far back as the fifteenth century, when it was an object of veneration to the Guanches, or aborigines of the island; though a ruin, it still bears fruit, and from the slow growth of the genus, is unquestionably ascertained to be the oldest living memorial of the globe.
The favourite and delicate Lily tribe, including Jxias, Amaryllis, &c. must be mentioned as chiefly found in Africa, where their large and splendid flowers, and reedlike stems and leaves, enliven the scene, and form large masses of vegetation; while in America, though splendid species of Crinum and Pancratia are found, yet they are scattered, and less gregarious than our European Iridere.
It may be here remarked that the largest flowers in the world are borne by the genera, Helianthus (Sun flower); though this is really a collection of many hundreds of flowers and not one flower as is commonly imagined; RaffleHa, of which an account was given in No. 12, and which is supposed to be a fungus and not a flower; Aristolochia, the blossoms of which, the Indian children on the banks of the Magdulcna, draw on their heads for caps! Datura, to which our Thorn-apple belongs, Barringtonia, of the Myrtle-tribe, Carolinea; Nelumbium; the large East Indian water Lily; Gustavia, Lccythis, Lisianthus, Magnolia, and the Lily tribe. Of the eleven orders of plants producing these splendid flowers, two only, the Myrtle and the Lily tribes fall in our list as contributing to characterize a country: hence it appears that, however attractive in the individual plant, large and gorgeous blossoms do not concur to distinguish the vegetation of different regions.
The forest-trees of our northern latitudes, with the exception of the Horse-chestnut, which is only domesticated here, do not bear conspicuous flowers; we therefore can hardly form an idea of some of those in the tropics, which, much taller than our highest oaks, produce blossoms as large and as splendid as those of lilies, yet this is the case with the Gustavia, Lecythis, and others, besides the Palms already noticed. Among the singular novelties presented by tropical vegetation, the circumstance of a delicate and beautiful flower springing immediately out of the rugged and charred bark of the trunk must be noticed: this is the case with the Gustavia as well as with an African tree the Omphalocarpon found in Benin.
The Myetlk lends its name to an order which, including the Eucalyptus, Mctrosidcros, and Leptospermum, gives a decided character to three very different regions. I. To New Holland, where the three genera just named are found; the first being a tree, frequently attaining a height of 150 feet, which from its singular pale leaves and curious flower, contributes, with the other peculiar forms of animals and plants, to distinguish this " fifth quarter" of the globe, as it has been (hibernice) called, from all others. 2. To a district which, though within the tropics, is elevated to from 9 to 10,000 feet above the level of the sea, the ridges of the Andes; this mountainous country, called, in Quito, Paramo, in Peru, Puna, is covered with myrtle-like trees. 3. The south of Europe, especially the islands of the Mediterranean, which are the native countries of the classic common myrtle; "myrtle groves and orange bowers" being celebrated in the songs of poets of those regions at all times.
Two other orders, which class with the myrtle on the present occasion, the Melastomas and the Laurel-tribe, must only be mentioned, for the plants of the former are not sufficiently well known to be interesting in enumeration alone; and though the second may at first appear a more familiar name, yet the well-known ornamental shrub does not belong to the tribe in question, the real laurel-tribe consisting of trees found only in tropical countries, and highly important as yielding cinnamon, cassia, and camphor, yet not requiring peculiar notice.
The Willow, of which alone there are 250 species, is spread over the northern hemisphere, from the equator to Lapland, but the greatest variety is found in Northern Europe, from the 46th to the 70th degree of latitude. In our introductory remarks the common willow was cited, and every Englishman is familiar with it.
There is a New Holland tree, which greatly resembles the weeping willow in its port, namely, the Casuarina, found in the South Sea Islands, where it supplies in this respect the deficiency of the real willow, but there is not the slightest analogy further than in appearance between the two, the New Holland tree being leafless.
The Pine and Fir tribe is, perhaps, the most easily recognisable of all orders of plants, it being what botanists term a perfectly natural order; that is, the physiological and botanical characters are in no species at variance with those of the tribe. The most obvious, to common observers, is the peculiar contracted form of the leaf, which resembles a thin stalk, instead of having, as in most plants, a flat expanded lamina. The Germans, whose language is more copious than other modern tongues, term the order NeedleWood, (Nadel-holz,) and other forest trees, in distinction. Leaf Wood, (Laub-holz). It is mostly to this form of the foliage, not admitting the reflection of much light, that the dark and sombre appearance of the trees of the order is to be attributed, though its verdure is darker than that of others. This is peculiarly a northern order, and is most abundant in temperate, or even cold countries, the few species found within the tropics always growing on the loftiest mountains, raised far above the hot plains. North America, Poland, Sweden, Norway, and Siberia, are the proper homes of the tribe, in which countries enormous unbroken forests of these evergreens constitute the principal vegetation. But though these are the appropriate localities, the species are numerous, and sufficiently hardy to cause them to be found in most countries. In our own, we have only three indigenous, the Scotch Fir (Pinus sylvestris), the Yew (Taxus baccata), both well-known timber-trees, and the common Juniper, a shrub ; but many species are acclimatized, and all plantations and parks are beautifully varied by the Larch, Cedar, Fir, and others.
The rugged flanks and recesses of Mount Pilate, in Switzerland, are covered with impenetrable and inexhaust
ible forests of Pines, which for centuries had grown and perished without being of use to man, from their situation; but, in 1816, M. Rupp, aided by three other Swiss gentlemen, contrived, and, in 1818, accomplished, one of the most extraordinary works ever executed, by means of which the timber of these forests was rendered available.
The Slide Of Alpnach, as it was termed, was a trough about six feet broad, and from three to six deep, which was constructed for a length of eight and a half miles: it consisted of about 25,000 large pine-trees, barked and put together very ingeniously, without the aid of iron; it occupied one hundred and sixty workmen during eighteen months, and cost about 4250/. It was carried along the sides of hills, supported over defiles at a height of 120 feet, by means of props, through tunnels, and in many places was attached to the rugged face of granite cliffs. When this stupendous work was accomplished, the trees cut down in the forests were placed in it at one extremity, and slid, by the effect of gravity merely, down this inclined plane into the lake of Lucerne at the other. To diminish the friction, the bottom of the trough was kept wet by water introduced into it from the mountain-rills, and conducted along it by a groove cut in the middle trunk; the angle of inclination being from 10 to 18 degrees. Such was the tremendous velocity of descent acquired by so large and heavy a body as the trunk of a pine, that they have been known to slide from one to the other end in two minutes and a half; but six was the usual time employed in the passage. Workmen were stationed at intervals along the trough, and when those at the bottom were ready, they passed the word "lachez" (let go), along the line; and as soon as it reached the top, which it did in three minutes, the persons there cried out "il vient" (it comes), to the nearest to them, and then instantly let go the tree, which was preceded in its rapid course by the cry to prepare the people for it; and the enormous mass, often 100 feet in length, shot past with the rapidity of a cannon-ball, appearing only a few feet in length, and plunged into the lake, where the trunks were collected into rafts, and floated down the Reuss and the Aar into the Rhine, and thence, when required, even to the sea.
To show the enormous force acquired by such a descent, arrangements were made, for the sake of experiment, to cause some of the trees to spring from the slide; and they penetrated by their thickest ends no less than from eighteen to twenty-four feet into the solid earth *: and one tree having by accident struck against another, it cleft it through its whole length, as if it had been struck by lightning. This magnificent structure no longer exists, the demand for the timber having fallen off on the continuance of peace; and now hardly a vestige of it is to be seent.
• The velocity of a cannon-ball is commonly estimated at eight miles per minute: so, that on an average, the velocity of the trees was one fourth that of a cannon-ball! and double that of the swiftest race-horse that ever runs.
t From Professor Babbage's Economy of Machinery..
The Cypresses of the countries of the Mediterranean before mentioned, as well as the celebrated Cedars Of Lebanon, belong to this order, which contests with that of Palms the honour of producing the loftiest trees in the world. The Douglas Pine, which grows in large forests on the Columbian river, sometimes attains a height of 250 feet.
We have lastly to notice the Grasses; an order hardly less important in our view of vegetation than it is as affording the staple of our food in the North, as the banana or rice do within and bordering on the tropics. The universal verdant " carpet," which strikes foreigners with such surprise and pleasure on arriving in England, which, spread over the country, gives it as individual a character as the palm-groves at the equator or the pines of Norway, is composed chiefly of grasses; and the title of the Emerald Isle, bestowed on Ireland from the same cause, is, we believe, if solitary instance of an epithet being given to a country from the character of its vegetation alone. Those Englishmen who have never seen any country but their own, and who have, therefore, been from infancy accustomed to the smooth lawns of our parks and our rich pasturelands, can, with difficulty, imagine what an agreeable contrast is caused between' their father-land and the naked exposed appearance which the deficiency of this verdant clothing gives to other countries, however rich they may be in other plants. Most northern European nations share with us the possession of fields of the Cerealia, as they are- termed, and several can excel us in their wheat and other grain, though they may not be raised with such economy of space and perfection of agriculture; but, by all accounts, the perpetual freshness of verdure caused by our grass-lands, is almost peculiar to the United Kingdom; and we owe it to our insular and therefore damp climate, against which, with the usual ingratitude of human nature, we are ever grumbling. If we could trace all the indirect effects on the mind of this national peculiarity, we might find that it contributes, in no small degree, to the formation of our national character, and then we might have reason to prize this as far from the least of blessings we enjoy.
It is only under the circumstances just alluded to, that Grasses rank among the tribes of characteristic vegetation; that is, when collected in masses, extending over the face of a country; and then they owe their importance, in this point of view, to more than their gregarious habit; their slender stems, their thin and delicate leaves, and their peculiar mode of flowering, cause them, when agitated by the passing wind, to present an appearance as beautiful, if not so awful, as the face of the deep under the same influence; this effect can only be presented by this tribe from these causes, and it is one familiar and cherished by all who have seen it.
The Grasses, like other plants, are modified by high temperature; the lofty Bamboo, found in all equinoctial countries, and about four or five other rarer genera assume the port of trees, but they are seldom collected together in masses sufficient to present the phenomenon on a giant
scale, though the Pampas, or extensive plains of South America, immediately after the rainy season, are covered with grasses, which grow higher than the tallest man, and must present an analogous appearance to that of the ocean from their boundlessness; but here again, the additional effect is due alone to this circumstance, and not to the peculiar plant itself.
It is an interesting subject of investigation, to trace the effects of the agency of man as he multiplies and spreads himself over the earth, in modifying the vegetable physiognomy of it; and it is a curious reflection that he actually does so. As far as the mineral kingdom is concerned, it is probable that little or no effect has been produced by him; the mighty changes constantly effecting on the crust of the globe, are the works of higher physical powers than his, and can be but little controlled by him: but human activity, aiding the great laws of organic nature, is competent to produce very distinct effects in the animal and vegetable kingdoms. As regards the latter, the total destruction of vast forests which gradually disappear before the march of our race, and the substitution of cultivated nutritive plants, must produce the most obvious alterations in newly-inhabited countries like America; and to turn to a darker side of the picture, there are many districts which, historically known to have been formerly luxuriantly fertile, are now barren and uncultivated, from the moral effects of bad government, and the consequent want of energy in the inhabitants *. It is not impossible, though difficult, to form an idea of the aspect of America at the time Columbus first landed there; that it presents at present; and that which it will present a thousand years hence: and possibly, some future Saturday Magazine, published in Hobart's Town or Sydney, may point out to its readers, the former locality of an Eucalyptus forest, where a populous town surrounded by corn-fields may exist at that period.
• Syria, Sicily, the north coast of Africa, and the greater part of Spain, must at once occur to every one.
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