Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

The island of St.Lucia! présents a still more curious phenomenon in the animal flower. This organization lives in a large bason, the water of which is brackish. It is more brilliant than the marygold, which it resembles. But when the hand is extended towards it, it recoils, and retires, like a snail, into the water. It is supposed to live upon the spawn of fish, Some caterpillars in China: burrow in the ground, at the approach of winter, 'to the roots of plants, and fasten there. Hence for many ages’ it was supposed, in that country, that it was a worm in summer and a plant in winter. Humboldt, in sounding the channel between Alegranga and Clara Montana", brought up a substance, of which he was unable to determine whether it was a sea-weed or a zoophyte; it exhibited no sign of irritability, even on the application of galvanic electricity. He supposed it, therefore, to occupy' the space between the vegetable and zoophyte kingdoms.

Some years since, a lady resided in a small village in the county of Carmarthen, whose conversation was distinguished by an unusual degree of elegance. She was a little disordered in her mind; a malady, which was supposed to have originated from an attachment to the late most admirable Sir W. Jones. This derangement, however, was partial; being chiefly exhibited in her eating little or nothing but herbs; in walking on high pattens in the midst of summer ; in

1

1 Phil. Mag. vol, li. p. 152. 2 Thunberg, vol. iii. p. 70. 3 Voy. Equinoct. Regions, vol. i. p. 85.

6

Analogies between Plants and Animals.

holding a rod, six feet high, in her hand by way of walking-stick ; and in fastening a large muff beneath her bosom with a leathern strap. “I am convinced," said she to me, one day, as we were walking on the borders of the Towy, “I am convinced that these mosses, on which we are now walking, have sensation : for last night I put some of them into a glass among other flowers; and this morning I find them much more lively in appearance, than when I plucked them from their parent roots. I have no doubt, they derived comfort from the delicious perfumes of the violets, which the glass contained; as well as from the water, in which I put their stalks."

This idea, extravagant as it may appear to some, does not appear equally so to me; for that some flowers thrive or fade in proportion to the assimilation of plants, near which they grow, I have had many opportunities of observing; at first with doubt, but at length with an assurance entirely amounting to conviction.

III. Some of the ancients imagined vegetables to have souls, distinct from their bodies; and the priests of Siam extended to them even the principle of transmigration and immortality. Some have even regarded them as deities. The Egyptians worshipped the lotus, and a veneration for plants prevailed formerly in Peru. Virgil', in the height of poetical excursion, has given plants the power even to speak; a figure sufficiently extravagant; and yet it has had the honour of captivating poets no less distinguished than Tasso', Ariosto, and Spenser. There is only one species of the tamarind-tree; and that is a native, not only of Egypt, Arabia, and Hindostan, but of America. Of the Barringtonia, also, only one species has been yet discovered; and that is equally indigenous in China and Otaheite. These, and other instances, would seem at first view to confirm an opinion, generated by Linnæus, viz. :-that plants were originally created with a power of producing their own species only, without any admixture of kinds; and that they will continue só to procreate to the end of time. Subsequent experience, however, has proved, that the farina of one plant, fecundating the pystillum of another, produces varieties, capable of procreating sons and daughters; as well as the different plants of which they were themselves composed. New plants, also, are created by engrafting. The bergamot citron was produced by an Italian having accidentally engrafted a citron on the stock of a bergamot pear. From this plant is distilled the essence of bergamot.

1 Æn. iij.

Some animals have an analagous origin. Foxes will copulate with dogs; horses with asses; pheasants with turkies; and the whole tribe of pigeons came originally from the stock dove. The cassican bears sa great an affinity with the rollers, toucans, and orioles, that it is reasonable to suppose it to have originally

| Jer. Lib. xiii. st. 41. 2 Faerie Queene, c. ii. st. 30.

[ocr errors][merged small]

sprung from an union between some of those birds. The lama proceeded from the guanaco, with which it is still observed to herd : and though some suppose the domestic goat to be descended from the ibex, or the caucasan, Buffon is perhaps justified in believing, that all the goat genus proceeded originally from the wild goat and chamois antelope:

Plants produce not only plants, but they are mothers, as it were, to innumerable insects; almost equally invisible to us as to them. Myriads live and die upon the small capacity of a rose leaf! In the flowers of thyme. St. Pierre, through a small microscope, noted what he calls flagons, from which seemed to flow ingots of liquid gold. But had he put a few leaves of the same plant into a glass of pure water, he would have beheld, within the short space of five days, in a single globule millions of animalcules of infusion; darting, turning, and swimming with a celerity, animation, and velocity, that baffles both the eye and the judgment. Almost equal results may be observed in the infusions of barley, oats, wheat, pepper, and bay-leaves. At Batavia, if a glass of water is taken out of the canal, in a few hours' a mass of animated matter is seen moving in endless divisions and subdivisions, and with a most astonishing celerity.

The arctic raspberry is so diminutive a plant”, that a phial, capable of holding only six ounces of alcohol, will contain not only its fruit and its leaves, but its branches : The smallest of birds in Europe is the

4

[blocks in formation]

golden crested wren; the smallest in America is the humming bird; while the most diminutive of all quadrupeds is the pigmy mouse of Siberia. But the numbers of these animals is comparatively small. The astonishing increase of insects is caused by the short period, intervening between impregnation and parturition. In the human species the period is nine months; and yet the power of progressive numbers is so great, that it has been calculated, and with truth', that at the distance of twenty generations, every man has not less than 1,048,576 ancestors; and at the end of forty generations, even the square of that number ; viz, one million millions.

IV.

The fructification of plants is exceedingly curious. Among insects one female is married to a multitude of males; among quadrupeds polygamy chiefly predominates; but among

but among plants the polyandrian system almost universally prevails; one female having often more than twenty husbands, attended by two remarkable phenomena : 1st. that no plant, tree, shrub, or flower, has yet been discovered, in which the corolla has eleven males. The number eleven, indeed, seems to be totally unknown in botany, 2dly. That out of 11,500 species of plants, enumerated in the first thirteen classes of the Cambridge collection, there is not a single hermaphrodite plant, in which the females exceed the males. The females of some flowers depend upon the wind, others upon insects,

Blackstone's Comment. b. ii, ch. 14. p. 204.

1

« AnteriorContinuar »