The breadfruit tree grows to be thirty or forty
feet high in its home in the South Sea Islands.
Its blossoms, like those of many other plants, are
borne separately, the fertile ones clustered in
globular heads, the sterile ones in club-shaped
catkins. When the fruit ripens its surface is
rough still, for the huge mass is covered with the
aggregate tips of all the fertile flowers.
The cultivated breadfruits have become, like
the bananas, practically seedless. The soft pulp
is fibrous only at the centre. So its food value
has been increased, at the expense of the seed-
making function of the plant.
One of the romantic chapters of horticulture
is the adventure of Lieutenant Bligh, who was
commissioned by the British Government to go to
Tahiti and get young plants of the breadfruit
tree and take them to planters on the West Indian
58 THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
Islands, in hopes that this valuable species could
The good ship Bounty got the cargo of plants
loaded, and sailed away, but the lieutenant was
seized in mid-ocean by his mutinous crew, who
put him into a small boat and set him adrift, with
a sailor or two, who remained faithful, for
his company. Back the Bounty sailed and reached
the port from which it put to sea, and the crew
made a settlement on Pitcairn's Island. But
the plucky Lieutenant Bligh lived to reach Eng-
land, and to head another expedition, which
succeeded in carrying the breadfruit tree into the
British West Indies, where it succeeded, and
to-day is one of the most valuable of tropical
fruits grown there.
It is one of the trees that grow best from cut-
tings made from new shoots. Unfortunately the
fruit does not stand shipping as well as the cuttings
and young trees, by which the species has been
distributed very generally in the tropics of all
Some trees feed and house and clothe people.
Certain palm trees have this threefold value to
the human race. The breadfruit tree is another.
The inner fibre of the bark of young trees is made
into cloth used for garments. The wood of the
BREAD PLANTS 59
trunk is used in canoe and house building. Seams
of boats are closed with a glue made of the sticky,
milky juice that exudes from wounds in the bark.
The fruit is often piled into pits, where it be-
comes a soft, ill-smelling mass. But it still is a
nutritious food when baked. The better way to
preserve the fruit for future use is to dry thin
slices. These slices may be baked as they are, and
eaten, or first ground into meal and made into
puddings and other dishes.
The starch that physicians prescribe for children
and invalids with certain forms of indigestion is
called arrowroot. It is fine-grained, and has the
peculiar characteristic of gathering into little balls
when a pinch of it is rubbed between the thumb
and finger. Stirred in boiling water, it forms a
clear, odorless jelly, palatable and easily digested,
if unadulterated in manufacture. Under the
microscope the small grains are distinctly seen,
and it is very easy to see the larger grains of potato
starch with which the more expensive arrowroot
is so often mixed.
Bermuda arrowroot is made from the fleshy
rootstocks of a many-stemmed, reed-like plant
60 THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
five feet high. Maranta is its name. It grows
wild in Guiana, but it is cultivated in most tropical
countries now, to supply the demand for this form
Maranta is a great crop in Bermuda, where the
best grade of arrowroot is made. There is but one
factory, and here each step of the process of manu-
facture is watched, to ensure absolute cleanliness.
The tubers are scrubbed clean, then the skin is
removed, and the white flesh grated and washed
in many waters. The damp air prevents dust,
and the water used is caught from rains that fall
on the white roofs of coral limestone that cover all
Bermuda houses. The more washings, the finer
and whiter the starch that settles below the float-
ing fibres of the roots. About 15 per cent, of
the pulp washed is recovered as pure starch. This
is dried under white gauze, in shallow pans. An
average crop yields 14,000 pounds of tubers per
acre, and the arrowroot sells for about 50 cents a
pound in the open market, ten times the price of
the same article made carelessly in St. Vincent,
West Indies, and grown on soil not so good for the
purpose as the coral rock meal of Bermuda, which
produces the best possible tubers.
Neither the pointed rootstocks nor the dart-
shaped leaves give the name of arrowroot to
BREAD PLANTS 6l
Maranta. When the roving botanist first saw the
root, a Mexican Indian, wounded with a poisoned
arrow, dug up a plant, cut into a tuber, and
applied the oozing sap to the spot where the arrow
pierced the flesh. He did as all Indians did in
that region, and knew no other use of the plant
than to furnish this antidote for poison. It is
strange that the German name for this plant,
when translated, is the same. If a German travel-
ler carried home the plant and the name, nobody
remembers who he was, and when it happened.
The Maranta, grown in all tropical countries,
produces arrowroot that is known in commerce
by the name of the country that produced it.
Hence, you can buy Australian, Natal, or Bermuda
arrowroot, and so on.
One of the important recent discoveries is that
arrowroot of excellent quality is made from the
tubers of the various species of canna our
common garden and park ornamental plant.
Manihot arrowroot comes from the fleshy roots
of a South American plant with a milky, poisonous
juice. When this starch is separated from the
fibrous tissues, it is dried and becomes a white
powder. If baked on hot plates as it dries, it
becomes a cake, which is broken into small bits,
and these rounded by friction on each other, as
62 THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
bits of hardened clay are made into marbles. We
know this arrowroot as tapioca, a nutritious food,
very good for babies and invalids. Cassava is the
common name of this tapioca arrowroot plant.
Manihot utilissima ("most useful" Manihot) is its
botanical name. "Manioc," and "mandioca," are
two names by which the plant is known in South
America, its native country. It looks like the
castor-oil plant as it grows, its stem giving off
branches in threes. The fleshy roots, like sweet
potatoes, are often six to eight feet long. They
are poisonous, if eaten fresh, but the poison is
driven out by heat and pressure.
Sliced and dried, then rasped or ground, they
furnish the "cassava meal," out of which the
cassava cakes of the tropical countries are made.
Cassava bread is the same. Mixed with molasses
and fermented, the meal is a part of an intoxicat-
Pearl sago is a form of starch much like tapioca,
used for puddings, and various foods for conva-
lescents and children, because it is a form of starch
that is easy of digestion. It does not come from
roots nor tubers, as much starch does, nor from
seeds, as does the starch made from corn and other
BREAD PLANTS 63
grains. It is obtained from a number of palms,
particularly from one species.
The sago palm grows in the East Indies, in
swampy ground near the coasts. For fifteen years
it grows without flowering, the stem topped by a
crown of feathery leaves. The pith of the stout
trunk is surrounded by a thick rind, and when
the time of maturity arrives, it is simply bursting
with rich, starchy material. This is the tree's
reserve, laid up for use in sending up the flower
cluster and ripening the fruit. Let the tree keep
to its natural function, and the rind will stand, a
hollow shell, the leaves dead and the ripe fruits
fallen, at the end of the year of blossom. It is the
tree's time to die.
The sago palm is too valuable a tree to be left
to round out its own career by going to seed.
Just when the stem is loaded with starchy pith
the sago hunter has it cut down. Systematically
the trunk is sectioned and then split, and the rind
scraped of all the pith, which is grated to a pulp.
Next, the pulp is worked with the hands in troughs
full of water, until all the starch has settled to the
bottom, and only dry fibre remains. Separate
washings rid the starch of impurities, and it is
dried. Now it is ready for use in the cakes and
soups upon which the natives live.
64 THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
Sago in commerce is in the form of small pellets.
The native prepares the floury starch for export
by working it up in a paste with water. Then he
forces the paste through a sort of colander or sieve,
and it dries in small bits. Different sizes have
different trade names, but all sago is the same
substance, a valuable starchy food.
A LARGE part of the animal creation is made up
of grass-eaters. Carnivorous creatures live upon
the grass-eaters. So the saying: "All flesh is
grass, r is literally true, in the long run. The
commonest plant in the world is grass. It covers
the bare earth, even when trees and other larger
plants make a shade over it. Grass fills in the
chinks, and makes the earth green and beautiful,
except in desert places.
The Grass Family embraces all the cultivated
grains, whose seeds make flour for bread of many
kinds. It covers the pasture grasses that are made
into hay to feed stock in cold winter climates.
The blue-grass, that makes Kentucky famous, and
is the favorite lawn grass in all our cities, is a
wild species. Its nutritious leaves and stems make
the richest kind of pasture and hay for stock.
Timothy and red-top, European wild grasses,
we cultivate for hay and pasture. Each country
has developed its own types of forage plants.
68 THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
The stems of grasses are round. Three-cornered
stems belong to the sedges, which are more near
to the rushes, that grow in wet ground. Sedges
are woven into matting by the Japanese. Rush
matting is made in many countries.
A reed called Papyrus, that used to be cultivated
in the Delta of the Nile, was more important in the
early ages of civilization than it is now. Sheets
made of thin, overlapping strips of the pith
formed the first paper used for the manuscript
records. Other materials have quite superseded
Papyrus in the manufacture of paper, but its name
is preserved for all time in our English word, paper.
We see the plant occasionally in water gardens,
and in pools where goldfish live outdoors.
Grasses include the cereals, the bread plants of
the world. Because they furnish rich food in both
forage and grain, these plants are great soil rob-
bers. They give back little or nothing. The
farmer must constantly fertilize his fields, or the
yield of grain falls off deplorably. Nitrogen is the
most needed element. It can be bought in chemi-
cal form and spread on the land, plowed or
allowed to wash in, and the crop will reward the
FORAGE PLANTS 69
farmer by increased yield. But this form of nitro-
gen is expensive. It averages 15 cents a pound
a high price to pay.
By planting some nitrogen-gathering plant in
rotation with his grain crops, the farmer puts
nitrogen back into the soil at a merely nominal cost.
Clover is one of the best soil restorers. It is a
nutritious pasture, or hay crop. Its roots go deep
and pulverize the soil. They gather nitrogen and
store it in nodules along their fibrous branches.
When growth ceases, the hay is cut and put into
the barn; those nitrogen-laden roots are left to
decay and enrich the soil for future crops. The
surface crop is worth much, for its nitrogenous
content is high, and when animals fatten on it,
much of its value is twice saved by careful spread-
ing of the stable manure on the fields.
Four fifths of the air is nitrogen. Clover plants
have power to gather this element and store it in
the nodules on their roots.
Long before farmers had ever seen the tubercles
on the roots of legumes (pod-bearing plants) they
knew that clover was the best means of renewing
worn-out land and enriching any soil. Fortu-
nately, experience was their guide, though, until
very recently, they followed blindly. One of
nature's best gifts to agriculture is this group of
7O THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
plants that constantly renews the soil's fer-
Two hundred species of the clover are known to
botanists. The hairy, red clover we know as a hay
and seed crop, that may be cut early for hay and
late for seed the same season. In pasture it
"runs out" in two or three years. The mammoth
red is an improved kind.
This is not a bee pasture, as the white clover is,
because the tubes of the little flowers are too deep
for the honey-bee's tongue to reach the sweets.
The bumble-bee has a longer tongue, and by this
insect the pollen is carried that insures a heavy
yield of seed.
The bumble-bees are very scarce in June, when
the red clover comes into bloom. In late summer
the clover fields swarm with these insects. Hence,
the farmer makes hay in his clover field in June,
cutting the succulent stems when they are in the
right condition to make the best hay, which is too
early for any seed to be ripe. In late summer he
sacrifices the quality of the forage to get his clover
seed at the time that is ripe. He owes this heavy
crop to the bees, though he may not know this,
any more than they do.
Alsike, or Swedish clover, grows well on land too
wet for the red clovers, and makes superfine hay,
FORAGE PLANTS JI
pasture, and honey. Its small heads are white,
with a tinge of rose. Its stalks are slender and
branched. The honey-bees have no trouble in
getting the nectar.
White clover creeps into pastures of grass, and
lifts its small, white heads on long, unbranched
stems. It is wild all over this northern half of the
United States, and nobody pays much attention
to it, as a rule.
The most beautiful species is the crimson clover,
with long, crimson heads on slender, tall plants.
It is used as a cover crop in orchards, and as forage,
but is not a heavy crop. So it is less frequently
sown than other kinds. It grows wild in parts of
southern Europe, and is a staple forage crop in
parts of Italy.
Berseem, the yellow-flowered clover of Egypt, is
one of the plants recently introduced that promises
well as a forage crop for dry regions and unprom-
ising alkali soils.
Clovers will not thrive on sour soils. Such
must be sweetened with applications of lime.
There must be phosphorus and potash added.
Then the roots pasture greedily, plow the soil,
unlock the mineral foods the earthy particles hold,
and make the soil swarm with nitrogen-gathering
bacteria, so that it is literally alvoel
72 THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
: ' Lucerne" is another name by which this won-
derful clover-like plant is called in Europe, but in
America we call it by the Arabic name, " alfalfa, ' :
which means 'the best fodder. ' : That name
describes it exactly, for no other plant yields as
much and as good hay.
All the western half of the United States grows
.alfalfa. The plant has brought under cultivation
land supposed to be too dry to grow any farm
crop. No matter if the region has scant rainfall.
The farmer cultivates the land carefully, prepara-
tory to seeding. He may scatter soil from another
alfalfa field on his own to inoculate the soil. He
will scatter plaster on the land to sweeten any sour
patches. Then he sows the alfalfa, and may mow
it when the plants are several inches high to get
rid of the weeds and to induce the alfalfa plants to
"stool.' They send up a good many supple-
mentary branches, which choke out weeds, and
cover the ground, producing an abundance of
The root does the most wonderful thing. It is a
strong tap root, and it goes down for water. Its
many branches penetrate the soil, loosening it,
and making it spongy, and able to hold the
FORAGE PLANTS 73
moisture it receives whenever rain falls. It is not
unusual for single plants of alfalfa to have roots
fifteen to twenty-five feet long, burrowing down
to stores of moisture that no shallow-rooted plant
could get at.
Alfalfa is one of those nitrogen-gathering plants,
extracting the most precious of all the elements
of plant food from the air, and storing it in nodules
on the roots. When a plant dies its root decays,
and the soil is enriched by the nitrogen the nodules
set free. The fibre of the roots makes humus.
The roots have mellowed the deeper subsoil, and
brought up plant food to enrich the surface soil
for other plants. If the plant is left to rot, it, too,
adds fertilizer. But usually it is taken off in the
form of hay. The alfalfa plant gives back valuable
elements to the soil, and leaves it in better condi-
tion for the growing of such exacting crops as corn
Another wonderful fact about alfalfa is that it is
perennial: once established, it continues to grow
in the same field, without "running out," for ten
to thirty years. And each year two to seven
cuttings of hay are made from the same field.
An average cutting yields between one and two
tons of dry hay. The average yearly yield is four
or five tons of dry alfalfa hay per acre. In all
74 THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
regions it goes far ahead of grass. In southern
California some irrigated fields yield ten tons to
the acre, where grass, with the same care, yields
two to four tons only.
Nothing is more beautiful than a field of alfalfa
ready for cutting. The plants stand less than two
feet high, covering the ground with a velvet carpet
of dark green, tinged with the deep blue or purple
of the dense flower clusters, just beginning to show
their color. The plants branch thickly, and the
abundant foliage is made of clover-like, three-
branched leaves. A single flower is like a pea
blossom, and each ripens, if it gets a chance, an
interesting flat pod that coils itself as tight as a
Alfalfa hay is cut when the flowers bud, and
before fibre hardens the succulent leaves. Care-
fully dried, the leaves make hay that is at its best.
The leaves are very rich in protein, the nitrogenous
element that builds flesh. The stems and flower
clusters are nutritious, too, but at haying time it is
the leaves, which shed badly if not properly dried,
that the farmer is most concerned about.
Alfalfa fields make rich pastures, but hungry
cattle eat too much and get sick, if they have their
own way. Cattle-raisers feed the hay ground up
and added to corn and bran. Such a balanced
FORAGE PLANTS 75
ration is an exact way of feeding, which is
most satisfactory. Bags of this alfalfa meal are
shipped more economically than the same hay
I have eaten very palatable bread and cakes
made of alfalfa flour the ground seed. It is
nutritious, but too dark colored to be popular.
Records show that alfalfa was brought into
Greece from Persia in 480 B. C. It reached Italy
during the first century, and slowly spread over
Europe. From Spain it was carried to Mexico
and thence spread north and south during the six-
teenth century. New England got seed from Eng-
land about the same time. But the plants died
out the second season, and culture of the new plant
was generally ignored by farmers. Only recently
has it been restored to a place among agricultural
crops in the East by the discovery that soil inocu-
lation establishes the plant, and it becomes one
of the best crops for forage, and for building up
depleted farm land.
In the West, alfalfa is the great forage crop, as
it is in southern Europe. Drought-resistant vari-
eties brought from Turkestan are grown in the
semi-arid regions of the Great Plains, and the
desert places become gardens. Hardier varieties
have extended the range of the plant farther north.
76 THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
Sand lucern is proving just the thing for light,
sandy soil in the north central states.
The growing popularity of alfalfa in Kansas is
shown by the fact that in 1891 the crop measured
34,000 acres. In 1907 it was 743,000 acres. The
prejudice of farmers is strong against a ; 'new
thing." But even prejudice must surrender when
the new plant multiplies the farm income, and
at the same time improves the land.
TALLEST and most valuable of all grasses is the
sugar-cane, which grows to a height of twenty
feet, in the most favorable situations, and furnishes
one of the most important of human foods. Its
name, Saccharum, gives us a root for words that
mean sweet; and it is the adjective part of the
Latin names of several other plants whose sap
yields more or less sugar.
The cane is very much like maize in general
appearance, except that the " joints '" are shorter
and the leaves narrower. When the time of
flowering arrives, the stalk is topped by a full, oval
plume, like that of pampas grass. The sections
of the stem are covered by a tough rind, and filled
with soft pith, strung with thread-like fibres, and
saturated with the sweet sap. The time when
the percentage and the condition of sugar is best
is just at the fading of the flowers. After that
the plant draws upon the store of rich sap to ma-
ture the seeds.
8O THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
The grower is little interested in seed-produc-
tion. When the stalk is cut, new shoots come up
from the roots the ' ' ra toons, ' : from which the
new crop comes sometimes for a long period of
years. Another means of getting new fields
planted is setting out cuttings. Any joint is likely
to root, if planted, and it may send up a number
of canes. The top of the cane is always deficient
in sugar, and best for making cuttings. This
fortunate combination of facts enables the grower
to send the best of his crop to the sugar mill, and
keep back the part of the canes that insures the
best crop next year in the new field. Two joints
to a cutting, and the cuttings set out in a horizon-
tal position, are the usual methods on the up-to-
Only in the tropics does the cane flower at all
freely. Many of the varieties grown do not flower
at all. This condition has arisen from the con-
tinued propagation of new plants by means of
cuttings and ratoons.
A plant that is commercially grown in all
tropical and sub-tropical countries of the globe,
by peoples ranging from civilization down to
savagery, receives varied treatment, before
and after completing its period of growth. In
general, then, we can speak of the cultivation
The loaf that hangs on the bread-fruit tree is as large
as a man's head
SUGAR PLANTS 8 1
and harvest of cane, and the manufacture of
During the ten months between the planting
and harvesting of sugar-cane it is kept free from
weeds, and the soil mellow to retain moisture. The
fields must be irrigated if good crops are demanded
in regions of insufficient rainfall. The lower
leaves are often stripped to let in the sun, and
make the canes stand up better. When tests
indicate that the time for cutting has arrived, the
men go into the harvest with machetes, or other
stout knives. The stalks are cut near the ground,
for otherwise much sugar would be lost. The
part of the field earliest to get a start in spring is
the one earliest ready for the knife. This is fortu-
nate, for the canes cut must be crushed in the mill
soon afterward, or they will quickly deteriorate.
The growth in the cane brake is tremendously
heavy, and for this reason the most enlightened
planters take advantage of inventions that carry
the canes to the mill. Barges, if water is near,
trolleys, lines of railroad with open cars, even
flumes, are means of transportation made use of
to save expense in time and human muscle.
The improvement of machinery from the puny
wooden wheel crushers, driven by mule or buffalo
power, that left a large percentage of the sugar in
82 THE BOOK OF USEFUL PLANTS
the stalks, to the power mills that get almost all,
has done much to create, as well as supply, the
increased demand in the world for sugar of the
highest quality. In the cane mill and on through
the sugar factory we see skilled men controlling
the machinery that converts cane sap into sugar.
Few processes require human labor, such as is put
into the business in countries where more primi-
tive methods are still in use. The improvements
have been made by men who have gone into warm
countries from the North, and taken vigorous
hold of the business. Teaching the easy-going
inhabitants the use of machinery has been a chore.
The sap of the cane must be extracted by crush-
ing and rolling, then condensed by evaporating