Royal agricultural and commercial society of Briti.

Timehri: the journal of the Royal agricultural and commercial society of British Guiana online

. (page 13 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


At last we reached the Kookenaam river at the village
of Teroota — at the base, that is, ot Roraima. But even on,
beyond the bed of this river, for some distance up the
slope of the mountain, the traft of ordinary savannah
vegetation still continues, its charafteristic plants, how-
ever, ever becoming more and more penetrated by
plants belonging to the Roraima flora, till the very
distinftly marked zone of striftly Roraima vegetation is

The course of the Kookenaam river, where it here
flows through the trafl of neutral vegetation — vegetation,
that is, not yet deprived of ordinary savannah plants
and not yet composed exclusively of Roraima plants — is,
as was the course of the Arapoo river already described,
— very well defined by the large number of Roraima
plants clustering on its banks. Among these may he

Digitized by


Notes on Plants at Roraima. 167

mentioned various shrubs Ilex Macoucoua, Pers
[No. 75], Dipteryx reticulata, Beth [No. 73], Myrcia
Roraimx Oliy, N. sp. [No. 74] and M, Kegelianw Berg
aff [No. 82]), which in places fringe the banks of
this stream and are also charafteristic of the upper,
proper, flora of the mountain. Along the banks of this
river, too, after its emergence from the mountain, grows,
in the peaty soil at the water's edge, a very beautiful and
sweet scented white orchid, A^anisia alba, Ridley N. sp.
[No. 360] and, on the more rocky parts of the bank a
very remarkable red passion flower [No. 84] with
panicles of many pendent flowers, each panicle having
the appearance, the facies, to use that ugly but con-
venient term again, of a spray of fuchsia blossom. * It
was here too, in the deep cuttings made by the river
and half filled up with huge blocks of stone which are
now overgrown with gnarled trees and shrubs, that one
of the most famous of all Roraima plants grows—
Cattleya Lawrenceana Rch. fil. N.sp. [No. 80].

This Cattleya is doubtless the one collefted by the
SCHOMBURGK brothers, and enumerated by RICHARD
SCHOMBURGK, as C. pumila ; for it appears to be the
only representative of this genus occurring on this side,
at least of Roraima ; and this was the only side visited
by the SCHOMBURGKS. It grows, apparently not hteh up
on the mountain, but on the gnarled tree trunks, close
to the water, in the clefts through which the Kookenaam
and some of its small tributary streams flow, at a height
of about 3700 to 4000 feet above the sea. At the time of

* This passion flower is well figured in the Schomburgk drawings of
which mention has already been made.

Digitized by


168 TlMBHRI.

our visit, Mr. SlEDEL, an orchid collector, having set
the Indians tQ work to colleft this plant for him, I have
seen these people, ten or twelve of them, come into
camp, afternoon after afternoon, each laden with a basket^
a good load for a man, full of these lovely plants, many
of them then in full flower. One day, too, I myself,
having gone down to the Kookenaam to bathe, just
round the small pool I choose for that purpose, gathered
two most glorious clumps of this orchid, the better
of the two having five spikes of flower, of which one
spike bore nine, and each of the others eight blossoms,
in all forty-one of some of the largest and loveliest
coloured Cattleya flowers ever seen, on a single smalt
plant, the roots of which easily lay on my extended hand.*

Before now dealing with the plants actually of Rorat-
ma, it will be convenient to say a few further words as
to the form of this south-eastern face of the montain.

From the bed of the Kookenaam at Teroota [3751 feet
above sea level] the mountain slopes, somewhat gradual-
ly, though of course not evenly, upward, for a distance of
about three miles, till a height of 5000 feet is attained.
This last mentioned point is that to which a considerable
number of the plants belonging to the ordinary savan-
nah vegetation of Guiana ascend.f From this point
the mountain rises, at first somewhat more abrupt-
ly and then again more gradually, so as to form,

* Full description of the Cattleya have been given in the Gardener's
Chronicle, Vol. 23, pp. 374-5. See also Timehri, Vol. 4 and Vol. 5.

f The most conspicuous of the few plants of the ordinary plain
which ascend above this point are Sida linifolia, Polygala hygrophyla,
H.B.K., P. longicaulis, H.B.K., P, variabilis, H B.K., Drosera commu-
nis, A. St. Hil, Pleroma Tibouchinum, Sr., Sipanea pratensis Aubl.,
Pectis elongata, H.B.K., Gnaphalium spicatum, Lam.

Digitized by


Notes on Plants at Roraima. 169

as it were, a terrace about midway up the slope. The
upper level of this terrace, which lies at a height of about
5400 feet, is almost everywhere swampy, though here
and there a few rocks crop out. This is the place so
enthusiastically described by Dr. SCHOMBURGK, on ac-
count of the extraordinary richness of its vegetation, as
a ' botanical El Dorado 1 ; and it was here too, just within
the forest which edges this swamp that we built our
home and made our head-quarters. It is to this point
too that the open savannah extends, for above, all is more
or less densely forested. Behind this swamp, which caps,
as it were, a terrace, half-way up the face of the moun-
tain is a ravine; and again beyond this ravine,
in which it must be remembered that the forest begins,
the mountain slopes up very abruptly to a height of about
6,500 feet, to the base, that is : of the a6lual cliff. In
the accompanying diagram (p. 170) all up to the ravine
is distinguished as the savannah slope ; all above,
to the base of the cliff, as the forest slope. It should be
noted that the forest slope is not uniformly clad with
trees. The lower part is densely wooded, covered as it
were, by dense jungle ; next comes a belt of bush,
rather than of jungle ; while still higher, just under the
cliff, the masses of rock which have fallen from above,
lie like a moraine, on which are scattered, however,
sparse trees, the low, wide-spreading branches of which
interlock in a remarkable way.* The a6lual face of
the cliff is, of course, bare ; but wherever ledges run up
for any distance these are often tree or bush clad ; and

* This moraine-like part of the slope is curiously like the well-knowu
* Wistman's Wood' on Dartmoor.


Digitized by


1 70


Digitized by


Notes on Plants at Roraima. 174

the one ledge which runs right up to the top, the one
by which we ascended, is bush-clad to a point about two-
thirds up, then bush-less but plant-covered.

In the ascent from Teroota up to about 5000 feet,
nearly up/ that is, to the commencement of the El Do-
rado swamp, we met with many plants new to me
scattered among the usual savannah plants. Conspi-
cuous among these were three orchids, two growing on
bare pebble-covered ground, the third on the huge-
boulders scattered over the slope. The two former
were Cyrtopodium parviflorum, Lindley, [No. 55],
with its handsome spike, often eighteen inches high, of
many yellow and purple flowers, and the delicately
beautiful white-flowered Koellensteinia Kellneriana %
Rch. f., [No. 61] which latter grows also on the
Kaieteur savannah. The third of the above mentioned
orchids was the curious Masdavallia brevis, Rch. f.,
[No. 286] with flowers more remarkable than beautiful.
Another striking new plant, also growing on the bould-
ers of this part of the slope, was a remarkably handsome
and large Puya (?) [No. 25] with flowers of a magnifi-
cently deep indigo-blue, — a colour so rare in the tropics.
This Puya Mr. Baker tells me is probably a new -and
interesting species, but the dried specimens of it which
I deposited at Kew are unfortunately not sufficient for
its determination. I have, however, some fine young
living plants of the species.

I come now to the description of the El Dorado swamp,
for the place is really so remarkable botanically as to be
worthy of distin&ion under this name. It is worth also
another effort to give some pifture of the appearance of
the place. The swamp — botanists will understand that

Y 2

Digitized by


f]2 TlMEHKI.

the rather dismal suggestions of this word are often, as
certainly in this .case, undeserved — lies on a terrace mid-
way up the mountain. Its surface is very uneven, and it
is consequently much wetter in some parts than in others,
its flatter parts and its hollows so saturated with wet that
the foot of one who walks there sinks often up to the
ankle, its higher parts islands, rarely of any great size, of
dry ground scattered through the swamp. Often, too,
from these dry islands considerable groups of rocks crop
out and sometimes rise to a considerable height. In. the
wetter parts, the grass, which of course forms the -mam
vegetation, is every where high, rank and coarse ; on the
islands of drier ground the grass is finer and even turf-
Hke; from the aftual rocks grass is absent. Each of
these two aspe&s of the swamp, wet ground and dry
rocky island, presents a distinft vegetation, of which
almost the only common feature is distin&ion from the
vegetation outside this El Dorado.

MingKng and vying in height with the rank grass* of
the wet parts, their flowers mingling with the blossoms
of the grasses, are plants of wonderful beauty. The ever
lovely, violet-flowered Utricularia Humboldtii, Schom-
burgk [No. 43l, is there, growing, not as on the Kaieteur
savannah as an epiphyte, but with independent roots in
the ground; but of this I shall have more to say pre-
sently. The Abolboda is there too, in a form slightly
larger and much less compaft than is natural to it when
growing on drier ground. The flag-leaved, yeHow-

* The grasses chiefly noticed at this place were Paspalum stel-
. latum, Flugge ; Panicum nervosum, Lam. ; ArundineUa brasiliensis,

Digitized by


Notes on Plants at Roraima. 173

flowered Xyris se tiger a, Oliv., N* sp., [No. 62] is there.
The small pink-flowered Begonia tovarensis KL [No. 141]
is there. A veiy few plants of Brocchinia cordylinoides.
Baker, just two or three single specimens, are there;
but of this too, I shall have more to say presently*
Various ferns are there,.especially the magnificent Cycad*
like Lomaria Boryana.

And many orchids are there; a 'lady's slipper*

Selenipedium Lindleyanum Reich, fl. [No. 53] with

huge branched flower stems, each bearing many blooms,

the whole plant, flower leaf and stem alike, all velvety in

texture, and of various shades of one colour, the colour

of sunlight as it falls through young green beech-leaves ;

die beautiful Zygopetalum Burkei, * Reich, f . [No. 50] ,

with flowers seeming like gigantic, pale coloured "bee

orchises', (Ophrys api/era, Huds) but of far sweeter scent ;

in great abundance the rosy flowered Pogonia parviflora

Reich, fi. [No. 115], which recalls in habit our English

wild tulip (Tulipa sylvestris) ; and, to mention but one

more among many, Epidendrum elongatum % Jacq.

[No. 42], its stems varying in height from one to eight

feet, its verbena-like clusters of flowers varying in

colour in different plants, some pale yellow, some fawn

colour, many pure rich pink, dark purple and even

mauve. This last mentioned orchid, it may be noted in

passing, is one of a group to which I shall presently


The effeft of the whole is of an Alpine meadow
coloured in early summer by innumerable flowers of die
brightest and most varied tints.

* This is represented on the Organ mountain by Z. Mackaii.

Digitized by


174 TlMEHRl.

If this tall vegetation be anywhere parted by the hand
of the curious traveller, underneath it is seen a carpet of
other, low growing, plants — P sepal anthus Sckomburgkii,
Kl. [No. 33] and P. jlavescens, K. [No. 60] Drosera
communis A St. Hil. [No. 313], a pretty little orchid,
Spiranthes bifida, Ridley N. sp. [No. 342], ferns, lyco-
podiums and sphagnum-like mosses.

One, perhaps the most remarkable, plant of the
swamp has not yet been noticed. It is the South
American pitcher-plant Heliamphora nutans^ Benth
[No. 258], which grows in wide-spreading, very dense
tufts in the wettest places but where the grass happens
not to be long. Its red veined pitcher-leaves, its delicate
white flowers raised high on red tinted stems, its sturdy
habit of growth, make it a pretty little pifture wherever
it grows. But it attains its full size and best development,
not down here in this swamp, but up on the ledges on the
cliff of Roraima and even on the top.

The vegetation of the drier, rocky patches is very
different. A few shrubs of from four to eight feet in
height and a very few stunted and gnarled trees are there ;
a few single specimens of the one Roraima palm (Geo-
noma Appunniana) which, as will presently be told, is
much more abundant higher up ; but more abundant are
certain very dwarf shrubs of curiously alpine aspeft, such
as Gaultheria cordtfolta^ H.B.K. [No. 103] and various
trailing plants, such as a black berry (Rubus guyanensis>
Focke, [No. 106] ), of which I shall have more to say
hereafter, and a passion flower [No. no] and a few
orchids and terns.

Of these orchids the most noteworthy is Oncidium
nigratum^ Lindley [No. 114]. its delicately thin but wiry

Digitized by


Notes on Plants at Roraima. 175

and much-branched stems, five feet high or more, seeming
to hold suspended in the air a crowd of innumerable, tiny,
butterfly-like flowers of cream colour and black ; but two
others, Zygopetalum Buriii, and Epidendron elonga-
tion, which we have already seen in rank luxuriance in
the wetter parts of the swamp, grow also on these drier
parts, and are here much reduced in general habit but
with larger and brighter coloured flowers. Of the ferns
the most striking are a beautifully delicately cut Schiz&a
(S. dichotoma, Sw. [No. 100]), and a very remarkable
Gymnogramme [G. elaphoglossoides, Baker, N. sp*
[No. 101 and 215]), of which more hereafter.

Again, the tiny coppices which are in the swamp, and
the forest which bounds it — which forest, it must be
remembered, covers on the other faces of the Roraima
slope what is here swamp— are full of interesting trees.
One, with vast numbers of large magnolia-like white
flowers is Moronobea intermedia Engler N. sp. [No. 337],
the new species already alluded to as very closely allied
to a second new species, M. Jenmani, which occurs in
corresponding circumstances on the Kaieteur savannah.
Another abundant tree represents an entirely new
genus Crepinella gracilis ', Marchal [No. 192] ; another
is a new species of Sciadophyllum (S. coriaceum,
Marchal, [No. 128]). Another common and strikingly
beautiful tree is a variety of Byrsonima crassifolia,
H.B.K. [No. 130], with leaves the under surfaces of
which are tinted with so deep and rich a violet as to
impart a very striking violet shade to the whole tree,
even when it is seen from a distance. Under the shade
of these, and the host of other trees, ground, shrubs and
tree trunk alike are swathed in thick green mosses.

Digitized by


176 TlMEHRI.

There too, but half clinging to the tree-trunks, are
various species of Psammisia [Nos. 56 and 49], woody
stemmed creepers, the innumerable drop-like crimson
flowers of which, as they catch the tiny gleams of light
striking down between the thick leaves of the forest
roof, glow with intense colour. In these shady, moss-
covered, quiet places, too, stand ereft many tree ferns
[Nos. 92, 270, 87, 37] and a very beautiful new aroid
(Anthurium roraimense, N. E. Brown, N. sp. [No.
264]), its huge heart-shaped leaves and large arum-
like flowers, of purest white, carried high on a slender
but stiff stem. There, too, are innumerable ferns of
wonderful interest, and many, but not showy orchids.
Especially of the latter family many of those tiniest and
most delicate species which if seen under a powerful
magnifying glass, would rival the most showy, the most
graceful of their kindred of our hot-houses.

We must pass now to the forest slope, which, as has
been told, consists of three fairly distinft belts or zones,
which I have called respeftively, beginning from the
lowest, the jungle belt, the bush belt and the belt of
rock and tree.

The jungle is most densely interwoven of many tall
shrubs or dwarf trees, which are yet more closely knit
together by vast quantities of a climbing straggling
bamboo [Guadua [No. 359]), of a Cyperaceous plant,
Cryptangium stellatum, Boeckler [No. 357],) with
rough, knife-edged leaves and tall weak stems ; which
support themselves on, and at the same timedensely clothe,
the shrubs among which the plant grows,* and of

* This is Schomburgk's Leiothtmnus Elisabeths.

Digitized by


Notes on Plants at Roraima. 177

gigantic (that is, gigantic in the size of the thickets, which
from the communal habit of the species it forms) and
handsome climbing fern (Gleichenia pubescens H.B.K.
[No. 343]). Among the shrubs also are two palms ; one,
in vast quantities, a very stout and ereft stemmed, large
leaved Geonoma, before mentioned, (G. Appuniana
[No. 382J) ; the other occurring only in a few scattered
examples, a Euterpe, possibly E. edulis Martius
[358] but, if so, in a most remarkably stunted and
dwarfed form. It is worth noting here that, despite
the reported specific abundance, by SCHOMBURGK and
Appun, of palms about Roraima, these are literally the
only two planes of that family which I saw on the moun-
tain. Under the shrubs forming this jungle the ground
was everywhere swathed with mosses closely intermin-
gled with innumerable ferns, especially filmy ferns ; and
this mossy covering reached up over the tree stems and
branches everywhere but where the sunlight fell. Under
the shade of these shrubs, too, in the darkness and
damp, grew various high-drawn terrestrial orchids, pallid
plants with inconspicuous and pale flowers, such as
Stenoptera viscosa Reich, f. [No. 131].

Undoubtedly the most striking feature of the vegeta-
tion of this jungle belt was the marvellous abundance
and variety of the ferns. Of these, two seem to require
special mention here. One is the Gymnogramme [No. 181]
already mentioned as occurring also on the rocks in the
swamp, and which indeed was abundantly distributed
from the swamp nearly to the top of the mountain. It
will be further mentioned in connexion with a closely
allied species occurring on the top. The second fern to
be distinguished represents a very remarkable new


Digitized by


178 TlMEHRI.

genus, on which Mr. Baker has dealt at some length in
his report on the plants of the expedition. The genus
he has called Enterosora [No. 184] ; the species he has
been good enough to gratify me by naming after my
friend the late William Hunter Campbell, LL.D.
—a man who for very many reasons but especially for
his constant endeavour to forward the scientific interests
of the colony, deserved so well of the people of Guiana.
It is perhaps worthy of mention that this plant so
closely resembles in outward appearance a fern of en-
tirely different genus {Polypodium trifurcatum L-
[No 184]) that I collefted and dried it in mistake for
that plant. Were it possible to conceive that this re-
semblance could be of any benefit to the genus Entoso-
ra } it might be supposed that its very close resemblance
to Polypodium trifurcatum was an instance of ' mimicry.'
Above the jungle belt comes the bush belt. Here the
shrubs, much fewer in number, and so scattered over the
ground as to leave wide intervening spaces, appeared to
me generally of much the same species as in the lower
belt. Here, however, as is not the case below, they are
sufficiently distributed to be individually distinguishable.
Among them the most prominent are a great number of
species of Psychotria [Nos. 83, 145, 232, 185], and a
very remarkable yellow-flowered Melasma [No. 210] M.
spathaceunt) Oliv. N. sp. } of which Professor OLIVER
writes that the specimens supplied him are too imperfeft
to afford means of final determination whether this
should not rather be regarded as the type of a new genus
outside Melasma; and, in great abundance, a Croton
(C surinamense Muell. Arg. off. [No. 235]). Here too,
as below, but as is not the case in the jungle belt, occur a

Digitized by


Notes on Plants at Roraima. 179

large number of plants of Brocchinia cordylinoides, still
in its small Roraima, not in its larger Kaieteur form, as
well as great quantities of the huge Stegolepis guyanensis,
Kl. [No. 338] the Iris-like plants of which being provided
with a great abundance of slimy matter, made walking in
parts where they grew densely most difficult. The Broc-
chinia too, grew in parts so densely that we had to walk,
not on the ground but on the crowns of these plants,
which, as we crushed them with our feet, poured from the
axils of their leaves the remarkably abundant water which
they retain — and very cold water it was — over our already
cold feet. Nor must I omit to mention, though I purpose
afterward to sum up my observations on the Brocchinia
and on the various species of Utricularia, that in this
bush belt a very few plants — I saw not more than three
or four — of Utricularia Humboldtii, Schk. [No. 43], of
the dark, Roraima form, were growing in the axils of the
Brocchinia leaves, as at the Kaieteur.

Two other very interesting plants appeared to us first
in this bush-belt, though we afterward found that they
extended almost, if not quite up to the top of the moun-
tain. One, Lisianthus (L. macranthus aff. [No 188])
was a large succulent-leaved herb, almost shrub-like,
with very large, rich purple-crimson flowers centred with
white — which would probably be a most valuable and
gorgeous addition to our cultivated stove plants. The
other was the most delicately beautiful, the most fairy-
like, and at the same time for its size the most showy
plant I ever saw. It was a new Utricularia which
Professor OLIVER has kindly named also after WILLIAM
Hunter Campbell. U. Campbellianum, Oliver, N.
sfi. [No. 187] grew among the very dwarfest mosses which

z 2

Digitized by


l8o TlMEHRI.

clung to the tree trunks and boughs. The plant — that
is the root and leaves — is so tiny that it was almost
impossible to deteft it when not in flower. The ere6l
stem, an inch or more high, is hair-like ; and on this is
borne one, sometimes two, large and brilliant red flowers
somewhat of the colour and size of the flowers of
Sophronitis grandiflora.

One more feature of the bush-belt claims notice. It is
that here the tree-ferns, occurring indeed in the lower
jungle-belt but there crushed out of all form and lost in
the too densely-packed, struggle of plants, are here, in
the greater and freer space, able to develop their true
form and beauty, and so rise with stout ereft stems to
bear far overhead their regularly-shaped, majestic crowns
of thickly growing fronds.

Next, of the rock and tree-belt all that need be said is
that the same species as in the lower belt seem to occur,
but that these are here for some rather obscure reason,
represented by larger and more developed individuals ;
that the ferns, both the tree-ferns and the more dwarf
species, and one of the palms Genoma [No. 382], be-
come yet more abundant ; and that the mossy universal
covering which I have already dwelt on, as occurring
below, here becomes so immensely dense and all-
pervading — the mosses are so deep on rock and ground,
hang in such dense long masses from all trees and
branches — as to produce on the mind of one who pene-
trates into that remarkable spot a wonderful and extra-
ordinary effeft of perfeft and entire stillness, as though,
all things being wrapped in so dense and soft a
covering, all sound, and all possibility of sound, was
stilled, deadened, and annihilated.

Digitized by


Notes on Plants at Roraima. 181

Just where the rock and tree belt meets the base of the
cliff is a very narrow strip of quite distinft vegetation, —
so distinft indeed that we might almost regard it as a
distinft belt, which we might call the bramble belt.

The ground there is covered by a dense thicket of
bramble bushes Rubus guyanensis y Focke, [No. 1 06], in
general appearance altogether like our English black-
berry bushes. Among this were large masses of the
South American form, appearing very similar to our
English form, of the common bracken (Pleris aquiltna).
There, too, were many little bushes of Marcetia taxifolia
very strongly suggestive of English heath. There, too,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25