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necessary juices, it extends to a new bough or arm.

Perhaps the most curious mode of natural reproduction is that
by the leaf. It is well knov\-n that many leaves, as those of the
echeveria, malaxis, gloxinia, orange, and others, when fallen to
the ground in a young and growing state, put forth roots and be-
come perfect plants. This fact is at present exciting- much atten-
tion ; and since all parts of a plant are but special developments
of the leaf, it is argued that there is nothing* to prevent the jDro-
pagation of every tree and shrub by means of this sing-le org-an.

AVhat a curious view of vegetable life do the principles of re-
production unfold! namely, that all parts of a plant — whether
root, tuber, bulb, stem, branch, leaf, or seed — will, under certain
conditions, grow up into a perfect individual, similar to the
parent from which it has sprung. All modes do not take place
at one and the same time, for nature is never prodigally wasteful
of her resources ; but where climate or other conditions interrupt
production by one source, another is developed more exuberantly
than usual to supply its place. If we have not conditions to
mature fruit and seed, there will be tubers, or suckers, or runners
instead ; and just as the chances of failure are great, so are the
modes of reproduction proportionally increased. There is nothing
corresponding- to this in the animal kingdom, unless among* the
very lowest forms, as the polyps and sjDonges, which also increase
by division. Lop away a branch from a tree, audits place may be
supplied by another ; break off the limb of a crab or insect, and
another limb will shortly take its place ; but while the detached
branch will spring up into a tree similar to its parent, all vitality
has fled from the separated limb of the crustacean. Higher
animals than insects and crustaceans have no power to reproduce
lost parts ; but while devoid of this vegetative-like power, they
have a more exalted sentient development ; and if denied the
power to reproduce a lost limb, they are endowed with faculties
which can better protect them.

METAMORPHOSES OF VEGETATION.

In a state of nature, certain orders of vegetation are limited
to certain localities, these situations being characterised by some

7



CURIOSITIES OF VEGETATION".

peculiai-ity of soil and atmospheric influence. If the conditions
of soil and climate remain the same, the characters of plants are
nearly uniform and stationary ; and this may be always said of
them in their natural state. But if they he removed from a
jioor to a rich soil, from a warm to a cold climate, from a dry to
a moist habitat, or vice versa, then their internal structure will
underg-o a chang-e ; and this chang-e will manifest itself in one
or other of their external characters. In some classes, the
chang-e is most evident in the roots and tubers ; in others, in
the stems and leaves ; while in many, the flowers and fruit are
the parts most affected.

The changes which roots and tithcrs can be made to underg-o
are numerous and hig-hly beneficial to man. The potato, for
example, is a native of tropical America; and when found wild,
its tubers are small and scarcely edible ; while in Europe it has
been rendered by cultivation one of the most valuable articles
of food. The produce of an acre of wild potatoes could be held
in a sing-le measure ; while in Britain, the same area will yield
from forty to sixty bolls. Cultivation has produced a thousand
varieties of this tuber, varying* in shape, size, colour, and qualit}'^.
Beet, parsnip, and turnip, are also made to assume many varia-
tions under proper cultivation. The bulb of the latter, for instance,
has, since the beg-inning" of the present century, been metamor-
phosed in forms from g-lobular to fusiform, in colours from white
and yellow to purple and g-reen, and in weig-ht from a couple
of ounces to twenty pounds. So also with the carrot, which in
a wild state is a slender tapering* fleshy root of a yellowish-
white colour, but which by cultivation increases in size, and
assumes a deep red or orang-e colour. In the one case, the root
is not much thicker than a common quill ; in the other, it be-
comes as thick and long- as a man's arm.

Stems, thoug'h less liable to metamorphosis of this kind, are still
capable of being- strangely changed from their normal condition.
Every one is aware that if a tree which is a native of mountains
be placed in a valley, it grows more rapidly, and its timber be-
comes softer and less durable ; and in like manner, if the tree of
a valley be removed to a mountain, it becomes of slow growth and
small dimensions, but produces timber remarkable for its tough-
ness and durability. By cultivo.ting upon this principle, tall stems
are for the most part rendered short, and short ones taller ; the
dahlia, for example, having been reduced to one-half of its natu-
ral height by garden culture.

Leaves are also subject to innumerable metamorphoses, arising
either from culture, change of season, disease, or injury by
insects. Let any one examine the cabbage in its wild state, as
it trails among the shing'le of the sea-shore, with its slender stem
and small g-laucous leaves, and then turn to the giant of the
garden, with its stout fleshy stalk and large succulent leaves
springing and thickening so rapidly, that they have not room



CURIOSITIES OF VEGETATION.

to unfold themselves, but g-atlier into a heart or cluster several
feet in circumference, and be will have some idea of the meta-
morphic adaptation of vegetable life. It is owing- to the Protean
nature of this organ that we have puckered leaves, as in the
curled cress and curled savoy ; and that we have notched and
lobed ones, becoming' simple and entire.

The metamorphoses which occur in the Jloral organs are also
very frequent ; and on this feature depends all that variety and
beauty which it is now so much the object of the florist to pro-
duce. These transformations consist in an increase of the petals,
in a conversion of petals into stamens, and in some modification
of the colour. "What are called double flowers are produced by a
multiplication of the petals, as in the common varieties of the
rose ; and full flowers are those in which the multiplication is
carried so far as to obliterate the stamens and pistil. The rose,
for example, produces in a wild state only a single row of petals,
surrounding a vast number of yellow stamens ; but when culti-
vated, many rows of petals are formed at the expense of the
stamens, which are proportionally diminished. Compare the
dog-rose of our hed^res with the cabbage or Provence rose of our
gardens ; or compare the sing'le anemones and ranunculuses ol
the Levant with the finest Dutch varieties, and see what culti-
vation has produced. In the one case there are only five dimi-
nutive petals; in the other we have hundreds. The wild anemone
is scarcely an inch across ; the Dutch have reared specimens more
than six inches in diameter.

" AVith regard to fo/o?<r," says Dr Lindley, "its infinite chang'es
and metamorphoses in almost every cultivated flower can be com-
pared to nothing but the alterations caused in the plumage of
birds, or in the hairs of animals by domestication. No cause has
ever been assigned for these phenomena, nor has any attempt
been made to determine the cause in plants. We are, however,
in possession of the knowledg'e of some of the laws under which
change of colour is effected. A blue flower will chang'e to white
or red, but not to bright yellow ; a bright yellow flower will
become white or red, but never blue. Thus the hyacinth, of
which the primitive colour is blue, produces abundance of white
or red varieties, but nothing that can be compared to bright
yellow — the yellow hyacinths, as they are called, being a sort
of pale yellow ochre verging to green. Ag-ain, the ranunculus,
Vv'hich is originally of an intense yellow, sports into scarlet, red,
purple, and almost any colour but blue. "White flowers which
have a tendency to produce red will never sport to blue, although
they will to yellow ; the roses, for example, and the crysanthe-
mums."

The changes which the fruit or seed undergoes are also very nu-
merous and obvious. "SA'here, for instance, is there a native grain
like wheat, or a native fruit like the apple ? In a wild state, the
seeds of our cereal grains (wheat, barley, oats, &c.) are thin and

14 9



CURIOSITIES OF VEGETATION.




meag-re ; by proper cultivation they are rendered large, plump,
and full of farina, so as to become the most important articles of
human subsistence. The small 2:lobular sour crab of our hedges
is the original of the numberless varieties of apples now culti-
vated by garden-
ers, each variety
differing some-
what in size,
shape, colour,
and flavour. In
like manner with
the sloe, which
few could detect
as the parent of
our purple, yel-
low, and white
plums ; and so
also with the
wild cherry, and
almost every species of our cultivated fruits and seeds. We
not only can change their size, colour, and other external cha-
racters, but can transform them from dry, acrid, and noxious
fruits, to fleshy, pleasant, and wholesome products.

TRANSMUTATION OF PLANTS.

Curious as the doctrines of metamorphosis may seem, they are
founded on physiological principles which we can discover and
appreciate. There is nothing surpassing belief in the statement
that a stamen is only a leaf transformed and modified to execute
a special purpose 5 nothing' incredible in the fact of a leaf com-
posed of cellular tissue being increased by proper treatment from
a square inch to a square foot in dimension ; but there is some-
thing incredible, something beyond all our ordinary conceptions
of the uniformity of nature's workings, in the statement that one
plant can be transmuted into another ; that, for example, barley
can be converted into oats, or oats into rye ; yet is this doctrine
affirmed upon the evidence of certain carefully-conducted experi-
ments.

From the many statements that have been published respecting
this curious subject, we select that of Dr Weissenborn as being
the most emphatic, and as containing all that is yet really known
and worthy of credit: — "With reference to the transformation of
oats into rye, this remarkable phenomenon has not only been
verified by new experiments, but we have caused beds to be sown
with oats, in order that we may be able to convince disbelievers,
by producing rye-stalks which have sprung from the crown, that
still shows the withered leaves of the oat plant of the previous
year. I repeat that this transformation does take place, if oats
are sown very late (about midsummer), and cut twice as green
10



CURIOSITIES OF VEGETATION.




Oats and Rye.



fodder before shooting- into ear ; the consequence of which is,
that a considerable number of oat plants do not die in the course
of the winter, but are changed in the following spring* into rye,
forming stalks that cannot be known from those of the Unest
rye. We must expect that this
fact will be considered by many
as a mere assertion ; and there
are others still in doubt about
it. The latter, however, own
that they have either not made
the experiment, or have sown
their oats too early, and there-
fore had cut them oftener than
twice, in order to prevent their
running into ear, whereby the
plant loses the power of surviv-
ing the winter, and of beino:
transformed into rye. I cannot
notice such adversaries as reject
the result without having put
it to the test of experiment, or
who rest their opposition on ex- , ,^
periments that have not been '(
conducted in the right manner.
Let any one sow oats during the
latter end of June^ and the transformation in question will cer-
tainly tahe place! The time of sowing the oats did not for-
merly appear of paramount importance, nor was it believed that
it could make any difference whether the oats were cut more
than twice ; in consequence of which a few experiments have
failed. Now, however, we must conclude that if the transfor-
mation occasionally takes place with oats that have been sown
too early, that is merely' an accident depending on a peculiar
state of the weather or other casualties, whereas the result is
quite certain if the oats are sown towards the end of June. If
the soil is too dry about that time, one of the reporters on the
subject to the Agricultural Society of Coburg concludes, from
an experiment he made in 1837, that one watering, so as to
enable the oats to g-erminate, may be recommended ; althoug-h, if
this is done repeatedly, the high temperature of the season will
cause the plants to grow so luxuriantly, that it becomes neces-
sary to cut them three times when about one and a-half foot
high, to prevent them forming their ear, whereby the object
would be wholly or partially lost. If, however, among those
who doubt the fact, there be found people who pity us because
we trust more to actual experiment than to theory, we should
almost feel tempted to pity theorists whose self-sufficiency has
prevented them from thoroughly investigating an important
phenomenon which was noticed so many years ago. Nor can

n



CtiniOSITIES OF VEGETATION.

^Ve commend the discernment of such as are unable to discover in
the plants in question both the preceding year's dry stubble and
leaves of the oats, and the fresh stalks and leaves of the rye, which
latter form in May upon the crown of the oat plant, and produce
line winter rye. The society (of Coburg-) takes credit to itself for
perseverance, in having' struggled against the opinion of the
public for several years, in order to establish a fact which no
physiologist would believe, because people are always apt to con-
found the laws of nature with those of their systems."

The common faith of naturalists is, that what they call a species
is immutable ; in other words, that any animal or plant will give
birth to others only of its own species. But what is a species ?
Are we so familiar with nature's secrets as to determine absolutely
what are species and what varieties. The advocates for trans-
mutation in plants do not expect, we presume, that a cow will
ever give birth to a horse, or that an oak will spring from the seed
of an apple. They merely affirm that m.any plants now regarded
as distinct species, or even genera, may be made, under certain
conditions, to assume the characteristics of each other ; ajid they
point to the transmutation of oats into rye — both belonging to
the same natural order, Granmiecs — as e\ddence of their assertion.

Having thus given a hasty sketch of the principles regulating
the o-rowth, reproduction, and dispersion of plants, we shall now
advert to some of the more wonderful results as regards their
•size, longevity, sensation, and other phenomena.

GIANT PLANTS.

As there are some orders of plants of larger growth than
tDthers, so in the same order there are species of such colossal
dimensions as to have long been not only subjects of wonder,
but of religious reverence and historical association. Among
these may be ranked the Adansonia, the banyan, and others of
the tropical forest, on which nature has invariably impressed the
most gigantic proportions ; and also certain natives of temperate
regions, such as oaks, planes, and chestnuts, which occasionally
attain a size so unusual, that they appear more like several trees
united by a sort of Siamese brotherhood than individual trunks.
Sucli individuals may be regarded not only as giants, but as
patriarchs ; not only as emblems of strength, but as emblems of
duration.

The Adansonia, which derives its name from the French bota-
nist Michel Adanson, belongs to the Bomhacecs, or cotton-tree
tribe, and is justly regarded as the colossus of the vegetable
kingdom. It is a native of Senegal, Guinea, and the coun-
tries on the west coast of Africa ; but specimens have been found
growing freely both in India and South America. Besides its
botanical appellation, the Adansonia is known as the baobab, the
monkey bread tree, and the Egyptian sour gourd. The height
of the trunk is moderate, varying from 50 to 60 feet, but its

12



CrRIOSITIES OF VEGETATION.



lateral tiilk is almost incredible. In 1756, Adanson met with'
trunks in Senegambia lia\ang' a diameter of 30 feet and a circum-
ference of 90 ; and Mr Gilbeny observed one having; a circum-
ference of 104 feet, though its heig-ht did not exceed 30. The
branches are of considerable size, and 50 or 60 feet long*; the
central branch rises perpendicularly, the others spread round
it in all directions ; and their extremities being' bent towards the
ground bj the
weight of foli-
age, the whole
tree presents the
appearance of a
vast hemispheri-
cal mass of ver-
dure 140 or 150
feet in circum-
ference (see fig).
In seed, a full-
grown Adanso-
nia seen at a

distance almost Adansonia, or Baobab Tree.

presents the appearance of a forest ; and it is not till the spec-
tator has satisfied himself by a near inspection, that he can be





Flower of Adansonia.

convinced that the luxuriant verdure above proceeds from a
solitary stem. The leaves, which closely resemble those of the

13



CURIOSITIES OF VEGETATION.

liorse-chestnut, are of a deep green : and it is said that Cape
de Yerd (literally, the Green Cape) takes its name from the cir-
cumstance of its being clothed with these gigantic trees. The
flowers are white and pendent, and, as may be expected from the
size of the tree, very large, measuring, when fully expanded,
from 4 to 6 inches in diameter. A full-grown Adansonia, clothed
with its brilliant verdure and snowy blossoms, must therefore
present a most magnificent spectacle ; and we can fully appreciate
the feelings that promjDt the untutored negro to worship under
its shade, and hail the opening of the flowers with a pious good-
morning. Another consideration connected with the baobab is
the great age to which many individuals must arrive, as may be
inferred from their enormous bulk. It is no doubt a very rapid
grower, for a specimen in the Botanic Garden at Calcutta is said
to have attained a circumference of 18 feet in twenty-six years;
but when we multiply this ten or twentyfold, and make allow-
ance at the same time for the slower increase of maturity, we
can readily believe that many specimens now extant may have
witnessed the revolutions of more than 2000 years. Adanson
indeed looks upon it as the oldest living monument on the
globe ; and taking his data from two specimens which he exa-
mined in 1761, he calculates that some of the baobabs then
flourishing on the coast of Africa might have existed for 5000
years ! This is obviously an erroneous calculation, founded on
the increase by annual layers, as witnessed in temperate regions
— a circumstance which is by no means constant, as there may
in the tropics be two, three, or even more layers formed in one
year, according to seasonal influences ; but even after the neces-
sary deductions, we are compelled to regard the Adansonia as
alike the monarch and patriarch of the vegetable kingdom.

Among the many astonishing features of Indian vegetation,
the Banyaji, or sacred fig of the Hindoos, is one of the most
curious and beautiful. Its branches bend towards the ground,
take root, and thus form separate trees, which successively
cover a vast space of ground, and furnish an ag'reeable and
extensive shade in warm climates. Milton thus correctly de-
scribes its habit, where he speaks of its leaves as being those of
which Adam and Eve " made themselves aprons : " —

" Soon they chose
The fig tree ; not that kind for fruit renowned —
But such as at this day, to Indians known,
In Malabar or Deccan, spreads her arms,
Branching so broad and long, that in the ground
The bended twigs take root ; and daughters grow
About the mother tree, a pillared shade,
High over-arched, and echoing walks between."

The banyan is the Ficus Indica of botanists, and belongs to
the Artocarpece, or bread-fruit tribe. A specimen is mentioned
by Marsden as growing in Bengal, which had fifty or sixty

14



CURIOSITIES OF VEGETATION.

-stems, ^vith a total diameter of 370 feet, and which afforded at
noon a shadow, the circumference of which was 1116 feet.
There is another yet more g'ig'antic still standing* on the island
of Nerbuddah, near Baroach, called the Cuhheer Burr. The
tradition of the natives is, that this tree is 3000 years old;
and it is suiDposed by some to be the same that was visited
by Nearchus, one of Alexander the Great's officers. The large
trunks of this tree amount in number to 350 ; the smaller ones
exceed 3000; and each of these is continually sending" forth
branchlets and hanging; roots to form other trunks. The cir-
cumference of this remarkable plant is nearly 2000 feet. Rox-
burgh states that he found the banyan in the greatest perfection
and beauty about the villages on the skirts of the Circar Moun-
tains, where he saw some individuals 500 yards round the cir-
cumference of the branches, and 100 feet high ; the principal
trunk being more than 20 feet to the branches, and 8 or 9
feet in diameter. Though undoubtedly a tree of wonderful di-
mensions, the banyan must be regarded as a succession of inde-
pendent stems rather than as a single individual ; for it is evident
that some of the earlier roo ting-branches may exceed the parent
trunk in size, and that any of them being once rooted, would live
and send forth new branches in arches and colonnades though
the original stem were utterly destroyed.

The Dracctna or Dragon Tree is another of those gigantic
plants which give character to the veg'etation of intertropical
countries. It is found abundantly in the East India islands, in
the Canaries and Cape Yerds, and along the coast of Sierra
Leone. In ordinary cases, the erect trimk of the dracsena does
not exceed twelve or fourteen feet, but divides into a number of
short branches, each ending* in a tuft of spreading* sword-shaped
leaves, pointed at the extremity. The tree is palm-like in its
growth, but belongs to the asparagus tribe of Jussieu, or, accord-
ing to Dr Lindley, to the LiliacecE. It does not increase by
external layers like the oak and fir, but enlarges after the manner
of the palm, and therefore has not a trunk of true durable timber;
nevertheless, some specimens have been known to gTow to an
enormous size, and to endure for many centuries. The most
celebrated specimen on record is that of Orotava, in the island
of Teneriffe, which in 1799 was found by Humboldt to be 45
feet in circumference, and about 50 or 60 feet in height. " The
trunk," says the baron, "is divided into a great number of
branches, which rise in the form of a candelabra, and are ter-
minated by tufts of leaves, like the yucca which adorns the
valleys of Mexico. It still bears every year both leaves and
fruit. Its aspect feelingly recalls to mind ' that eternal youth of
nature' which is an inexhaustible source of motion and of life."
Though continuing thus to grow, this tree had not perceptibly
increased in size during the life of the oldest inhabitant, as its
top branches, from the brittle nature of the wood, were constantly

J5



CUmOSITIES OF VEGETATION.

"being broken down by the v/inds. In 1819 the greater part o-f
its tor> was blown down ; and in 1822 the venerable trunk was
entirely laid 23rostrate by a tempest. The enormous bulk of this
wonderful vegetable was noted so early as the time of Bethen-
court, in 1402^ who described it as large and as hollow as it was
found by Humboldt ; hence the latter infers that, along with the
Adansonia, the dracasna of Orotava was one of the oldest inha-
bitants of our globe.

The CoiirbarUs of the primeval forests of Brazil are thus spoken
of by Von Martins : — " The place where these prodigious trees
were found appeared to me as if it were the portal of a magni-
ficent temple, not constructed by the hands of man, but by the
Deity himself, as if to awe the mind of the spectator with a holy
dread of His own presence. Never before had I beheld such enor-
mous trunks : they looked more like living rocks than trees ; for it
was only on the pinnacle of their bare and naked bark that foliage
could be discovered, and that at such a distance from the eye,
that the forms of the leaves could not be made out. Fifteen
Indians, with outstretched arms, could only just embrace one of
them. At the bottom they were 84 feet in circumference, and
60 feet where the boles became cylindrical!" We know too little
of these vegetable leviathans to give a more minute account ; but



Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 54 of 59)