Page images

bark of large trees, sending out roots as they ascend which clasp around the trunk. Some mount straight up, others wind round the supporting trunks, and their large, handsome, and often highly-remarkable leaves, which spread out profusely all along the stem, render them one of the most striking forms of vegetation which adorn the damper and more luxuriant parts of the tropical forests of both hemispheres.

Screw-pines.—These singular plants, constituting the family Pandanaceæ of botanists, are very abundant in many parts of the Eastern tropies, while they are comparatively scarce in America. They somewhat resemble Yuccas, but have larger leaves which grow in a close spiral screw on the stem. Some are large and palm-like, and it is a curious sight to stand under these and look up at the huge vegetable screw formed by the bases of the long drooping leaves. Some have slender-branched trunks, which send out acrial roots; others are stemless, consisting of an immense spiral cluster of stiff leaves ten or twelve feet long and only two or three inches wide. They abound most in sandy islands, while the larger species grow in swampy forests. Their large-clustered fruits, something like pincapples, are often of a red colour ; and their long stiff leaves are of great use for covering boxes and for many other domestic uses.

Orchids. These interesting plants, so well known from the ardour with which they are cultivated on account of their beautiful and singular flowers, are preeminently tropical, and are probably more abundant in the mountains of the equatorial zone than in any other region. Ilere they are almost omnipresent in some of their countless forms. They grow on the stems, in the

forks or on the branches of trees; they abound on fallen trunks; they spread over rocks, or hang down the face of precipices; while some, like our northern species, grow on the ground among grass and herbage. Some trees whose bark is especially well adapted for their support are crowded with them, and these form natural orchil-gardens. Sume orchids are particularly fond of the decaying leaf-stalks of palms or of tree-ferns. Some grow best over water, others must be elevated on lofty trees and well exposed to sun and air. The wonderful variety in the form, structure, and colour of the flowers of orchids is well known; but even our finest collections give an inadequate idea of the numbers of these plants that exist in the tropies, because a large proportion of them have quite inconspicuous flowers and are not worth cultivation. More than thirty years ago the number of known orchids was estiinated by Dr. Lindley at 3,000 species, and it is not improbable that they may be now nearly doubled. But whatever may be the numbers of the collected and described orchids, those that still remain to be discovered must be enormous. Uulike ferns, the species bave a very limited range, and it would require the systematic work of a good botanical collector during several years to exhaust any productive district--say such an island as Java-of its orchids. It is not therefore at all improbable that this remarkable group may ultimately prove to be the most numerous in species of all the families of flowering plants.

Although there is a peculiarity of habit that enables one soon to detect an orchidaceous plant even when not in flower, yet they vary greatly in size and aspect. Some of the small creeping species are hardly larger

than mosses, while the large Grammatophyllums of Borneo, which grow in the forks of trees, form a mass of leafy stems ten feet long, and some of the terrestrial species--as the American Sobralias-grow erect to an equal height. The fleshy aerial roots of most species give them a very peculiar aspect, as they often grow to a great length in the open air, spread over the surface of rocks, or attach themselves Joosely to the bark of trees, extracting nourishment from the rain and from the aqueous vapour of the atmosphere. Yet notwithstanding the abundance and variety of orchids in the equatorial forests they seldom produce much effect by their flowers. This is due partly to the very large proportion of the species having quite inconspicuous flowers ; and partly to the fact that the flowering season for each kind lasts but a few weeks, while different species flower almost every month in the year. It is also due to the manner of growth of orchids, generally in single plants or clumps which are seldom large or conspicuous as compared with the great mass of vegetation around them. It is only at long intervals that the traveller meets with anything which recalls the splendour of our orchid-houses and flower-shows. The slender-stalked golden Oncidiums of the flooded forests of the Upper Amazon; the grand Cattleyas of the drier forests; the Cælogynes of the swamps, and the remarkable Vandu lowii of the bill forests of Borneo, are the chief examples of orchidbeauty that have impressed themselves on the memory of the present writer during twelve years' wandering in tropical forests. The last-named plant is unique among orchids, its comparatively small cluster of leaves sending out mumerous flower-stems, which hang down


which for a time overwhelm hin; and it is only when the novelty of these feelings have passed away that he is able to turn his attention to the separate constituents that combine to produce these emotions, and examine the varied and beautiful forms of life which, in inexhaustible profusion, are spread around him.

thickets where the forests have been cleared away ; and, owing to their great utility, they are cultivated or preserved near native houses and villages, and in such situations often give a finishing charm to the landscape.

Uses of the Bamboo.-Perhaps more than any other single type of vegetation, the bamboo seems specially adapted for the use of half-civilized man in a wild tropical country ; and the purposes to which it is applied are almost endless. It is a natural column or cylinder, very straight, uniform in thickness, of a compact and solid texture, and with a smooth flinty naturally-polished external skin. It is divided into ringed joints at regular intervals which correspond to septa or partitions within, so that cach joint forms a perfectly closed and air-tight vessel. Owing to its hollowness, the hardness of the external skin, and the existence of the joints and partitions, it is wonderfully strong in proportion to its weight. It can be found of many distinct sizes and proportions ; light or heavy, long or short-jointed, and varying from the size of a reed to that of a tall and slender palm-tree. It can be split with great facility and accuracy; and, owing to its being hollow, it can be easily cut across or notched with a sharp knife or hatchet. It is excessively strong and highly elastic, and whether

green or dry is almost entirely free from any peculiar taste or smell. The way in which these various qualities of the bamboo render it so valuable, will be best shown by giving a brief account of some of the uses to which it is applied in the Malay Archipelago.

Several effective weapons are easily made from bamboo. By cutting off the end very obliquely just beyond a joint, a very sharp cutting point is produced

« EelmineJätka »