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the domain of vegetation to the farthest possible limits. The branches, too, send down slender roots like those of the banyan, and become independent trees.
Thus a complete woody labyrinth is formed; and the network of tough roots and stems resists the action of the tides, and enables the mud brought down by great tropical rivers to be converted into solid land far more rapidly than it could be without this aid.
Sensitive-plants.—Among the more humble forms of vegetation that attract the traveller's notice none are more interesting than the sensitive species of Mimosa. These are all natives of South America, but one species, Mimosa pudica, has spread to Africa and Asia, so that sensitive-plants now abound as wayside weeds in many parts both of the eastern and western tropics, sometimes completely carpeting the ground with their delicate foliage. Where a large surface of ground is thus covered the effect of walking over it is most peculiar. At cach step the plants for some distance round suddenly droop, as if struck with paralysis, and a broad track of prostrate herbage, several feet wide, is distinctly marked out by the different colour of the closed leaflets. The explanation of this phenomenon, given by botanists, is not very satisfactory ;' while the purpose or use of the peculiarity is still more mysterious, seeing that out of about two hundred species belonging to this same genus Mimosa, only some three or four are sensitive, and in the whole vegetable kingdom there are no other plants which possess more than the rudiments of a similar property.
See Nature, vol. xvi. p. 319, where the German botanist Pfeffer's theory is given.
It is true that, as they are all low-growing herbs or shrubs with delicate foliage, they might possibly be liable to destruction by herbivorous animals, and might escape by their singular power of suddenly collapsing before the jaws opened to devour them. The fact that one species has been naturalized as a wecd over so wide an area in the tropies, seems to show that it possesses some advantage over the generality of tropical weeds. It is however curious that, as most of the species are somewhat prickly, so easy and common a mode of protection as the development of stronger spines should here have failed; and that its place should be supplied by so singular a power as that of simulating death, in a manner which suggests the possession of both sensation and voluntary motion.
Comparative Scarcity of Flowers.--It is a very general opinion among inhabitants of our temperate climes, that amid the luxuriant vegetation of the tropics there must be a grand display of floral beauty; and this idea is supported by the number of large and showy flowers cultivated in our hot-houses. The fact is, however, that in proportion as the general vegetation becomes more luxuriant, flowers form a less and less prominent feature ; and this rule applies not only to the tropics but to the temperate and frigid zones. It is amid the scanty vegetation of the higher mountains and towards the limits of perpetual snow, that the alpine flowers are most brilliant and conspicuous. Our own meadows and pastures and hill-sides produce more gay flowers than our woods and forests ; and, in the tropics, it is in the parts where vegetation is less dense and luxuriant that flowers most abouud. In the damp and
uniform climate of the cquatorial zone the mass of vegetation is greater and more varied than in any other part of the globe, but in the great virgin forests themselves flowers are rarely seen. After describing the forests of the Lower Amazon, Mr. Bates asks : “But where were the flowers ? To our great disappointment we saw none, or only such as were insignificant in appear
Orchids are rare in the dense forests of the lowlands, and I believe it is now tolerably well ascertained that the majority of the forest-trees in equatorial Brazil have small and inconspicuous flowers." | My friend Dr. Richard Spruce assured me that by far the greater part of the plants gathered by him in equatorial America had inconspicuous green or white flowers. My own observations in the Aru Islands for six months, and in Borneo for more than a year, while living almost wholly in the forests, are quite in accordance with this view. Conspicuous masses of showy flowers are so rare, that weeks and months may be passed without observing a single flowering plant worthy of special admiration. Occasionally some tree or shrub will be scen covered with magnificent yellow, or crimson, or purple flowers, but it is usually an oasis of colour in a desert of verdure, and therefore hardly affects the general aspect of the vegetation. The equatorial forest is too gloomy for flowers, or generally even for much foliage, except of ferns and other shade-loving plants; and were it not that the forests are broken up by rivers and streams, by mountain ranges, by precipitous rocks and by deep ravines, there would be far fewer flowers than there are. Some of the great forest-trees have showy blossoms,
I The Naturalist on the Rirer Amazons, 2nd edit. p. 38.
and when these are seen from an elevated point looking over an expanse of tree-tops the effect is very grand; but nothing is more erroneous than the statement sometimes made that tropical forest-trees generally have showy flowers, for it is doubtful whether the proportion is at all greater in tropical than in temperate zones. On such natural exposures is steep mountain sides, the banks of rivers, or ledges of precipices, and on the margins of such artificial openings as roads and forest clearings, whatever floral beauty is to be found in the more luxuriant parts of the tropics is exhibited. But even in such favourable situations it is not the abundance and beauty of the flowers but the luxuriance and the freshness of the foliage, and the grace and infinite variety of the forms of vegetation, that will most attract the attention and extort the admiration of the traveller. Occasionally indeed you will come
with blossoms or trees festooned with flowering creepers ; but, on the other hand, you may travel for a hundred miles and see nothing but the varied greens of the forest foliage and the deep gloom of its tangled recesses. In Mr. Belt's Naturalist in Nicaragua, be thus describes the great virgin forests of that country which, being in a mountainous region and on the margin of the equatorial zone, are among the most favourable examples. "On each side of the road great trees towered up, carrying their crowns out of sight amongst a canopy of foliage, and with lianas hanging from nearly every bough, and passing from tree to tree, entangling the giants in a great network of coiling cables. Sometimes a tree appears covered with beautiful flowers which do not belong to it, but to one of the lianas
that twines through its branches and sends down great rope-like stems to the ground. Climbing ferns and vanilla cling to the trunks, and a thousand epiphytes perch themselves on the branches. Amongst these are large arums that send down long aerial roots, tough and strong, and universally used instead of cordage by the natives. Amongst the undergrowth several small species of palms, varying in height from two to fifteen feet, are common; and now and then magnificent trec ferns sending off their feathery crowns twenty feet from the ground delight the sight by their graceful elegance. Great broad-leaved heliconias, leathery melastomæ, and succulent-stemmed, lop-sided leaved and flesh-coloured begonias are abundant, and typical of tropical American forests ; but not less so are the cecropia trees, with their white stems and large palmated leaves standing up like great candelabra.
Sometimes the ground is carpeted with large flowers, yellow, pink, or white, that have fallen from some invisible tree-top above; or the air is filled with a delicious perfume, the source of which one seeks around in vain, for the flowers that cause it are far overhead out of sight, lost in the great overshadowing crown of verdure."
Although, as has been shown elsewhere, it may be doubted whether light directly produces floral colour, there can be no doubt that it is essential to the growth of vegetation and to the full development of foliage and of flowers. In the forests all trees, and shrubs, and creepers struggle upwards to the light, there to expand their blossoms and ripen their fruit. IIence, perhaps, the abundance of climbers which make use of their more sturily companions to reach this necessary of vegetable