« EelmineJätka »
life. Yet even on the upper surfiwe of the forest, fully exposed to the light and heat of the tropical sun, there is no special development of coloured flowers. When from some elevated point you can gaze down upon an unbroken expanse of woody vegetation, it often happens that not a single patch of bright colour can be discerned. At other times, and especially at the beginning of the dry season, you may behold scattered at wide intervals over the mottled-green surface a few masses of yellow, white, pink, or more rarely of blue colour, indicating the position of handsome flowering trees.
The well-establisheil relation between coloured flowers and the need of insects to fertilize them, may perhaps be connected with the comparative scarcity of the former in the equatorial forests. The various forms of life are linked together in such mutual dependence that no one can inordinately increase without bringing about a corresponding increase or diminution of other forms. The insects which are best adapted to fertilize flowers cannot probably increasc much beyond definite limits, because in doing so they would lead to a corresponding increase of insectivorous birds and other animals which would keep them down. The chief fertilizers—bees aud butterflies—have enemies at every stage of their growth, from the egg to the perfect insect, and their numbers are, therefore, limited by causes quite independent of the supply of vegetable food. It may, therefore, be the case that the numbers of suitable insects are totally inadequate to the fertilization of the countless millions of forest-trces over such vast arcas as the cquatorial zone presents, and that, in consequence, a large proportion of the species have become adapted either for self-fertilization or for cross-fertilization by the agency of the wind. Were there not some such limitation as this, we should expect that the continued struggle for existence among the plants of the tropical forests would have led to the acquisition, by a much larger proportion of them, of so valuable a character as bright-coloured flowers, this being almost a necessary preliminary to a participation in the benefits which have been proved to arise from crossfertilization by insect agency
Concluding Remarks on Tropical Vegetation. In concluding this general sketch of the aspect of tropical vegetation we will attempt briefly to summarize its main features. The primeval forests of the equatorial zone are grand and overwhelming by their vastness, and by the display of a force of development and vigour of growth rarely or never witnessed in temperate climates. Among their best distinguishing features are the variety of fornis and species which everywhere meet and grow side by side, and the extent to which parasites, epiphytes, and creepers fill up every available station with peculiar modes of life. If the traveller notices a particular species and wishes to find more like it, he may often turn his eyes in vain in every direction. Trees of varied forms, dimensious, and colours are around him, but he rarely sees any one of them repeated. Time after time he goes towards a tree which looks like the one he seeks, but a closer examination proves it to be distinct. He may at length, perhaps, meet with a second specimen half a mile off, or may fail altogether, till on another occasion he stumbles on one by accident.
The absence of the gregarious or social habit, so
general in the forests of extra-tropical countries, is probably dependent on the extreme equability and permanence of the climate. Atmospheric conditions are much more important to the growth of plants than any others. Their severest struggle for existence is against climate. As we approach towards regions of polar cold or desert aridity the variety of groups and species regularly diminishes; more and more are unable to sustain the extreme climatal conditions, till at last we find only a few specially organized forms which are able to maintain their existence. In the extreme north, pive or birch trees; in the desert, a few palms and prickly shrubs or aromatic herbs alone survive. In the equable equatorial zone there is no such struggle against climate. Every form of vegetation has become alike adapted to its genial heat and ample moisture, which has probably changed little even throughout geological periods; and the never-ceasing struggle for existence between the various species in the same area has resulted in a nice balance of organic forces, which gives the advantage, now to one, now to another, species, and prevents any one type of vegetation from monopolising territory to the exclusion of the rest. The same general causes have led to the filling up of every place in nature with some specially adapted form. Thus we find a forest of smaller trees adapted to grow in the shade of greater trees. Thus we find every tree supporting numerous other forms of vegetation, and some so crowded with epiphytes of various kinds that their forks and horizontal branches are veritable gardens. Creeping ferns and arums run up the smoothest trunks; an immense variety of climbers lang in tangled masses from the branches and mount over
the bighest tree-tops. Orchids, bromelias, arums, and ferns grow from every boss and crevice, and cover the fallen and decaying trunks with a graceful drapery. Even these parasites have their own parasitical growth, their leaves often supporting an abundance of minute creeping mosses and hepatice. But the uniformity of climate which has led to this rich luxuriance and endless variety of vegetation is also the cause of a monotony that in time becomes oppressive. To quote the words of Mr. Belt: “Unknown are the autumn tints, the bright browns and yellows of English woods; much less the crimsons, purples, and yellows of Canada, where the dying foliage rivals, nay, cxcels, the expiring dolphin in splendour. Unknown the cold sleep of winter; unknown the lovely awakening of vegetation at the first gentle touch of spring. A ceaseless round of ever-active life weaves the fairest scenery of the tropics into one monotonous whole, of which the component parts exhibit in detail untold variety and beauty.” 1
To the student of nature the vegetation of the tropics will ever be of surpassing interest, whether for the variety of forms and structures which it presents, for the boundless energy with which the life of plants is therein manifested, or for the help which it gives us in our search after the laws which have determined the production of such infinitely varied organisms. When, for the first time, the traveller wanders in these primeval forests, he can scarcely fail to experience sensations of awe, akin to those excited by the trackless ocean or the alpine snowfields. There is a vastness, a solemnity, a gloom, a sense of solitude and of human insignificance The Viluralisi in Nicaragua, p. 58.
which for a time overwhelm him; 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.