Page images
PDF
EPUB

caused by accident or decay, but repeated examination shows it be due to the natural growth of the tree. The . accompanying outline sections of one of these trees that was cut down, exhibits its character. It was a noble

Sections of trunk of a Bornean Forest-tree.

1. Section at seven feet from the ground.
2. 3. Sections much higher up.

forest-tree, more than 200 feet high, but rather slender in proportion, and it was by no means an extreme example of its class. This peculiar form is probably produced by the downward growth of aerial roots, like some New Zealand trees whose growth has been traced, and of whose different stages drawings may be seen at the Library of the Linnean Society. These commence their existence as parasitical climbers which take root in the fork of some forest-tree and send down aerial roots which clasp round the stem that upholds them. As these roots increase in size and grow together laterally they cause the death of their foster-parent. The climber then grows rapidly, sending out large branches above and spreading roots below, and as the supporting tree decays away the aerial roots grow together and form a new trunk, more or less furrowed and buttressed, but exhibiting no other marks of its exceptional origin. Aerial-rooted forest-trees—like that figured in my Malay Archipelago (vol. i. p. 131)—and the equally remarkable fig-trees of various species, whose trunks are formed by a miniature forest of aerial roots, sometimes separate, sometimes matted together, are characteristic of the Eastern tropics, but appear to be rare or altogether unknown in America, and can therefore hardly be included among the general characteristics of the equatorial ZOIle. Besides the varieties of form, however, the tree-trunks of these forests present many peculiarities of colour and texture. The majority are rather smooth-barked, and many are of peculiar whitish, green, yellowish, or brown colours, or occasionally nearly black. Some are perfectly smooth, others deeply cracked and furrowed, while in a considerable number the bark splits off in flakes or hangs down in long fibrous ribands. Spined or prickly trunks (except of palms) are rare in the damp equatorial forests. Turning our gaze upwards from the stems to the foliage, we find two types of leaf not common in the temperate zone, although the great mass of the trees offer nothing very remarkable in this respect. First, we have many trees with large, thick, and glossy leaves, like those of the cherry-laurel or the magnolia, but even larger, smoother, and more symmetrical. The leaves of the Asiatic caoutchouc-tree (Ficus elastica), so often cultivated in houses, is a type of this class, which has a very fine effect among the more ordinary-looking foliage. Contrasted with this is the fine pinnate foliage of some of the largest forest-trees which, seen far aloft against D

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

the sky, looks as delicate as that of the sensitive
mimosa.
Forest-trees of Low Growth.-The great trees we
have hitherto been describing form, however, but a
portion of the forest. Beneath their lofty canopy there
often exists a second forest of moderate-sized trees, whose
crowns, perhaps forty or fifty feet high, do not touch
the lowermost branches of those above them. These are
of course shade-loving trees, and their presence effectually
prevents the growth of any young trees of the larger
kinds, until, overcome by age and storms, some monarch
of the forest falls down, and, carrying destruction in its
fall, opens up a considerable space, into which sun and
air can penetrate. Then comes a race for existence among
the seedlings of the surrounding trees, in which a few
ultimately prevail and fill up the space vacated by their
predecessor. Yet beneath this second set of medium-
sized forest-trees there is often a third undergrowth of
small trees, from six to ten feet high, of dwarf palms, of
tree-ferns, and of gigantic herbaceous ferns. Coming to
the surface of the ground itself we find much variety.
Sometimes it is completely bare, a mass of decaying
leaves and twigs and fallen fruits. More frequently it
is covered with a dense carpet of selaginella or other
lycopodiaceae, and these sometimes give place to a
variety of herbaceous plants, sometimes with pretty, but
rarely with very conspicuous flowers.
Flowering Trunks and their Probable Cause.—
Among the minor but not unimportant peculiarities that
characterise these lofty forests, is the curious way in
which many of the smaller trees have their flowers
situated on the main trunk or larger branches instead

of on the upper part of the tree. The cacao-tree is a well-known example of this peculiarity, which is not uncommon in tropical forests; and some of the smaller trunks are occasionally almost hidden by the quantity of fruit produced on them. One of the most beautiful examples of this mode of flowering is a small tree of the genus Polyalthea, belonging to the family of the custard-apples, not uncommon in the forests of Northwestern Borneo. Its slender trunk, about fifteen or twenty feet high, was completely covered with starshaped flowers, three inches across and of a rich orangered colour, making the trees look as if they had been artificially decorated with brilliant garlands. The recent discoveries as to the important part played by insects in the fertilization of flowers offers a very probable explanation of this peculiarity. Bees and butterflies are the greatest flower-haunters. The former love the sun and frequent open grounds or the flowery tops of the lofty forest-trees fully exposed to the sun and air. The forest shades are frequented by thousands of butterflies, but these mostly keep near the ground, where they have a free passage among the tree-trunks and visit the flowering shrubs and herbaceous plants. To attract these it is necessary that flowers should be low down and conspicuous. If they grew in the usual way on the tops of these smaller trees overshadowed by the dense canopy above them they would be out of sight of both groups of insects, but being placed openly on the stems, and in the greatest profusion, they cannot fail to attract the attention of the wandering butterflies. Uses of Equatorial Forest-trees.—Amid this immense variety of trees, the natives have found out such as are best adapted to certain purposes. The wood of some is light and soft, and is used for floats or for carving out rude images, stools, and ornaments for boats and houses. The flat slabs of the buttresses are often used to make paddles. Some of the trees with furrowed stems are exceedingly strong and durable, serving as posts for houses or as piles on which the water-villages are built. Canoes, formed from a trunk hollowed out and spread open under the action of heat, require one kind of wood, those built up with planks another; and, as the species of trees in these forests are so much more numerous than the wants of a semi-civilized population, there are probably a large number of kinds of timber which will some day be found to be well adapted to the special requirements of the arts and sciences. The products of the trees of the equatorial forests, notwithstanding our imperfect knowledge of them, are already more useful to civilized man than to the indigenous inhabitants. To mention only a few of those whose names are tolerably familiar to us, we have such valuable woods as mahogany, teak, ebony, lignum-vitae, purple-heart, iron-wood, sandalwood, and satin-wood; such useful gums as india-rubber, gutta-percha, tragacanth, copal, lac, and dammar; such dyes as are yielded by log-wood, brazil-wood, and sappan-wood ; such drugs as the balsams of Capivi and Tolu, camphor, benzoin, catechu or terra-japonica, cajuput oil, gamboge, quinine, Angostura bark, quassia, and the urari and upas poisons; of spices we have cloves, cinnamon, and nutmegs; and of fruits, brazil-nuts, tamarinds, guavas, and the valuable cacao; while residents in our tropical colonies enjoy the bread-fruit, avocado-pear, custard-apple, durian, mango, mangosteen,

« EelmineJätka »