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tree-ferns, bear their graceful crowns on slender stems twenty to thirty, or even fifty feet high. It is this immense variety rather than any special features that characterises the fern-vegetation of the tropics. We have here almost every conceivable modification of size, form of fronds, position of spores, and habit of growth, in plants that still remain unmistakably ferns. Many climb over shrubs and bushes in a most elegant manner; others cling closely to the bark of trees like ivy. The great birds'-nest fern (Platycerium) attaches its shell-like fronds high up on the trunks of lofty trees. Many small terrestrial species have digitate, or ovate, or ivyshaped, or even whorled fronds, resembling at first sight those of some herbaceous flowering-plants. Their numbers may be judged from the fact that in the vicinity of Tarrapoto, in Peru, Dr. Spruce gathered 250 species of ferns, while the single volcanic mountains of Pangerango in Java (10,000 feet high) is said to have produced 300 species.
Ginger-worts and wild Bananas.—These plants, forming the families Zingiberaceæ and Musaceæ of botanists, are very conspicuous ornaments of the equatorial forests, on account of their large size, fine foliage, and handsome flowers. The bananas and plantains are well known as among the most luxuriant and beautiful productions of the tropics. Many species occur wild in the forests ; all have majestic foliage and handsome flowers, while some produce edible fruit. Of the ginger-worts (Zingiberaceæ and Marantaceæ), the well known cannas of our tropical gardens may be taken as representatives, but the equatorial species are very numerous and varied, often forming dense thickets in damp places, and adorning the
forest shades with their elegant and curious or showy flowers. The maranths produce "arrow-root,” while the ginger-worts are highly aromatic, producing ginger, cardamums, grains of paradise, turmeric and several medicinal drugs. The Musaceæ produce the most valuable of tropical fruits and foods. The banana is the variety which is always eaten as a fruit, having a delicate aromatic flavour; the plantain is a larger variety which is best cooked. Roasted in the green state it is an excellent vegetable resembling roasted chestnuts; when ripe it is sometimes pulped and boiled with water, making a very agreeable sweet soup; or it is roasted, or cut into slices and fried, in either form being a delicious tropical substitute for fruit pudding. These plants are annuals, producing one immense bunch of fruit. This bunch is sometimes four or five feet long containing near 200 plantains, and often weighs about a hundredweight. They grow very close together, and Humboldt calculated that an acre of plantains would supply more food than could be obtained from the same extent of ground by any other known plant. Well may it be said that the plantain is the glory of the tropics, and well was the species named by Linnæus—Musa paradisiaca !
Arums. Another very characteristic and remarkable group of tropical plants are the epiphytal and climbing arums. These are known by their large, arrow-shaped, dark green and glossy leaves, often curiously lobed or incised, and sometimes reticulated with large open spaces, as if pieces had been regularly eaten out of them by some voracious insects. Sometimes they form clusters of foliage on living or dead trees to which they cling by their aerial roots. Others climb up the smooth
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 tropics, 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 aerial 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 pineapples, 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. Here 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 orchid-gardens. Some 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 tropics, 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 estimated 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. Unlike ferns, the species have 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 loosely 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 Vanda 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 numerous flower-stems, which hang down