« EelmineJätka »
together and carried on the back, and they stand very conveniently in a corner of the hut. Water pipes and aqueducts are also readily made from bamboo tubes supported at intervals on two smaller pieces tied crosswise. In this way a stream of water is often conveyed from some distance to the middle of a village. Measures for rice or palm-wine, drinking-vessels, and waterdippers, are to be found almost ready-made in a joint of bamboo; and when fitted with a cap or lid they form tobacco or tỉnder-boxes. Perches for parrots with food and water vessels are easily made out of a single piece of bamboo, while with a little more labour elegant bird-cages are constructed. In Timor a musical instrument is formed from a single joint of a large bamboo, by carefully raising seven strips of the hard skin to form strings, which remain attached at both ends and are elevated by small pegs wedged underneath, the strings being prevented from splitting off by a strongly-plaited ring of a similar material bound round each end. An opening cut on one side allows the bamboo to vibrate in musical notes when the harp-like strings are sharply pulled with the fingers. In Java strips of bamboo supported on stretched strings and struck with a small stick produce the higher notes in the “gamelung” or native band, which consists mainly of sets of gongs
and metallic plates of various sizes. Almost all the common Chinese paper is made from the foliage and stems of some species of bamboo, while the young shoots, as they first spring out of the ground, are an excellent vegetable, quite equal to artichokes. Single joints of bamboo make excellent cooking-vessels while on a journey. Rice can be boiled in them to perfection, as well as fish and
vegetables. They serve too for jars in which to preserve sugar, salt, fruit, molasses, and cooked provisions; and for the smoker, excellent pipes and hookahs can be formed in a few minutes out of properly chosen joints of bamboo.
These are only a sample of the endless purposes to which the bamboo is applied in the countries of which it is a native, its chief characteristic being that in a few minutes it can be put to uses which, if ordinary wood were used, would require hours or even days of labour. There is also a regularity and a finish about it which is found in hardly any other woody plant; and its smooth and symmetrically ringed surface gives an appearance of fitness and beauty to its varied applications. On the whole, we may perhaps consider it as the greatest boon which nature gives to the natives of the Eastern tropics.
Mangroves.-Among the forms of plants which are sure to attract attention in the tropics are the mangroves, which grow between tide-marks on coasts and estuaries. These are low trees with widely-spreading branches and a network of aerial roots a few feet above the ground; but their most remarkable peculiarity is, that their fruits germinate on the tree, sending out roots and branches before falling into the muddy soil—a completely formed plant. In some cases the root reaches the ground before the seed above falls off. These trees greatly aid the formation of new land, as the mass of aerial roots which arch out from the stem to a considerable distance collects mud and floating refuse, and so raises and consolidates the shore ; while the young plants often dropping from the farthest extremity of the branches, rapidly extend
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 each 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.
1 See Nature, vol. xvi. p. 349, 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 weed over so wide an area in the tropics, 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 abound. In the damp and
uniform climate of the equatorial 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 appearance.
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.” 1 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 seen 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 River Amazons, 2nd edit. p. 38.