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66 THE NATURALIST IN NICARAGUA. [Ch. V.
the house was a dell, covered with fallen logs and rubbish thrown from the hill, in which was a perennial spring of limpid water. I had the logs and rubbish gathered together and burnt, put a light fence round it, and
comMissionER's House AT SANTo Domingo.
formed a small vegetable, fruit, and flower garden. The mango and avocado trees had not come into bearing before I left; but pineapples, figs, grenadillas, bananas, pumpkins, plantains, papaws, and chioties fruited abundantly. The last named is a native of Mexico; it is a climbing plant with succulent stems and vine-like leaves, and grows with great rapidity. The fruit, of which it bears a great abundance, is about the size and shape of a pear, covered with soft prickles. It is boiled and eaten as a
Ch. V.] BANANA NOT INDIGENOU.S. 67
vegetable, and resembles vegetable marrow. At Santo Domingo, it continues to bear a succession of fruits during eight months of the year. Next to maize, plantains and bananas form the principal sustenance of the natives. The banana tree shoots up its succulent stem, and unfolds its immense entire leaves with great rapidity; and a group of them waving their silky leaves in the sun, or shining ghostly white in the moonlight, forms one of those beautiful sights that can only be seen to perfection in the tropics. There are a great many varieties of them, and they are cooked in many ways—boiled, baked, made into pastry, or eaten as a fruit. The varieties differ not only in their fruits, but in the colour of their leaves and stems; the natives can distinguish them without seeing the fruit, and have names for each, by which they are known throughout all Central America, Mexico, and Peru. These names are of Spanish origin; and this fact, together with the absence of any native, Mexican, or Peruvian name for the fruit, incline me to adopt the opinion of Clavigero, who contends, in opposition to other writers, that the plantain and banana were not known in these countries before the Spanish conquest, but were first brought from the Canaries to Hayti in 1516, and from thence taken to the Imainland. •. Neither the sugar-cane * nor the plantain is given in the list of the indigenous productions of Mexico by the careful and accurate Hernandez. The natives made Sugar from the green stems of the maize. Humboldt
* The sugar-cane is said mever to bear seed in the West Indies, Malaga, India, Cochin China, or the Malay Archipelago. —Darwin's “Animals and Plants under Domestication,” Vol. ii. p. 169.
thinks that some species of plantain were indigenous to America; but it seems incredible that such an important fruit could have been overlooked by the early historians. In the old world the cultivation of the banana dates from the earliest times of which tradition makes mention. One of the Sanscrit names was bhanu-fruit from which probably the name “banana” was derived.” Both the plantain and the banana are always propagated from shoots or suckers that spring from the base of the plants; and it is to be remarked that the pineapple and the bread-fruit, that are also universally grown from cuttings or shoots, and have been cultivated from remote antiquity, have in a great measure lost the faculty of producing mature seed. Such varieties could not arise in a state of nature, but are due to selection by early races of mankind, who would naturally propagate the best varieties; and, to do this, seed was not required. As the finest kinds of bananas, pineapples, and breadfruit are seedless, it is probable that the nutriment that would have been required for the formation of the seeds has been expended in producing larger and more succulent fruits. We find some varieties of oranges, which also have been cultivated from very early ages, producing fruits without seeds; but as these trees are propagated from seeds, these varieties could not become so sterile as those just mentioned. There can be no doubt that the seedless varieties of bananas, bread-fruits, and pineapples have been propagated for hundreds of years; and this fact ought to modify the opinions generally entertained by horticulturists that the life of plants and trees propagated from shoots or cuttings cannot be indefinitely * Humboldt’s “Aspects of Nature,” vol. ii. p. 141.
Ch. W.] FRUIT OF THE PASSION-FLOWER. 6%
prolonged in that way. Perhaps this may be the case in the trees, such as apples, that have come under their notice; and the reason that the varieties die out after a certain time, if not reproduced from seed, may be that the vigour of the trees is at last used up by the production of mature seed, but that in the seedless bananas, pineapples, and bread-fruits this does not happen.
Figs grow well in Nicaragua, and by many their luscious fruit is preferred to all others. My trees suffered greatly from the attacks of a large and fine longicorn beetle (Taeniotes scalaris, Fab.), which laid its eggs in the green bark, from which issued white grubs that mined into the stem. I had to dig down to them with a knife to extricate them and prevent them destroying the young trees. We were surrounded at a short distance by the forest, in which grow many species of wild fig-trees; and this probably was the reason that my trees suffered so much, for at Granada the fig-growers were not troubled with this insect.
The grenadilla is the fruit of one of the passionflowers (Passiflora quadrangularis), and is shaped like a large oblong apple, which it also resembles in perfume. It makes fine tarts and puddings, being somewhat like the gooseberry in taste. I had much difficulty in preserving it from being eaten by small forest rats that came out of the woods, where they had already been accustomed to eat the wild fruit of this climber.
The moist, warm climate seemed to suit the papaw tree, as it grew with great vigour, and produced very large and fine melon-like fruits. The green fruits are excellent for making pastry, if flavoured with a little lime-juice.
In vegetables, I grew three species of sweet potatoes— yellow, purple, and white skinned, and which differ also in their leaves and flowers; cabbages, kidney-beans, pumpkins, yuccas (Jatropha manihot), quequisquea (a. species of arum, Colocasia esculenia), lettuces, tomatoes, capsicums, endives, parsley, and carrots. The climate was too damp to grow onions; neither could I succeed with peas, potatoes, or turnips. Scarlet runners (Phaseolus multiflorus) grew well, and flowered abundantly, but never produced a single pod. Darwin has shown that this flower is dependent, like many others, for its fertilization upon the operations of the busy humble-bee, and that it is provided with a wonderful mechanism, by means of which its pollen is rubbed into the head of the bee, and received on the stigma of the next plant visited.* There are many humble-bees, of different species from ours, in tropical America; but none of them frequented the flowers of the scarlet runner, and to that circumstance we may safely ascribe its sterility. An analogous case has been long known. The vanilla plant (Vanilla planifolia) has been introduced from tropical America into India, but though it grows well, and flowers, it never fruits without artificial aid. It is the same in the hothouses of Europe. Dr. Morren, of Liége, has shown that, if artificially fertilised, every flower will produce fruit; and ascribes its sterility to the absence, in Europe and India, of some insect that in America carries the pollen from one flower to another.f When those interested in the acclimature of the natural * “Gardener’s Chronicle,” Oct. 24, 1857, and Nov. 14, 1858; also
T. H. Farren, in “Annals of Natural History,” Oct. 1868. f Taylor’s “Annals of Natural History,” vol. iii. p. 1.