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to point out the chief peculiarities as well as the more interesting phenomena which generally characterise them. The observer new to the scene would perhaps be first struck by the varied yet symmetrical trunks, which rise up with perfect straightness to a great height without a branch, and which, being placed at a considerable average distance apart, give an impression similar to that produced by the columns of some enormous building. Overhead, at a height, perhaps, of a hundred feet, is an almost unbroken canopy of foliage formed by the meeting together of these great trees and their interlacing branches; and this canopy is usually so dense that but an indistinct glimmer of the sky is to be seen, and even the intense tropical sunlight only penetrates to the ground subdued and broken up into scattered fragments. There is a weird gloom and a solemn silence, which combine to produce a sense of the vast—the primeval—almost of the infinite. It is a world in which man seems an intruder, and where he feels overwhelmed by the contemplation of the ever-acting forces, which, from the simple elements of the atmosphere, build up the great mass of vegetation which overshadows, and almost seems to oppress the earth. Characteristics of the Larger Forest-trees.—Passing from the general impression to the elements of which the scene is composed, the observer is struck by the great diversity of the details amid the general uniformity. Instead of endless repetitions of the same forms of trunk such as are to be seen in our pine, or oak, or beech woods, the eye wanders from one tree to another and rarely detects two of the same species. All are tall and upright columns, but they differ from each other more
than do the columns of Gothic, Greek, and Egyptian temples. Some are almost cylindrical, rising up out of the ground as if their bases were concealed by accumulations of the soil; others get much thicker near the ground like our spreading oaks; others again, and these are very characteristic, send out towards the base flat and wing-like projections. These projections are thin slabs radiating from the main trunk, from which they stand out like the buttresses of a Gothic cathedral. They rise to various heights on the tree, from five or six, to twenty or thirty feet; they often divide as they approach the ground, and sometimes twist and curve along the surface for a considerable distance, forming elevated and greatly compressed roots. These buttresses are sometimes so large that the spaces between them if roofed over would form huts capable of containing several persons. Their use is evidently to give the tree an extended base, and so assist the subterranean roots in maintaining in an erect position so lofty a column crowned by a broad and massive head of branches and foliage. The buttressed trees belong to a variety of distinct groups. Thus, many of the Bombaceae or silk-cotton trees, several of the Leguminosae, and perhaps many trees belonging to other natural orders, possess these appendages. There is another form of tree, hardly less curious, in which the trunk, though generally straight and cylindrical, is deeply furrowed and indented, appearing as if made up of a number of small trees grown together at the centre. Sometimes the junction of what seem to be the component parts, is so imperfect, that gaps or holes are left by which you can see through the trunk in various places. At first one is disposed to think this is 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
1. Section at seven feet from the ground.
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
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 mediumsized 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