Micrographia - or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon/Chapter 21

Observ. XXI.Of Moss, and several other small vegetative Substances.

MOss is a Plant, that the wisest of Kings thought neither unworthy his speculation, nor his Pen, and though amongst Plants it be in bulk one of the smallest, yet it is not the least considerable: For, as to its shape, it may compare for the beauty of it with any Plant that grows, and bears a much bigger breadth; it has a root almost like a seedy Parsnip, furnish’d with small strings and suckers, which are all of them finely branch’d, like those of the roots of much bigger Vegetables; out of this springs the stem or body of the Plant, which is somewhat Quadrangular, rather then Cylindrical, most curiously fluted or strung with small creases, which run, for the most part, parallel the whole stem; on the sides of this are close and thick set, a multitude of fair, large, well-shap’d leaves, some of them of a rounder, others of a longer shape, according as they are younger or older when pluck’d; as I ghess by this, that those Plants that had the stalks growing from the top of them, had their leaves of a much longer shape, all the surface of each side of which, is curiously cover’d with a multitude of little oblong transparent bodies, in the manner as you see it express’d in the leaf B, in the XIII. Scheme.

This Plant, when young and springing up, does much resemble a Hous-leek, having thick leaves, almost like that, and seems to be somwhat of kin to it in other particulars; also from the top of the leaves, there shoots out a small white and transparent hair, or thorn: This stem, in time, come to shoot out into a long, round and even stalk, which by cutting transversly, when dry, I manifestly found to be a stiff, hard, and hollow Cane, or Reed, without any kind of knot, or stop, from its bottom, where the leaves encompass’d it, to the top, on which there grows a large seed case, A, cover’d with a thin, and more whitish skin, B, terminated in a long thorny top, which at first covers all the Case, and by degrees, as that swells, the skin cleaves, and at length falls off, with its thorny top and all (which is a part of it) and leaves the seed Case to ripen, and by degrees, to shatter out its seed at a place underneath this cap, B, which before the seed is ripe, appears like a flat barr’d button, without any hole in the middle; but as it ripens, the button grows bigger, and a hole appears in the middle of it, E, out of which, in all probability, the seed falls: For as it ripens by a provision of Nature, that end of this Case turns downward after the same manner as the ears of Wheat and Barley usually do; and opening several of these dry red Cases, F, I found them to be quite hollow, without anything at all in them; whereas when I cut them asunder with a sharp Pen-knife when green, I found in the middle of this great Case, another smaller round Case, between which two, the interstices were fill'd with multitudes of stringie fibres, which seem'd to suspend the lesser Case in the middle of the other, which (as farr as I was able to discern) seem'd full of exceeding small white seeds, much like the seed-bagg in the knop of a Carnation, after the flowers have been two or three days, or a week, fallen off; but this I could not so perfectly discern, and therefore cannot positively affirm it.

After the seed was fallen away, I found both the Case, Stalk, and Plant, all grow red and wither, and from other parts of the root continually to spring new branches or slips, which by degrees increased, and grew as bigg as the former, seeded, ripen'd, shatter'd, and wither'd.

I could not find that it observ'd any particular seasons for these several kinds of growth, but rather found it to be springing, mature, ripe, seedy, and wither'd at all times of the year; But I found it most to flourish and increase in warm and moist weather.

It gathers its nourishments, for the most part, out of some Lapidescent, or other substance corrupted or chang'd from its former texture, or substantial form; for I have found it to grow on the rotten parts of Stone, of Bricks, of Wood, of Bones, of Leather, &c.

It oft grows on the barks of several Trees, spreading it self, sometimes from the ground upwards, and sometimes from some chink or cleft of the bark of the Tree, which has some putrify'd substance in it; but this seems of a distinct kind from that which I observ'd to grow on putrify'd inanimate bodies, and rotten earth.

There are also great varieties of other kinds of Mosses, which grow on Trees, and several other Plants, of which I shall here make no mention, nor of the Moss growing on the skull of a dead man, which much resembles that of Trees.

Whether this Plant does sometimes originally spring or rise out of corruption, without any disseminated seed, I have not yet made trials enough to be very much, either positive or negative; for as it seems very hard to conceive how the seed should be generally dispers'd into all parts where there is a corruption begun, unless we may rationally suppose, that this seed being so exceeding small, and consequently exceeding light, is thereby taken up, and carried to and fro in the Air into every place, and by the falling drops of rain is wash'd down out of it, and so dispers'd into all places, and there onely takes root and propagates, where it finds a convenient soil or matrix for it to thrive in; so if we will have it to proceed from corruption, it is not less difficult to conceive,

First, how the corruption of any Vegetable, much less of any Stone or Brick, should be the Parent of so curiously figur'd, and so perfect a Plant as this is. But here indeed, I cannot but add, that it seems rather to be a product of the Rain in those bodies where it is stay'd, then of the very bodies themselves, since I have found it growing on Marble, and Flint, but always the Microscope, if not the naked eye, would discover some little hole of Dirt in which it was rooted.

Next, how the corruption of each of those exceedingly differing bodies should all conspire to the production of the same Plant, that is, that Stones, Bricks, Wood, or vegetable substances, and Bones, Leather, Horns, or animate substances, unless we may with some plausibleness say, that Air and Water are the coadjutors, or menstruums, in all kinds of putrifactions, and that thereby the bodies (though whil’st they retain’d their substantial forms, were of exdeecing differing natures, yet) since they are dissolv’d and mixt into another, they may be very Homogeneous, they being almost resolv d again into Air, Water, and Earth; retaining, perhaps, one part of their vegetative faculty yet entire, which meeting with congruous assistants, such as the heat of the Air, and the fluidity of the Water, and such like coadjutors and conveniences, acquires a certain vegetation for a time, wholly differing perhaps from that kind of vegetation it had before.

To explain my meaning a little better by a gross Similitude;

Suppose a curious piece of Clock-work, that had had several motions and contrivances in it, which, when in order, would all have mov’d in their design’d methods and Periods. We will further suppose, by some means, that this Clock comes to be broken, brused, or otherwise disordered, so that several parts of it being dislocated, are impeded, and so stand still, and not onely hinder its own progressive motion, and produce not the effect which they were design’d for, but because the other parts also have a dependence upon them, put a stop to their motion likewise; and so the whole Instrument becomes unserviceable,, and not fit for any use. This Instrument afterwards, by some shaking and tumbling, and throwing up and down, comes to have several of its parts shaken out, and several of its curious motions, and contrivances, and particles all fallen asunder; here a Pin falls out, and there a Pillar, and here a Wheel, and there a Hammer, and a Spring, and the like, and among the rest, away falls those parts also which were brused and disorder’d, and had all this while impeded the motion of all the rest, hereupon several of those other motions that yet remain, whose springs were not quite run down, being now at liberty, begin each of them to move, thus or thus, but quite after another method then before, there being many regulating parts and the like, fallen away and lost. Upon this, the Owner, who chances to hear and observe some of these effects, being ignorant of the Watch-makers Art, wonders what is betid his Clock, and presently imagines that some Artist has been at work, and has set his Clock in order, and made a new kind of Instrument of it, but upon examining circumstances, he finds there was no such matter, but that the casual slipping out of a Pin had made several parts of his Clock fall to pieces, and that thereby the obstacle that all this while hindred his Clock, together with other usefull parts were fallen out, and so his Clock was set at liberty. And upon winding up those springs again when run down, he finds his Clock to go, but quite after another manner then it was wont heretofore.

And thus may it be perhaps in the business of Moss and Mould, and Mushroms, and several other spontaneous kinds of vegetations, which may be caus’d by a vegetative principle, which was a coadjutor to the life, and growth of the greater Vegetable, and was by the destroying of the life of it stopt and impeded in performing its office; but afterwards, upon a further corruption of several parts that had all the while impeded it, the heat of the Sun winding up, as it were, the spring, sets it again into a vegetative motion, and this being single, and not at all regulated as it was before (when a part of that greater machine the pristine vegetable) is mov’d after quite a differing manner and produces effects very differing from those it did before.

But this I propound onely as a conjecture, not that I am more enclin’d to this Hypothesis then the seminal, which upon good reason I ghess to be Mechanical also, as I may elsewhere more fully shew: But because I may, by this, hint a possible way how this appearance may be solv'd; supposing we should be driven to confess from certain Experiments and Observations made, that such or such Vegetables were produc’d out of the corruption of another, without any concurrent seminal principle (as I have given some reason to suppose, in the description of a Microscopical Mushrome) without derogating at all from the infinite wisdom of the Creator. For this accidental production, as I may call it, does manifest as much, if not very much more, of the excellency of his contrivance as any thing in the more perfect vegetative bodies of the world, even as the accidental motion of the Automaton does make the owner see, that there was much more contrivance in it then at first he imagin’d. But of this I have added more in the description of Mould, and the Vegetables on Rose leaves, &c. those being much more likely to have their original from such a cause then this which I have here described, in the 13. Scheme, which indeed I cannot conceive otherwise of, then as of a most perfect Vegetable, wanting nothing of the perfections of the most conspicuous and vastest Vegetables of the world, and to be of a rank so high, as that it may very properly be reckon’d with the tall Cedar of Lebanon, as that Kingly Botanist has done.

We know there may be as much curiosity of contrivance, and excellency of form in a very small Pocket-clock, that takes not up an Inch square of room, as there may be in a Church-clock that fills a whole room; And I know not whether all the contrivances and Mechanisms requisite to a perfect Vegetable, may not be crowded into an exceedingly less room then this of Moss, as I have heard of a striking Watch so small, that it serv’d for a Pendant in a Ladies ear; and I have already given you the description of a Plant growing on Rose leaves, that is abundantly smaller then Moss, insomuch, that neer 1000. of them would hardly make the bigness of one single Plant of Moss. And by comparing the bulk of Moss, with the bulk of the biggest kind of Vegetable we meet with in Story (of which kind we find in some hotter climates, as Guine, and Brasile, the stock or body of some Trees to be twenty foot in Diameter, whereas the body or stem of Moss, for the most part, is not above one sixtieth part of an Inch) we shall find that the bulk of the one will exceed the bulk of the other, no less then 2985984 Millions, or 2985984000000, and supposing the production on a Rose leaf to be a Plant, we shall have of those Indian Plants to exceed a production of the lame Vegetable kingdom no les then 1000 times the former number; so prodigiously various are the works of the Creator, and so All-sufficient is he to perform what to man would seem unpossible, they being both alike easie to him, even as one day, and a thousand years are to him as one and the same time.

I have taken notice of such an infinite variety of those smaller kinds of vegetations, that should I have described every one of them, they would almost have fill'd a Volume, and prov d bigg enough to have made a new Herbal, such multitudes are there to be found in moist hot weather, especially in the Summer time, on all kind of putrifying substances, which whether they do more properly belong to the Classis of mushrooms, or Moulds, or Mosses, I shall not now dispute, there being some that seem more properly of one kind, others of another, their colours and magnitudes being as much differing as their Figures and substances.

Nay, I have observ'd, that putting fair Water (whether Rain-water or Pump-water, or May-dew, or Snow-water, it was almost all one) I have often observ'd, I say, that this Water would, with a little standing, tarnish and cover all about the sides of the Glass that lay under water with a lovely green; but though I have often endeavour’d to discover with my Microscope whether this green were like Moss, or long striped Sea-weed, or any other peculiar form, yet so ill and imperfect are our Microscopes, that I could not certainly discriminate any.

Growing Trees also, and any kinds of Woods, Stones, Bones, &c. that have been long expos'd to the Air and Rain, will be all over cover’d with a greenish scurff, which will very much foul and green any kind of cloaths that are rubb'd against it; viewing this, I could not certainly perceive m many parts of it any determinate form, though in many I could perceive a Bed as 'twere of young Moss, but in other parts it look’d almost like green bushes, and very confus'd, but always of what ever irregular Figures the parts appear'd of they were always green, and seem’d to be either some Vegetable, or to have some vegetating principle.