Page:Flora Hongkongensis.djvu/29

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1. The principal object of a Flora of a country, is to afford the means of determining (i. e. ascertaining the name of) any plant growing in it, whether for the purpose of ulterior study or of intellectual exercise.

2. With this view, a Flora consists of descriptions of all the wild or native plants contained in the country in question, so drawn up and arranged that the student may identify with the corresponding description any individual specimen which he may gather.

3. These descriptions should be clear, concise, accurate, and characteristic, so as that each one should be readily adapted to the plant it relates to, and to no other one ; they should be as nearly as possible arranged under natural (184) divisions, so as to facilitate the comparison of each plant with those nearest allied to it ; and they should be accompanied by an artificial key or index, by means of which the student may be guided step by step in the observation of such peculiarities or characters in his plant, as may lead him, with the least delay, to the individual description belonging to it.

4. For descriptions to be clear and readily intelligible, they should be expressed as much as possible in ordinary well-established language. But, for the purpose of accuracy, it is necessary not only to give a more precise technical meaning to many terms used more or less vaguely in common conversation, but also to introduce purely technical names for such parts of plants or forms as are of little importance except to the botanist. In the present chapter it is proposed to define such technical or technically limited terms as are made use of in these Floras.

5. At the same time mathematical accuracy must not be expected. The forms and appearances assumed by plants and their parts are infinite. Names cannot be invented for all ; those even that have been proposed are too numerous for ordinary memories. Many are derived from supposed resemblances to well-known forms or objects. These resemblances are differently appreciated by different persons, and the same term is not only differently adopted by two different botanists, but it frequently happens that the same writer is led on different occasions to give somewhat different meanings to the same word. The botanist's endeavours should always be, on the one hand, to make as near an approach to precision as circumstances will allow, and on the other hand to avoid that prolixity of detail and overloading with technical terms which tends rather to confusion than clearness. In this he will be more or less successful. The aptness of a botanical description, Uke the beauty of a work of imagination, will always vary with the style and genius of the author.