Open main menu

Page:Illustrations of Indian Botany, Vol. 1.djvu/13

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



PREFACE.


IN the Preface to the Prodromus Floras Peninsulas Indiae Orientalis, will be found a brief historical sketch of the rise, progress and present state of Indian Botany. From that sketch it will be perceived that until the publication of that volume, every work since the time of Linnaeus, with the exception of DeCandolle's Systema Vegetabilium and Prodromus Systematis, treating of Indian plants, was arranged according to the Linneean sexual or artificial system. It has naturally followed that nearly all those who had devoted their leisure to the investigation of Indian plants have adopted that system, and find the study of them according to their natural affinities often exceedingly difficult if not actually irksome, even though the advantages of the latter over the former method so greatly preponderate as scarcely to admit of any comparison being instituted between the two. Instigated, therefore, partly by a long cherished wish to promote the extension of Botanical pursuits by diffusing a knowledge of species, partly by the desire of lessening to others the difficulties which beset my own path when passing from the one method of study to the other ; but principally in the hope of being able to show that for the attainment of a correct and comprehensive knowledge of the properties and uses of plants, whether as food, medicine, or in the arts, a much more direct and certain method is, through an enlarged and philosophical acquaintance with their natural affinities than by the most laborious, but empirical, search for individual properties when entered upon without any such guide as the knowledge of affinities supplies to our researches. To elucidate these affinities and at the same time to furnish the Indian Botanist with the means of identifying species this work and its Companion, the "Figures of Indian Plants" were undertaken, and even at their present early stage the author has reason to believe with much advantage towards the accomplishment of this design.

According to the natural arrangement, all plants, whether of a province, a kingdom, or of the whole world, agreeing in certain ascertained peculiarities of structure, taken not from one set of organs only, but from every part of the plant commencing with the root and ascending to the perfect seed, are grouped together as one order or family under a name derived either from a prominent genus of the group or from some striking peculiarity of the order (Ranunculaceae from Ranunculus : Cruciferae from their cruciate flowers : Leguminosae from the leguminous fruit, &c). Such groups if correctly associated according to their affinities, that is organic structure and physiological peculiarities, would, it was presumed, be found to participate in the kind and qualities of secreted products which result from the operations of organic life.

In this anticipation the philosophical investigator of nature has not been disappointed, for, so constantly does the fact agree with the theory that it is now known, except in rare instances,