Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/43

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SOME CURIOUS VEGETABLE GROWTHS.

of Prince Schwartzenberg, in Bohemia. In these forests are beech trees a hundred to a hundred and twenty feet high, with trunks three or four feet in diameter; and pyramidal pines, four to eight feet in diameter, and towering to a height of from one hundred and twenty to two hundred feet. The dense foliage of these gigantic plants excludes the rays of the sun, and keeps all around them in impenetrable obscurity. The voices of the birds are hushed, and the silence of the solitude is broken only by the soughing of the wind through the foliage of the colossal trees. Old trees, which have fallen and decayed, furnish a rich and congenial base in which young larches and pines readily take root, and from which they may grow for centuries, drawing nourishment from the juices supplied from the slowly rotting trunk. This, at least, appears to be the case with the trees in our cut, which represents an actual group of trees growing upon the trunk of a fallen ancestor, some of which are nearly as large as the decaying monster itself, while that still keeps its shape.

Herr Haeckel, in the "Letters of Indian Travel" which he is publishing in the "Deutsche Rundschau," gives some glowing descriptions of the beautiful and curious forms of tropical vegetation which he met in the forests and jungles and gardens of Ceylon. Down in the valley away below him, as he journeyed by rail from Kandy to Peradenia, he observed in the jungles which alternate with the cultivated lands, towering above all the other trees, the giant stems of the talipat palm (Corypha umbraculifera), "queen among the palms of Ceylon." Its perfectly straight white trunk resembles a slender marble pillar, and often rises to a height of more than a hundred feet. Each one of the fan-shaped leaves of its stately crown covers a semicircle sixteen feet in diameter, or a surface of two hundred square feet. Numerous applications are made of the leaves, the most important, perhaps, being for purposes of thatching. They formerly constituted the only substitute which the Singlalese had for paper, and are still used to a considerable extent for that purpose. The ancient puskola manuscripts in the Buddhist cloisters were all written with iron styles on ola-paper, or narrow strips of talipat-leaves prepared by steeping and drying them. The talipat blooms but once in its life, generally between its fiftieth and eightieth year. The magnificent pyramid of flowers rises from the top immediately above the mass of the foliage, to a height of thirty or forty feet, and is composed of millions of little whitish yellow blossoms; and the tree dies as soon as the nuts are ripe.

On the road between Colombo and Point de Galle, although the general character of the landscape varied but little, the traveler's eye was never tired, for the constant charm of the cocoa and the inexhaustible variety in the grouping of the palms prevented any monotony. The delicately feathered leaves of the cocoas, with the fanning of the sea-breezes, tempered the heat of the sun. without excluding his rays.