Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/45

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SOME CURIOUS VEGETABLE GROWTHS.

tute mimic chambers large enough for a standing man to conceal himself in them.

Among the other arboreal wonders of Peradenia are the giant bamboos, which are a marvel to all visitors. They here form thickets along the banks of the stream, a hundred feet high, and as many feet wide, bending their great heads, like the waving plume of a giant, high over the river and the adjoining road. On a nearer approach, each of the thickets is seen to consist of cylindrical stems a foot or two thick, which, closely crowded together below on a common root—offshoots from a creeping stem—diverge as they rise, and bear on slight, nodding branches dense tufts of the most delicate foliage. These gigantic trees are nothing but grasses. Like all grass-holms, their great hollow reed-stem is divided into joints; but the sheath of the leaf, which is represented in our tender grasses by a thin scale at the base of the leaves, becomes in these gigantic bamboos a hard, woody plate, that might without further preparation serve the purpose of an armor for the whole breast of a strong man. A three-year-old child could hide itself in one of the joints of the stem.

Not less interesting than the bamboos and the palms proper are the groups of thorny climbing palms, or rattans (calamus), with their fine waving feather-leaves. Their slender but hard and elastic stems, no thicker than one's finger, climb into the tops of the highest trees, and may reach a length of three or four hundred feet. They are the longest of all plants.

Herr Haeckel also speaks of the mangroves, whose branching roots form impenetrable thickets at the mouths of the large rivers; of the cactus-shaped wolf's-milk (Euphorbia antiquorum), with its naked blue-green prismatic limbs, near the rock-temple of Kaduwella; and of the Buddha-trees, Bogas, or sacred fig-trees (Ficus religiosa), generally found near the Buddhist temples, which with their venerable stems, fantastic roots, and colossal crowns of foliage, form a prominent feature in the picturesque surroundings of those buildings. "Their leaves, which are heart-shaped, with long stalks, quiver like our aspens." At one end of the town of Cultura, a magnificent banyan-tree (Ficus Indica) spans the road with its arch of roots. The gigantic trunk has thrown out air-roots which have grounded themselves on the opposite side of the road, and have grown up into large stems. These form now, together with the main stem, a high Gothic archway, to which picturesqueness is added by the ferns, orchids, and climbing vines that have grown upon the trunk. Near it is an India-rubber tree, whose buttressed roots, entwined together and rising in high lattices, form a labyrinth, in the sinuosities of which, when Haeckel visited the place, hosts of children were amusing themselves with playing at hide-and-seek.

Australia possesses a diversified flora, consisting partly of forms peculiarly its own, partly of those allied to African and South American