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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/811

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789
THE EARLIEST PLANTS.

eral to such an extent as to constitute in some places one fourth of the whole; and, making every allowance for the poorer portions, this band can not contain in all a less vertical thickness of pure graphite than from twenty to thirty feet. In the adjoining township of Lochaber Sir W. E. Logan notices a band from twenty-five to thirty feet thick, reticulated with graphite veins to such an extent as to be mined with profit for the mineral. At another place in the same district a bed of graphite from ten to twelve feet thick, and yielding twenty per cent, of the pure material, is worked. As it appears in the excavation made by the quarrymen, it resembled a bed of coal; and a block from this bed, about four feet thick, was a prominent object in the Canadian department of the Colonial Exhibition of 1886. When it is considered that graphite occurs in similar abundance at several other horizons, in beds of limestone which have been ascertained by Sir W. E. Logan to have an aggregate thickness of thirty-five hundred feet, it is scarcely an exaggeration to maintain that the quantity of carbon in the Laurentian is equal to that in similar areas of the Carboniferous system.

If we ask more particularly what kinds of plants might be expected to be introduced in such circumstances, we may obtain some information from the vegetation of the succeeding Palæozoic age, when such conditions still continued to a modified extent. In this period the club-mosses, ferns, and mare's-tails engrossed the world and grew to sizes and attained degrees of complexity of structure not known in modern times. In the previous Laurentian age something similar may have happened to algæ, to fungi, to lichens, to liverworts, and mosses. The algae may have attained to gigantic dimensions, and may have even ascended out of the water in some of their forms.

Whether this early Laurentian vegetation was the means of sustaining any animal life other than marine protozoa, we do not know.

If we ask to what extent the carbon extracted from the atmosphere and stored up in the earth has been, or is likely to be, useful to man, the answer must be that it is not in a state to enable it to be used as mineral fuel. It has, however, important uses in the arts, though at present the supply seems rather in excess of the demand, and it may well be that there are uses of graphite still undiscovered, and to which it will yet be applied.

Finally, it is deserving of notice that, if Laurentian graphite indicates vegetable life, it indicates this in vast profusion. That incalculable quantities of vegetable matter have been oxidized and have disappeared we may believe on the evidence of the vast beds of iron-ore; and, in regard to that preserved as graphite, it is certain that every inch of that mineral must indicate many feet of crude vegetable matter.

It is remarkable that, in ascending from the Laurentian, we do not at first appear to advance in evidences of plant-life. The Huronian age, which succeeded the Laurentian, seems to have been a disturbed