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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/202

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

cellar of the wine merchant, barring the door from within and threatening summary eviction and what not! Is it not a fearful parasite which, having found lodging in the tissues of its unwilling host, swells to proportions vast, a hidden tumor, sending its human victim all too soon forth from his tenement of clay?

Even when not thus associated with the destruction of nobler forms, fungi are nevertheless held suspect. At best and largest they are odd, peculiar, hiding in out-of-the-way places, far from "the warm precincts of the cheerful day"; "off color," as men say, and owing little or no allegiance to our sovereign sun; pale, ghastly things whose homes are with the dead.

It remained for modern Science to dignify the world; nothing shall be stranger to her touch benign. Even the fungi come into prominence as they come into light. Odd as they may appear and mysterious too, they, like some odd and peculiar people, do greatly improve upon acquaintance. Certainly no one can look in upon a basket of Boleti fresh from August woods and not greatly admire their delicate tints, their yellows, purples, browns, and grays. Fungi, once for all, are plants, for the most part very simple ones too; in their larger forms more commonly useful than noxious, and positively sources of serious injury and detriment in those species only which to mankind at large are unseen, unknown, and unsuspected. To these reference will be made again; for the present let us consider such forms only as meet the eye of ordinary observation, the common denizens of forest and of field.

Assuming the vegetable nature of fungi, the most notable thing about them, as compared with all surrounding vegetation, is their color. Growing plants are green; Whitney says the words are synonymous. But whatever the colors fungi may take on, and they are often brilliantly tinted, they are never green, at any rate in the sense of possessing leaf-green. Without exception the fungi are chlorophyl-less. This, though a negative quality, is, nevertheless, a very convenient one, and withal expressive, for it defines exactly the place these plants must hold in the economy of nature. Chlorophyl, as is well known, gives to ordinary plants their special and peculiar ability, namely, the power to elaborate the most important organic products—starch, sugar, and the like. This power, accordingly, the chlorophyl-less fungi have not. They are strictly non-productive plants; all that they have they receive. Likewise bringing to the feast of life naught save appetite, they must needs lay under contribution, living or dead, the whole organic world, and are parasites or saprophytes according to their dietary habits. Such as derive their nourishment from dead organic matter are saprophytes, while those which assail living organisms, and derive food-supply direct from the living tissues of living hosts, are properly enough called parasites.