Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/601

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ASPECTS OF NATURE IN THE SAHARA.

derness of green, the closely matted tree tufts presenting so dense a canopy of verdure that the eye fails to penetrate to the soil that gives it birth. For the better part of a mile this sea of green extends virtually unbroken, throwing up a brilliance of monochrome coloring which it would be difficult to conceive equaled. Upward of eighty thousand date palms are the main adornment of this patch of green, but let it not be supposed that they alone constitute the vegetation of the oasis. Following in the path of our guide, Ben-Labri, one of the Arab residents of the little adobe village of El-Kantara situated on the outside, we entered the wilderness of green by a tortuous, narrow passageway leading between the mud houses, and found ourselves in a garden lane of striking and refreshing beauty. The fact is that the apparently unbroken oasis is in reality a number of distinct garden areas, belonging individually to separate families of the village, each one walled off by its casing of stone or adobe, much in the manner of field properties of more civilized regions. Between these walls run the numerous dividing lanes, buried in that dark shade which elsewhere would hardly be possible except in a primeval forest. Tumbling brooks and water courses, most of the latter of artificial conduct, follow the lines of these lanes, or course over the separating gardens, giving to the numerous basins which have here and there been cut around the clumps of palms their needed quantity of water. What perhaps surprised us more than anything else in the construction of the oasis was the large number of trees and bushes other than those of a desert aspect which formed a part of the vegetation. Orange and lemon trees, figs, pomegranates, peaches, and dwarf apples were well mixed in with the palms, besides a multitude of other plants, of which our limited botanical knowledge could hardly determine the natural order. The carob, with its long, pendent pods, and the prickly pear or nopal, the distinctive cactus of northern Africa, were conspicuously noticeable by their abundance. Here and there the trailing vine hung its luscious fruit, although not with that richness and vigor which characterize the grape growth of North America generally; also an occasional dandelion brought memories to us of our own fields and meadows, an association in no way lessened through the presence of clumps of raspberry and blackberry.

Comparatively few of the date palms carry their shafts to a height exceeding fifty or sixty feet, the greater number of them probably not rising higher than twenty-five to thirty feet. They were heavily laden with brown or yellow fruit, which, of course, constitutes one of the staple articles of food to the native. We found them much too sweet for our taste, and while the fruit was always attainable, the bunches frequently hanging down to within a