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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/111

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103
THE NEW FIELD BOTANY.

trade as so many duplicates all taken in bloom, but the time of year, locality, and the various conditions of growth were all unknown.

His implements for work were, first, a can or basket, a plant press, and a manual; and, secondly, a lot of paper, a paste pot, and some way of holding the mounts in packets or pigeonholes.

The eyes grew keen as the hunter scoured the forest and field for some kind of plant he had not already possessed. There was a keen relish in discoveries, and it heightened into ecstasy when the specimen needed to be sent away for a name and was returned with his own Latinized and appended to that of the genus.

This was all well and good so far as it went, but looked at from the present vantage ground there was not so much in it. However, his was an essential step to other things, as much so as that of the census taker.

We need to know the species of plants our fair land possesses, and have them described and named. But when the nine hundred and ninety-nine are known, it is a waste of time to be continually hunting for the thousandth. Look for it, but let it be secondary to that of an actual study of the great majority already known. The older botany was a study of the dried plants in all those details that are laid down in the manuals. It lacked something of the true vitality that is inherent in a biological science, for often the life had gone out before the subject came up for study. To the phytoecologist it was somewhat as the shell without the meat, or the bird's nest of a previous year.

Since those days of our forefathers there has come the minute anatomy of plants, followed closely by physiology; and now with the working knowledge of these two modern branches of botany the student has again taken to the field. He is making the wood-lot his laboratory, and the garden, so to say, his lecture room. He has a fair knowledge of systematic botany, but finds himself rearranging the families and genera to fit the facts determined by his ecological study. If two species of the same genus are widely separated in habitat, he is determining the factors that led to the separation. Why did one smart weed become a climber, another an upright herb, and a third a prostrate creeper, are questions that may not have entered the mind of the plant collector; but now the phytoecologist finds much interest in considering questions of this type. What are the differences between a species inhabiting the water and another of the same genus upon dry land, or what has led one group of the morning-glory family to become parasites and exist as the dodders upon other living plants?

The older botanist held his subject under the best mental illumination of his time, but his physical light, that of a pine knot