Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/68

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
64
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

their names stand for a certain attitude of thought toward things more or less familiar or things entirely new and strange.

The English stock that colonized the greater part of the Atlantic seaboard of North America, very early left the marks of its language on hill, valley and stream, and on fauna and flora. What objects it did not designate with old world names were called by the names known to the aboriginal peoples—Indian names—usually much altered phonetically. In some instances names were invented directly as expressive of some notable characteristic, and, again, some few were borrowed from the languages of alien settlers. A very large proportion of the names of natural objects in America are transplanted old world names, a fact not at all surprising when we consider the general similarity in topographical features and in the life forms, both plant and animal, of eastern North America and western Europe, notably England. A comparison of the forest trees of North America with those of western Europe shows that a large proportion of the various kinds are common to both sides of the Atlantic. The settlers found much the same aspect of woodland that they had known at home. There were oaks and beeches little different from those of Europe. The same was true of the pines, firs, spruces and larches, and of the birches, alders, aspens and poplars. The maple, elm, ash, plane tree, chestnut, walnut, cherry, hazel and dogwood were broadly recognized as familiar trees, though differing somewhat from their transatlantic representatives. The comparatively few trees that were entirely strange to the early colonists, as the hickory, sassafras, persimmon, magnolia, buckeye and tulip tree, came to be known, for the most part, by their aboriginal names, though much corrupted both in spelling and in speech. The two last named trees—the buckeye and the tulip—were so called, the first from the fancied resemblance of its nut to the eye of a deer (a true backwoodsman's comparison), and the tulip tree from its gorgeous blossoms. Beverley in his 'History of Virginia' (1705) speaks of 'the large Tulip Tree, which we call a Poplar.' The tree is not a poplar, but belongs with the magnolias, and the compound 'tulip poplar,' frequently used at the present time, is an unfortunate misnomer. The general similarity of the forests of eastern North America and western Europe is the result of certain geological conditions, among which was a once more or less continuous land connection between the northern portions of the two continents, together with a climate that allowed of a very wide dispersal of plants and animals. Among mammals, the bear, wolf, fox, deer, hare or rabbit, weasel, otter, badger, beaver, squirrel and others were recognized as being closely allied to similar old world types. But with the curious racoon and opossum, the colonists knew of no European animals in any way like them, and we find John Clayton, in 1693, naïvely writing of the racoon as 'a Species of a Monkey.' Besides