Popular Science Monthly/Volume 27/May 1885/Correspondence



Messrs. Editors:

DEAR SIRS: Some time ago I wrote to my son, Grant Allen, to say that, in that special portion of his article ("Queer Flowers") which referred to the fructification of the fig, there must, I thought, be some mistake, for I had seen a fig-tree bear a large crop of fruit, and was sure that no such pains had been taken with it as that referred to in the article in question. To this I received yesterday (March 11th) the following reply, which, though intended only for myself, I think I break no confidence in publishing: "The fig-tree question," says he, "puzzled me myself much, long ago, for the caprifico doesn't grow in England, and fig-trees bear abundantly. But all the authorities arc unanimous, and I can't go against them. There is a vast literature on the subject, caprification as they call it, and Müller in his 'Fertilization of Flowers' gives a list of ten separate works dealing with it." So that, if he has erred, he has erred cum patribus. So far for my son. Now Müller, who is a specialist on this subject, and the latest and very highest authority, tells us (see "The Mechanisms of Flowers," part iii, page 521) that "the latest researches (377, Ficus carica, L.) confirm the fact, which Linnæus (416 A.) was aware of, that the so-called caprificus which bears inedible fruit, and the fig-tree, cultivated for the sake of its fruit from time immemorial, stand in the relation of male and female to one another. Fertilization is effected by a wasp. ... In most cases, each crop of figs, whether of the fig-tree or the caprificus, brings only flowers of one sex to maturity." Again (p. 522): "While the fruit of the caprificus, whose only use is to supply pollen, remains hard and withers on the tree, or falls off without becoming sweet, the fruit of the fig-tree, when the seeds ripen, becomes sweet and juicy, and so attracts birds which disseminate the seeds. From the most ancient times, as long as the fig-tree has been cultivated, its artificial fertilization by means of the caprificus, or so-called caprification, has been practiced," and so on.

How are we to reconcile all this with the very lucid exposition and array of facts of your able correspondent in the February number of "The Popular Science Monthly." I confess I think your correspondent is in this particular right. Only that I do not wish to venture a guess—never permissible on a question of science, save tentatively—I might make one here as to how these differences might be reconciled, but I forbear.

Though my son is a keen and close observer of Nature, and a good judge of the men to be relied on for such facts as, in his yet short life, he could not have scrutinized himself personally, yet as his more especial object is to get at the heart of his facts, to read their hidden meaning, and to show how whole continents of facts, apparently disconnected and unrelated, are yet bound together by the strongest ties of consanguinity or more close or distant relationship, he has very frequently to go to the works of able specialists of repute in order to learn from them what they have observed.

Thus, for example's sake, in a late article of his in the "Cornhill Magazine" ("Go to the Ant") he had, as is obvious, to have recourse to the vast stores of observations accumulated by many able specialists in many parts of the world. Now, it is quite possible that some of these observations may in time come to be questioned by more exact observers; still, in a case like this of the fig-tree, when all practical men and scientific observers have coincided in opinion, and where "all authorities" have for over a century been "unanimous," 1 a writer is to be pardoned for thrusting aside a difficulty in his own mind, in deference to the practical judgment of the ages and the decision of all experts in the case.

I sent my son by to-day's post the number of "The Popular Science Monthly" which contained the letter of your correspondent; but I wish it to be borne in mind that the reply here given is mine, not his, save in the few words quoted from a private letter and dashed off by him in great haste. His reply, on seeing your correspondent's letter, might be very different.

Yours very truly, J. Antisell Allen.
March 12, 1885.


Messrs. Editors:

In the February number of "The Popular Science Monthly," Mr. George Pyburn, of Sacramento, says, "I have yet to see the first seedling fig," and suspects, therefore, that the seeds are generally infertile.

In 1878 I planted the seeds of an imported white Smyrna fig. They germinated abundantly, and, in the fourth year from planting, my seedling fig-tree bore fruit. I shall try this year a similar experiment with a California fig. I anticipate a similar result. The seeds are so small that they require care. They should be planted in a box, covered shallow with fine sand, and regularly watered with a sprinkler.

I think figs generally are self-fertilizing. I had one tree, however, whose fruit uniformly fell when about two thirds grown. I ascribed this to want of fertilization. Possibly the presence of the caprifico might have changed results. If so, it would follow that some varieties are self-fertilizing and others not. The "fig-wasp" is unknown here.

The "novel phenomenon" related by Mr. C. G. McMillan may be found duplicated, though not in precisely the same way, in Northern Mississippi. His fossil leaves had retained their color during untold ages. In the other case it was the resin of the pine-tree. Near the village of Iuka was lying, some twenty years ago, and perhaps is still, a petrified pine-log about two feet in diameter, a ten-pound fragment of which lies here in my study. Not only does the stone retain the color and appearance of pine-wood, but the petrified resin has the color, semi-transparency, and general appearance of real resin. The surface-land is eocene.

Isaac Kinley.
Los Angeles, Cal., March 11, 1885.


Messrs. Editors:

Mattieu Williams, in article 42 of his "Chemistry of Cookery" ("Popular Science Monthly" for January), says: "Before proceeding further I must fulfill the promise made in No. 39, to report the result of my repetition of the Indian process of preparing samp. I soaked some ordinary Indian corn in a solution of carbonate of potash, exceeding the ten or twelve hours specified by Count Rumford. The external coat was not removed even after two days' soaking." He suspects the corn was too old and dry, and that the Indians used new or freshly gathered grain.

In the first place, this is not the way to prepare samp. Samp is the Anglicized Indian name for maize parched and pounded. It came afterward to be the name for the new corn, pounded or coarsely ground. This being done before the kernels were fairly dry, it was much prized for mush or hasty-pudding.

The prepared Indian corn he refers to is called in New England hulled corn. My grandmother, whose parents were contemporary with and from the same part of the country as Count Rumford, was famous for her hulled corn.

That this method of preparing corn for food was learned from the Indians is uncertain. It was probably a Yankee invention of early date.

Grandmother's way was to put a peck of old, dry maize into a pot filled with water, and with it a bag of hard-wood ashes, say a quart. After soaking a while it was boiled until the skins or hulls came off easily. The corn was then washed in cold water to get rid of the taste of potash, and then boiled until the kernels were soft. Another way was to take the lye from the leaches where potash was made, dilute it, and boil the corn in this until the skin or hull came off. In the experiment tried by Mr. Williams, his solution of carbonate of potash was not of sufficient strength, or, if it was, the maize or corn should have been boiled. It makes a delicious dish, eaten with milk or cream.

In the early days of New England, maize was the principal grain, and was designated corn, which is the significance of the name now in all parts of the Union. Ground maize is called in New England "Indian-meal," and mixed with one third of rye-meal, fermented and baked, once constituted the principal bread of the whole country. It was called "rye-and-indian," pronounced ryningen. Boston brown bread is an imitation of it. Baked Indian is still a common appellation for a corn-meal pudding that strikes a stranger as a reminiscence of cannibalism.

P. J. F.
Clinton, Iowa, March 20, 1885.