Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/January 1891/Popular Miscellany


Intelligence in Plants.—Mr. T. D. Ingersoll, of Erie, Pa., describes, in Garden and Forest, a Madeira vine which seemed to exhibit intelligence in its growth. When it had become eighteen inches high it began, from top-heaviness, to fall away from the pot, which stood upon a table, toward the floor. "This was done gradually, and apparently with conscious care. It seemed to feel at times that it was letting itself down too fast, when it would stop with a jerk, like a nodding child half asleep." When near the floor it began describing ellipses about three inches in diameter with its upturned extremity. When twenty—seven inches long it would describe a crescent-shaped loop seventeen inches long by six inches broad in about two hours. As it grew longer, its revolutions were accomplished with less regularity, "and at times it drooped as if weary or discouraged in trying to find something upon which it might entwine itself." On one day the track of the tip of the vine was traced and measured, and found to be six feet nine inches in length. Finally, a support was provided for the plant, and it shortly afterward "began growing again as if it had recovered from what had been for six days a condition near the point of death." Another vine, during several days of cloudy weather, uncoiled itself from the stick and reached away toward the light at an angle with the horizon of some forty-five degrees. It was brought back to its support several times and coiled about the stick, but invariably left it during the continuance of the cloudy weather. Then bright weather came on, and it showed no disposition to escape from the stick or stop its twining growth. Attempts to make plants twine in a direction contrary to their natural one were firmly resisted. "All the experiments seemed to show how much like an animal was the plant in its sensitiveness, not only to changes of light and temperature, but to harsh treatment. Whenever restrained or forced, no matter how tenderly, out of its natural method of growth, all progress was retarded and the health of the vine disturbed to a marked degree. Plants seem to be creatures of feeling, and the similarity of movement and of apparent purpose between them and the lower animals are used to strengthen their theory by those who hold to the doctrine of the identity of life in the two kingdoms."

Modern Views of Consumption.—Two things are now believed to be necessary for the production of consumption: the tubercle bacillus and a disordered state of the body, such as to favor its growth—in other words, seed and a fertile soil; and if either is wanting, the disease is not produced. We never know when we may take in the germs on our food or in the air, hence we should see to it that we do not give them a fertile soil. "It is of primal consequence," says Dr. S. S. Burt, in a paper recently published in the New York Medical Record, "to elevate the tone of the tissues and the fluids that bathe them to a sanitary pitch, where they themselves are the best of germicides. Bacteria do not thrive upon such nourishment." While it is almost certain that the disease itself is not inherited, it is well established that a debased quality of blood and tissue, in which the germs of consumption find their proper food, is transmitted from parent to child. If both parents come from consumptive families their children have little chance of escaping the disease, but "a child with good blood for a legacy, even from one parent," says Dr. Burt, "has every reason to expect immunity from the disease, if he is reared intelligently. Such children must be properly clothed, very carefully fed, and encouraged to spend the greater part of their daily life in the open air."

Palm-wine.—Palm-wine is largely used as an alcoholic drink in India and other parts of Asia, the islands of the Pacific Ocean, Africa, and some parts of America. Most trees of the palm tribe contain a sap which is rich in sugar and is readily convertible into wine. This juice is collected by making cuts in the spathe or under the crown of leaves of the tree, and catching it in a cocoanut shell, gourd, or other vessel. The sugar is cane sugar, and is often prepared for itself. The richness of the juice is affected by the peculiarities of the species and of the tree, and its fermentability by the place of growth. The species used for wine are the oil-palm on the West Coast of Africa, the date-palm in northern Africa and India, the fan-palm and toddy-palm in India, the cocoa-palm in Ceylon and the islands of the Pacific, and the gommutti-palm in the Indian archipelago, the Moluccas, and the Philippines.

The Indians of Northwest Canada.—Dr. Boas, in the British Association Report on the Northwestern Tribes of the Dominion of Canada, describes the Indians of the Pacific coast as being able-bodied and muscular, with the upper limbs, owing to the strengthening of the arms and chest by the constant use of the paddle, generally better developed than the lower ones. They have a keen sight, but in old age frequently become blear-eyed. Their mental capacity is high, as is proved by the state of their culture. Whiteness of skin and slenderness of limbs are considered among the principal beauties of men and women, and long, black hair of women. In some of the tales red hair is described as a peculiar beauty of women Red paint on the face, tight-fitting bracelets and anklets of copper, nose and ear ornaments of variegated haliotis shells, and hair strewed with eagle-down, add to the natural charms. The fact that in honor of the arrival of friends the house is swept and strewed with sand, and that the people bathe at such occasions, shows that cleanliness is appreciated. The current expression is, that the house is so cleaned that no bad smell remains to offend the guest. For the same reason the Indian takes repeated baths before praying, "that he may be of agreeable smell to the deity." The Indian is grave and self-composed in all his actions; and playing is considered undignified and even bad. In the Tsimshian language the term for play means to talk to no purpose; and doing anything to no purpose is contemptible to the Indian. He is rash in anger, but does not easily lose control over his actions. He sits down or lies down sullenly for days without partaking of food, and when he rises his first thought is, not how to take revenge, but to show that he is superior to his adversary. Great pride and vanity, combined with the most susceptible jealousy characterize all actions of the Indian. He watches that he may receive his proper share of honor at festivals; he can not endure to be ridiculed for even. the slightest mistake; he carefully guards all his actions, and looks for due honor to be paid to him by friends, strangers, and subordinates. To be strong and able to sustain the pangs of hunger are evidently considered worthy of praise by the Indians; but foremost of all is wealth. It is considered the duty of every man to have pity upon the poor and hungry. Women are honored for their chastity and for being true to their husbands; children, for taking care of their parents; men, for skill and daring in hunting and for bravery in war.

Manual Training and the Brain.—In the discussion of Dr. Edward C. Kirk's paper on the Manual-training Idea as a Factor in Dental Education, in Philadelphia, Dr. J. L. Eisenbrey said that "the benefit to be derived from physical training means more than hand skill; it means the training of the brain man, the mental man; while you may show the effect of manual training in physical work, the result upon the brain does not come up until later on, lying back until the time calls for it; and you find that the men who occupy a conspicuous place, the young men in our profession, are the men who have had that training. To lay the foundation of a broad and complete education you need physical training, whether you get it in the city or country. I think that the country training is the best, from the simple fact that all over the whole land we find the places of trust in our banking institutions, the head places of our mechanical departments, and even in our schools of learning, filled by men who have been imported from the country, from the farm; who have handled the axe and the plow and the grubbing-hoe, who laid open the ditches and made of the swamps fruitful pastures. Physical training develops a good condition of physical health, and that means a healthful condition of the brain man; and, while it is a little slower, there comes a time when this healthful physical condition is shown in mental strength."

A Motherly Insect.—Among insects, as a rule, parents do not trouble themselves much about their little ones. They instinctively deposit their eggs in spots where the larva? issuing from them will find a well-provided table, and then go away, leaving the larvae to look out for themselves. Not so, says M. Albert Larbalétrier, in La Nature, with the earwigs. The female of this insect lays her eggs in the spring in bunches in a cool and dark place; then she sits on them, covering them in every way she can, leaving them only when she goes for food. If they get scattered she immediately finds it out, bestirs herself, looks about, and gathers them up, one by one, till she has got them together again. They hatch out during the first half of June. The larva? are at first white, weak, imperfect in form, and hardly able to move. If left to themselves they would certainly perish very soon. The mother, however, does not leave them any more than she did her eggs; but she takes care of them, brings them food during their first days, and then guides them to the plants in the neighborhood. The little ones, too, as if aware of their weakness, do not wander away from their mother, and at the first sign of danger gather around her as chickens around a hen. The mother stays with the larvæ through all their moltings, till they are transformed into perfect insects, when she is taken away from them by death.

The Cherokee Theory of Disease.—The Cherokee doctor, according to Mr. James Mooney, in treating disease works to drive out a ghost or a devil. According to the Cherokee myth, disease was invented by the animals in revenge for the injuries inflicted upon them by the human race. The larger animals saw themselves killed and eaten by man, while the smaller animals, reptiles, and insects were trampled upon and wantonly tortured, until it seemed that their only hope of safety lay in devising some way to check the increase of mankind. The bears held the first council, but were unable to fix upon any plan of procedure, and dispersed without accomplishing anything. Consequently, the hunter never asks pardon of the bear when he kills one. Next the deer assembled, and, after much discussion, invented rheumatism, but decreed at the same time that if the hunter, driven by necessity to kill a deer, should ask its pardon according to a certain formula, he should not be injured. Since then, every hunter who has been initiated into the mysteries, asks pardon of the slain deer. When this is neglected, through ignorance or carelessness, the "Little Deer," the chief of the deer tribe, who can never die or be wounded, tracks the hunter to his home by the blood-drops on the ground, and puts the rheumatism spirit into him. Sometimes the hunter, on starting to return to his home, builds a fire in the trail behind him to prevent pursuit by the Little Deer. Later on, councils were held by other animals, birds, fishes, reptiles, and insects, each one inventing some new disease to inflict upon humanity, down even to the grub-worm, who became so elated at the bright prospect in view that in his joy he sprang into the air, but fell over backward and had to wriggle off on his back, as the grub-worm does to this day. When the plants, who were friendly to the human race, heard what had been done by the animals, they held a council, and each plant agreed to furnish a remedy for some corresponding disease when man should call upon it for help. While the great majority of diseases are thus caused by revengeful animal spirits, some are also caused by ghosts, witches, or violations of ceremonial regulations.

Instinctive Movements of Children.—M. Alfred Binet maintains, in the Revue Philosophique, that the attempts of infants to walk are instinctive, and not the result of education. This seems to be indicated by the more or less correlated movements which an infant only three weeks old will keep up if the soles of its feet are allowed to touch lightly a suitable surface. M. Binet believes that the time at which a child learns to walk depends, not on bodily conditions only, but on its mental characteristics also. He thinks he has established as a fact that a child that can give its mind to placing its steps, and whose attention is not easily distracted, learns to walk at an earlier age and in a shorter time than more restless children; and that such children are characterized in later life by the important faculty of close application to work. He remarks that the restless movements of young infants are almost always bilateral, though the two sides may be affected either synchronously or alternately. If an India-rubber ball connected with a tracing apparatus be placed in each hand of an intelligent child, and he be told to squeeze with one hand only, the tracing almost invariably shows that the ball had also been squeezed, but with less force, by the other hand. The "reaction time"—the interval between the giving of a signal and the performance of a prearranged movement—was found to be double that in healthy adults, and the duration of the contraction three times as long. M. Binet's observations indicate, against the conclusions of Mill and Bain, that our ideas of space are instinctive. A child three months old, who, the author is certain, had never had a fall, and was therefore without experience of its discomforts, would lie contentedly across a person's outstretched arms, if the hands were placed in such a position as to prevent its slipping down. If, however, the hands and arms were depressed, so that the infant would tend to slide down, it would show its fear by at once screaming and struggling.

Philosophy of Some Assassinations.—By the customs of some countries kings are not permitted to die natural deaths, but must be killed by their successors. An attempt to explain this usage is made by Mr. J. G. Fraser, in his Golden Bough. In primitive thought kings are credited with the possession of powers of the utmost importance and value to their worshipers. In Japan the existence of the globe and all that is upon it was supposed to depend upon the well-being of the Mikado. Yet kings or man-gods were subject to the law of death like ordinary mortals; and in the case of death the soul was believed to be extracted from the body by the wiles of a demon or sorcerer, or else voluntarily to go away never to return, and in either case to be lost, with all its virtues and benefits, to the worshipers. But if the soul could be caught in the act of escaping, and in full vigor, then it might still be kept present with the people. Hence the only way of security was to kill the man-god in order to make sure of catching his soul; and to kill him when in full vigor, in order that the soul might be transferred with all its energies unimpaired to the body of a suitable successor. "The people of Congo believed that if their pontiff, the Chitomé, were to die a natural death, the world would perish, and the earth, which he alone retained by his power and merit, would be immediately annihilated. Accordingly, when he fell ill and seemed likely to die, the man who was destined to be his successor entered the pontiff's house with a rope or a club and strangled or clubbed him to death. . . . In the kingdom of Unyoro, in central Africa, custom still requires that, as soon as the king falls seriously ill or begins to break down from age, he shall be killed by his own wives; for, according to an old prophecy, the throne will pass away from the dynasty in the event of the king dying a natural death." There are instances in which the king is allowed to reign only for a definite term, fixed independently of the signs of disease and decay, and at the end of which he is either killed by his successor or he immolates himself. Formerly the reign of the king of Calicut was thus limited to twelve years, after which he was obliged to cut his throat in public. Under a subsequent modification of the rule a great feast was made at the end of the appointed time, and, when this was over, any guest who, after fighting his way through the guards, succeeded in killing the king, was allowed to reign in his stead. "So long as the king could maintain his position by the strong hand, it might be inferred that his natural force was not abated; whereas his defeat and death at the hands of another proved that his strength was beginning to fail, and that it was time his divine life should be lodged in a less dilapidated tabernacle."

The Zungarian Desert.—The desert region called Zungaria, which lies on the western borders of Mongolia, rises to a height of about twenty-five hundred feet, but descends from it at many points. The soil is chiefly composed of the clay called loess, a mixture of very fine sand and a gray or yellowish calcareous earth. This argillaceous mass is pierced, like a sponge, by numerous tubes or pores, which are often lined with incrustations formed by herbaceous plants. The winds and the rain shape these deposits into abrupt, elevated, square-cut masses. This property of forming a kind of vertical cliffs, with the porous texture and the absence of stratification, are characteristic of the loess, as is also the presence of terrestrial or lacustrine remains instead of sea-fossils. Being exceedingly fine in constitution and well charged with certain salts, the loess is generally, when well irrigated, exceedingly fertile. In all the tillable regions of central Asia, including China, it plays the same part as the "black earth" of Russia. The mountains which form on the south the western border of Zungaria are rich in minerals. Gold is an important product of the region of Khotan, where there are twenty-two mines, some of them employing three or four thousand workmen. This region has long enjoyed the honor of being the only known place where nephrite or jade was found. The beds of that rare substance are in the district of Kárakach; but the quarrying for it has greatly fallen off since the disturbances that occurred during the brief reign of Yacoub Beg in Kashgar.

A Young Trader of the Solomon Islands.—It is amusing, says Mr. Woodford, in his Naturalist among the Head-hunters, to see a mere child paddle alongside in a crazy trough of a canoe, only just capable of supporting its weight. "The water splashes into the canoe at every stroke of the paddle, and at intervals the small child kicks it overboard with his foot—a novel kind of baler. Three or four moldy-looking yams, ostentatiously displayed, are rolling about in the water at the bottom of the canoe. The unsuspecting stranger takes pity on the tender years and apparent anxiety of the small native to trade, and gives him probably four times the price for his rusty yams. The child eagerly seizes the coveted stick of tobacco, and immediately stows it for safety through a hole in his ear, where at least it will be in no danger of getting wet. He next whisks aside a dirty-looking piece of matting that has apparently got accidentally jammed in one end of the canoe, and displays some more yams, of a slightly better quality than the last. For the sake of consistency you can not well offer him less than you did before, and another stick of tobacco changes hands and is transferred to the other ear. You think now that he must have finished, as there is no place in the canoe to hide anything else, but with a dexterous jerk that nearly upsets the canoe he produces a single yam that he has been sitting upon. How it managed to escape notice before is a puzzle. For this he demands a pipe, but is not satisfied with the first or second that is shown him. No; he must have a piala tinoni, or have his yam back. The piala tinoni is a pipe with a man's face upon the bowl. But again the young trader is particular; it must also have a knob at the bottom, or he will have none of it."

Population of Cheese.—M. Adametz, of Somthal, Switzerland, has been making a census of the microscopic animalcules in cheese. In the fresh cheese of Emmenthal he finds from 90,000 to 140,000 microbes to a gramme, the number increasing with time—a cheese 71 days old had 800,000 to the gramme. The population of mild cheese (fromage mou) was still more dense. At 25 days of age it was 1,200,000; at 45 days, 200,000,000 microbes per gramme. These figures apply to the middle of the cheese, while the population is much more dense toward the outside, where it rises to from 3,600,000 to 5,600,000. At this rate, the number of living beings in 360 grammes of cheese is as great as the number of men on the globe.

Green Seeds and Early Fruit.—Correspondents of Garden and Forest remark upon the evidence afforded by recent experiments that seeds from immature fruit will give a product requiring less than the usual time to ripen, and that the earliness thus gained can be increased by continuing the selection. This has been observed, according to Dr. E. Lewis Sturtevant, at the New York Experiment Station, in the case of varieties of corn, turnip, and cabbage. At Purdue University, Indiana, a gain of from fifteen to twenty days has been obtained by early selection. Prof. Arthur, of Purdue University, has observed further that the plant as well as the fruit thus cultivated tends to early ripeness, and hence the period of fruitfulness, or the time between the first and the last ripe fruit, is much shortened. With the increase in the amount of fruit, according to Prof. Arthur, there is also a corresponding decrease in the size of the vegetative parts of the plant—that is, the stems and foliage. A tomato plant grown from green seed in the fourth generation was found to bear three and a fourth times as much fruit as top or stems and leaves together, while a similar plant from ripe seed had only one and an eighth times as much fruit as tops. It follows that, while earliness may be considered as a usual condition in all crops from unripe seed, an increase in the amount of the crop occurs only when the true fruit is the part harvested, as in tomatoes and peas, and a decrease in the amount of the crop occurs when any part besides the fruit is harvested, as in turnips and potatoes.

Imitative Coloring of Animals and Plants.—Among the later papers by Mr. Proctor in "Knowledge" is a study of color-mimicry in animals and flowers. It was suggested by observing a chameleon among the green leaves of an ivy, where it was as green as they. A fly of nearly similar color came along, and was instantly caught by the animal's nimble tongue. Afterward the chameleon settled on one of the sticks supporting the ivy, "and there it gradually assumed the same color, so far harmonizing with the stick that he seemed only an excrescence upon it, not a live creature which a short time before had been light green in color." This incident suggests some other illustrations of various forms in which color affects the development of life. Consider, continues Mr. Proctor, the striped tiger as an example of color in an animal that lives by preying on others, and the zebra as an example of color in an animal whose life depends on its not becoming the prey of carnivorous animals. "We can understand how, in certain regions, those members of feline races who chanced to have markings on their bodies which corresponded in appearance with the stems of trees, or with jungle reeds, and the like, would be better able to remain concealed till the animals which formed their prey came within certain range of their spring, and so would have the best chances of living"; and in like manner it is manifestly to the advantage of the zebra, when sleeping in the shade of trees, "to have markings on his body which from a distance would be confounded with the stems of trees and shrubs, beneath which for a while his active limbs were at rest. For so would he best escape the attacks of animals of prey. It is noteworthy that, when the zebra is stretched on the ground, the stripes on his legs as well as those on his body are vertical as seen from a distance. The same is the case in the tiger's stripes when the animal is couched for a spring." Another topic for speculation is the persistency of these imitative characteristics, which often appear as sports in the descendants of these animals ages after the purpose of their adaptation has ceased to exist. The author's attention was directed, while he was writing, to a sandy-colored cat "marked with stripes such as hundreds of thousands of years ago were of value to its remote ancestors in the struggle for life"; and a mule plowing in a field near his house had rings around his legs precisely corresponding to rings on the same parts in the zebra. In the vegetable world, color seems to be in all cases dependent on the requirements of propagation. Thus, where seeds are diffused by animals, as with the berries, we find the fruits brightly colored, to attract the attention of the animal distributors. It will be noticed that, when seeds are distributed by the winds, bright colors are not found in the fruit, even though the plant be closely allied to species distributed by animals in which the bright colors are present.

Bristling with Fire.—Photographic pictures of the smoke issuing from the mouth of a cannon at the moment it is fired show thin trails of fire about the circumference of the smoke-cloud, which give its edge the appearance of a porcupine's back bristling with quills. The trails are caused by the ignition of cubes of the pebble-powder which have been shot from the gun before the combustion was completed. Prof. W. Mattieu Williams has found, by examining the papers of Count Rumford, that he made experiments on the same subject, from which he inferred that in the ordinary firing of gunpowder in firearms the explosion must be gradual. In using powder in grains and cubes of sizes proportioned to the caliber of their guns, modern artillerists are only carrying out the principles which Rumford expounded, lie foretold the danger of firing Buch artillery as we now use with ordinary small grain powder. Such powder would explode completely before the shot could fairly be set in motion, and would produce bad effects on the gun. The modern cubes burn on their surface and thereby start the ball. They continue burning and evolving more and more gas as the ball travels along the tube, and, to be perfect, should just complete their combustion as it leaves the mouth of the gun. But this degree of perfection is not attained, and hence we have the "porcupine-quills" appearance.

Horse-Sausages.—The best Bologna sausages are made of chopped bacon and pea-flour, and are flavored chiefly with garlic and cloves. When the bacon is old, but sound, says the Sanitarian, such sausages are wholesome and highly nutritious, and are especially useful to laborers, travelers, and soldiers in camp, and others who have not the means of cooking at hand. They rarely spoil, but, being eaten uncooked, they may sometimes introduce trichinæ. The use of horse-flesh is a recent innovation in sausage manufacture, and is practiced in Italy and Belgium, as well as in this country. These horse-sausages are said to be of the Bologna variety, and the makers justify them from the wholesomeness of horse-flesh when healthy. But the meat actually used is that of animals worn out by work or made useless by disease "fit for nothing else."

The Medoc Wines.—The Médoc district of France, famous for its wines, consists of a long strip of land, extending northerly from Bordeaux and lying between the sea and the river Gironde. The best vines are grown on a surface of gravel-quartz and sand with a clay subsoil. The vine most usually grown is of a stunted variety, and seldom rises more than two feet from the ground. They first bear about five years after being planted, and continue productive for one hundred or even two hundred years. The grapes, when taken to the press-house, are stripped from the stalks and placed in large vats, some of which have a capacity of 3,240 gallons apiece. In these they are left to ferment for a period of from a week to a fortnight. after which the wine is drawn off into hogs-heads and taken to cool in well-ventilated stores. Here the casks are filled up at intervals, and the drawings-off are attended to at the proper time. Tendency to excessive fermentation is checked by drawing the wine off into casks impregnated with sulphur. The Médoc wines are classified into several grades or growths, the qualities of which are considerably capricious; and the quantity of wine produced at the several vineyards is subject to great fluctuations. Notwithstanding, however, the uncertainty of the annual return, the Médoc district is said to be of greater commercial value to France than both the better known Cognac and Champagne districts put together.