Popular Science Monthly/Volume 5/May 1874/Miscellany


Relics of an ancient Malayan Civilization.—At the November meeting of the California Academy of Sciences, photographs of curious hieroglyphics, cut in wood and found on Easter Island, were received from Mr. Thomas Croft, of Papeeti, Tahiti. In accordance with vague traditions current among the natives, they were supposed to represent the written language of some pre-historic race. The stone idols found on the island exhibit a refined form of art, and other relics found there go to prove that the present population are the degenerate relics of a once powerful nation. In the letter accompanying the hieroglyphics, Mr. Croft stated, from the best information he could obtain, that none except the priests, and a chosen few, could decipher these strange characters. At a recent meeting of the Academy, another letter from Mr. Croft was read, in which he stated that he had found a native of the island who could read them, and who was going to teach him the language, so that he will shortly be able to translate them. Mr. Croft thinks that he has discovered the relics of a great Malayan empire, which extended its power over that part of the ocean at some former period of the island's history.

Deposits in Steam-Boilers.—Prof. S. Dana Hayes, writing in the American Chemist about deposits in boiler-flues, says that they are of two kinds, both of which are capable of corroding the iron rapidly, especially when the boilers are heated and in operation. The most common one consists of soot (nearly pure carbon) saturated with pyroligneous acid, and contains a large proportion of iron if the deposit is an old one, or very little iron if the deposit has been recently formed. The other has a basis of soot and very fine coal-ashes (silicate of alumina) filled with sulphur acids, and containing more or less iron, the quantity depending on the age of the deposit. The pyroligneous deposits are always caused by want of judgment in kindling and managing the fires. The boilers being cold, the fires are generally started with wood; pyroligneous acid then distills over into the tubes, and, collecting with the soot already there, forms the nucleus for the deposit, which soon becomes permanent and more dangerous every time wood is used in the fireplace afterward. The sulphur-acid deposits derive their sulphur from the coal used; but the base, holding the acids, is at first occasioned by cleaning or shaking the grates, soon after adding fresh charges of coal. Fine ashes are thus driven into the flues at the opportune moment for them to become absorbents for the sulphur compounds distilling from the coal, and the corrosion of the iron follows rapidly after the formation of these deposits.

Conditions affecting the Sex of Off-spring.—In the American Naturalist for January, Dr. John Stockton-Hough has an elaborate article on "The Relationship between Development and the Sexual Condition in Plants." His conclusions are: 1. That in plants, and animals as well, that are actively occupied in vegetative, physiological, pathological, or other efforts which are antagonistic or complementary to the office of reproduction, the proportion of females born during such times is greater than where the plant or animal has reached full developmental maturity and growth, is in good health, and is occupied principally in the process of reproduction. In the latter condition offspring of a higher developmental condition are produced, and the proportion of males is increased. 2. Females are in better condition, more troubled by disease, or other process antagonistic to reproduction, where they conceive with females than with males; and they are poorer, because more exhausted and less healthy, by the production of female offspring, than by male products. 3. It is just possible that the ovules from which females are derived may have a higher initial vitality, though they be less highly developed than those from which males are derived, yet no egg can properly be said to be predestined to be male or female. 4. That female plants, like female animals, are less highly developed than males, and are the result of an inferior developmental reproductive effort on the part of the female parents.

Axial Buds in the Juglans Nigra.—In most plants there is a single bud in the axil of the leaf known as the "axillary bud." In the hickories, walnuts, and some others, there are two or more, one above another, known as supra-axillary buds. When remarking on the sexual characters of the buds of Juglans nigra, before the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, the specimens I used in illustration made this clear. The abstract in The Popular Science Monthly for April states that the several-sized buds are on the same tree. It should be at the same node or axis. Of the three buds, one above another, the upper or largest produces a strong branch; the second in order and in size, a female flower; and the lowest, smallest, and least organized, the male catkin. The illustration is very pretty. No one should be satisfied to read about it, but examine the walnut-trees and see for himself.

Thomas Meehan, Philadelphia.

The Potato-Disease.—It is quite certain that the same stock grown on the same land, for several years in succession, deteriorates considerably; and, as the vigor of the plant declines, it becomes more and more susceptible to toe influence of unfavorable weather. It will generally be found, says the Gardeners' Magazine, that in a year of disease the sorts regarded by the cultivator with interest as novelties, turn out the best; while those that have been grown on the same spot for several years, suffer most severely. The novelties usually come from a distance, and, irrespective of their intrinsic merits as varieties, they have this peculiar advantage, that they were raised on a different soil, and to some slight extent in a different climate from that they are used to depend on for subsistence.

Generally speaking, says the same magazine, the best seed for strong soils is that raised on peat and bog lands, and seed of excellent quality may be obtained from dry, calcareous soils and newly-broken, sandy pastures. It is very much the custom in England for traders who have to provide largely of seed-potatoes for their customers, to send certain sorts to growers occupying such lands, in order to secure vigorous stocks for cultivation the next year on strong, productive lauds. The seed so obtained produces a cleaner crop in a bad season, and a heavier crop in a good season, than seed of the same sorts that has not enjoyed a change of soil for many years. Hence, purchased seed is, as a rule, better than that of the same sort home-grown.

Microscopic Aspects of the Potato-Disease.—Mr. Wenham, writing in the Microscopical Journal on the subject of potato-blight, says that a fungus, from the universal presence of the spores in damp localities, and its rapid growth, may appear simultaneously with morbid conditions, and yet not be the primary cause. The grape-vine disease, being cuticular, may be readily traced by the microscope to a fungoid origin, and this origin is further proved by the action of the sulphur-cure, so destructive to fungi in confined localities. This is of no avail in the potato-disease, which, under conditions favorable to its development, is internal and constitutional.

On placing a very thin slice of potato (taken at any time of the year) under the microscope, the cells are seen to be filled with starch-granules, and the walls coated with a layer of active protoplasm of the usual molecular appearance. In the healthy cell, this protoplasm, when seen under the highest powers, with suitable illumination, has a vibratory motion, with feeble currents, in various directions. On approaching the vicinity of the diseased portion, the cell-walls begin to appear of a light-brown color, and wherever the least tinge of this becomes apparent there is no movement, nor can any protoplasm be detected adhering to the wall of the cell, which from that time is a dead member.

Tracing the cell-walls farther, the color deepens, and the septa become thicker, till at last the walls split, giving the now rotten cell a detached appearance; but, from the first indication of disease to the final rotten state, no vital activity can be discovered. In all the phases the starch-granules remain unaltered, completely resisting this peculiar decomposition. The disease is evidently located throughout the tuber, in the substance of the cell-walls. Of its origin Mr. Wenham offers no opinion.

English Honors to an American Astronomer.—The British Royal Astronomical Society has awarded a gold medal to Prof. Simon Newcomb, Astronomer-in-Chief of the United States Observatory at Washington, for his Tables of Neptune and Uranus, and for other valuable astronomical work. The "Investigation of the Orbit of Uranus, with General Tables of its Motion," is the result of fifteen years of labor under the immediate supervision of Prof. Newcomb. Prof. Cayley, of the Astronomical Society, in presenting the medal to Dr. Huggins for transmission to Prof. Newcomb, spoke in very high terms of commendation of the Washington astronomer, and concluded as follows: "Prof. Newcomb's writings exhibit, all of them, a combination, on the one hand, of mathematical skill and power; and, on the other hand, of good, hard work, devoted to the furtherance of astronomical science. The memoir on the lunar theory contains the successful development of a highly-original idea, and cannot but be regarded as a great step in advance in the method of the variation of the elements and in theoretical dynamics generally. The two sets of planetary tables are works of immense labor, embodying results only attainable by the exercise of such labor under the guidance of profound mathematical skill—and which are needed in the present state of astronomy. I trust that, imperfectly as my task is accomplished, we have done well in the award of our medal."

Nature's Distribution of Trees.—In a note presented to the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, Mr. Thomas Meehan held it to be an error to suppose that trees are by nature placed in conditions best suited to their growth. Almost all of our swamp-trees grow much better when they are transferred to drier places, provided the land is of fair quality. He referred, among others, to sweet bay, red maple, weeping-willow, and other trees, as within his own repeated observations growing better out of swamps than in them. The reason why they originate in swamps is that their seeds can germinate only in damp places, and, of course, in the state of nature, the tree remains where the seed has germinated. Plants, as a general rule, even those known as water-plants, prefer to grow out of water, except those which grow almost entirely beneath the surface. The Taxodium distichum, in the Southern swamps, sends up "knees" from various points, often as large as old-fashioned beehives, and several feet above the surface. Not only is the cypress as large when growing in good, rather dry ground, as when growing in swamps, but the tendency to throw up these knees is in a measure lost. With the general facts before us, of the antipathy of swamp-plants to submersion, Mr. Meehan thinks it safe to conclude that these root-excrescences were the result of an effort of the plant to counteract the law which held it, so to speak, in the place of its birth.

Determination of Oxygen dissolved In Water.—At the weekly meeting of the Lyceum of Natural History on Monday, February 16th, as we learn from the Engineering and Mining Journal, Prof. Wurtz read a paper on subaërial oxidation. The author is well known to have been for some time engaged in the study of the problems connected with the water-supply of cities. Among these problems, the question of what becomes of the nitrogenous compounds contained in sewage when poured into a running stream, is one of the most important. Oxidation goes on by the action of oxygen dissolved in the water, and Prof Wurtz has long been studying the means of ascertaining the presence of oxygen in a given water, and of measuring its quantity. To do this he uses a color-test, employing for that purpose pyrogallene, which turns brown under the action of even infinitesimal quantities of oxygen. A sample of water is first made alkaline, and then a drop or two of a concentrated solution of pyrogallene in alcohol is added. If oxygen is present, the result is a brown tint; but, if an aqueous solution of pyrogallene is used, a beautiful pink is sometimes produced. With liquids containing infinitesimal quantities of oxygen, the aqueous solution of the reagent gives a pink color which gradually passes to purple and finally to brown. The depth of the color, therefore, varies with the amount of oxygen, and permits the estimation of the quantity present by the use of graduated standards.

English Fish in Indian Waters.—In December, 1867, Mr. Mclvor, Superintendent of the Chinchona Plantations, on the Nilghiri Hills, in Southern India, took out carp, tench, trout, and other fish, with which he has now stocked the rivers, streams, and lakes, of the Nilghiris. The trout have not succeeded well, but the growth and increase of the tench have been marvelous. The first English fish were put in the lake at Utakamund, in August, 1869. In 1871 and 1872 the streams flowing into the lake were well stocked with fish, and for the last few months they have been caught in large numbers by the natives, and sold in the markets. The tench greatly predominate. One interesting fact is that many European fish have been caught below the great Kalhutty water-fall, showing that they have survived after being carried down the highest fall from the Nilghiris, in the descent of the Utakamund Lake and River to the plains. It may, therefore, be expected that the rivers from the foot of the hills to the sea will eventually be stocked with English tench.

A Clever Shepherd-Dog.—At a field trial of shepherd-dogs held at Bala, in Wales, last October, for a prize of fifty guineas, one of the contestants, a pure-bred Scotch colley, named Sam, performed some marvelous feats which have earned for his portrait a place in the American Agriculturist. The duty the dog had to perform was, to drive three sheep, just released from the fold, into a pen with an entrance six feet wide at about five hundred yards' distance. The difficult nature of the performance was increased by the great wildness of the small, wiry mountain-sheep of Wales, which leads them to go in any direction rather than the right one, and each one to scamper off in its own chosen direction. Sam, however, was not to be defeated, and, "surrounding" his three wayward sheep by rapidly-executed flank-movements, had them safely penned in eleven minutes and a half. Sam's next performance was rendered more difficult of accomplishment by sundry unlucky accidents. A flock of geese got mixed up with the sheep, but Sam cleverly extricated his flock. Then two of the sheep jumped over a stone-wall, and the third leaped into the river. Sam persuaded two to come back again, and then hauled the third out of the water by the scruff of the neck and soon had them all in the pen. But, by a mistake of his master, Sam lost too much time, and although his performances were by far the best in other respects, he was adjudged only the third place in the competition.

Eozoon Canadense.—It was the occasion of a great surprise to geological savants, when it was announced that the hitherto so-called azoic rocks of the Laurentian formation contained fossil remains. Certain dark-green spherules, not larger than pin-heads, were found speckling the mass, like caraway seeds in a cake. These specks were of hard green-stone, or serpentine. In Northern New York a limestone formation exists, in which these green spherules abound to such an extent as to color or mottle the rock, so that it is called verd-antique marble. These green globules are the same with those in the rocks of the St. Lawrence.

They have now for a few years been known by the name Eozoon Canadense. Mr. H. J. Carter, in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History, as cited in the American Journal of Science, seems to have given Eozoon Canadense its death-blow. He declares that it is not a Zoraminifer, or calcareous rhizopod secretion. It was argued, by those who claimed for it a fossil character, that it was a Zoraminifer infiltrated with serpentine. Mr. Carter has made a study of infiltrated specimens of Nummulites, Orbitoides, and other minute fossils from the Eocene of Western India. These well preserved their foraminiferous structure. But of the Eozoon Canadense he says: "In vain do we look for the casts of true foraminiferous chambers at all in the grains of serpentine; they, for the most part, are not sub-globular, but sub-prismatic." He declares himself "at a loss to conceive how the so-called Eozoon Canadense can be identified with foraminiferous structure, except by the wildest conjecture."

If, then, this absence of structure thus puts out the claim of this so-called Eozoon, or "dawn of life," may it not be timely to ask what evidence of structure there may be in the so-called organism on which the recent attempt has been made to prove the existence of land-plants in the Silurian?

Jasmine flowering early.—For a little time the opening of the winter was severe, after which, until about the close of January, the season was exceptionally mild. It told on the budding of trees generally. At Washington, the Jasminum nudiflorum, a Japanese species of jasmine, is cultivated in the open air. This plant burst into bloom about the first of January, some twenty days earlier than is its habit in that latitude.