Popular Science Monthly/Volume 64/March 1904/The Tropical Station at Cinchona, Jamaica
|THE TROPICAL STATION AT CINCHONA, JAMAICA.|
By Dr. N. L. BRITTON,
DIRECTOR-IN-CHIEF OF THE NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN.
A GREAT need in the formation of the collections of tropical and subtropical plants of the New York Botanical Garden and elsewhere in the United States has been a suitable place in the American tropics where seeds could be germinated and cuttings and seedlings grown under natural conditions for periods up to two or three years, before their transportation. Plants can be germinated and grown under glass, but in many instances it is desirable or even necessary that they should be cultivated in the open, and the care of such nurseries is far less expensive than that of propagating houses. Larger plants collected in the tropical forests are also transported to the temperate zone only with difficulty and with considerable loss unless they have been again rooted in the tropics and sent north in pots or tubs, sections of bamboo stems being readily available for this purpose. I came to realize this condition on my trip to the West Indies in the autumn of 1901, in company with Mr. Cowell, director of the Buffalo Botanic Garden, and we discussed the project for the establishment of a nursery a great deal, and concluded that in order to make as complete an exhibition of tender plants as possible in our northern conservatories such an adjunct to our work was necessary.
During Professor Underwood's recent extended visit to the island of Jamaica, while pursuing his investigation of the ferns of tropical America, he learned that the building and grounds of the colonial government at Cinchona were offered for rental and he at once communicated this fact to me. It has long been the desire of all American botanists that arrangements should in some way be made for a laboratory in the American tropics, to which investigators could conveniently go for the purpose of carrying on studies of tropical and subtropical plants growing under natural conditions, instead of under the necessarily artificial conditions which glass houses afford in the temperate zone. This matter was taken up as long ago as 1897, when the island of Jamaica was visited by Dr. D. T. MacDougal and Professor D. H. Campbell, who, at the request of other American botanists, made an examination of available sites for such a laboratory, and decided that this very place. Cinchona, was the one probably best adapted to the purpose in view. At that time, however, the Department of Public Gardens and Plantations of Jamaica was using these buildings and grounds as a part of their agricultural and horticultural system of gardens and experimental plantations, and this, together with other reasons, caused the postponement of the movement.
During the autumn of 1902 Mr. William Fawcett, the director of the public gardens and plantations of the island, was in New York, together with Sir Daniel Morris, the imperial commissioner of agriculture for the British West Indies, and at that time the matter was discussed again with them, and this gave an emphasis to the reconsideration of earlier plans, for both nursery and laboratory. The decision of the colonial government to rent Cinchona, and transfer most of the work there carried on to other plantations, was reached
only last summer, and as it was feared in Jamaica that the property might be diverted from its most desirable purposes, I concluded, after consultation with a number of persons interested, to assume the rental of the property, with the idea of carrying out both plans if possible. Dr. MacDougal immediately went to Jamaica, after Professor Underwood's return, and made the necessary arrangements for the lease and for the caretaking of the property. I communicated this action by mail to over sixty of the botanists and horticulturists of this country and Europe, who expressed the most enthusiastic appreciation of the scheme. My action was approved by the scientific directors of the New York Botanical Garden in October, and arrangements have since been made to commence the carrying out of plans both for the nursery and the laboratory, in cooperation with the Department of Public Gardens and Plantations of Jamaica.
The government of Jamaica began cultural experiments with Cinchona in 1860 with seeds sent out by Sir Joseph Hooker, from Kew, and after preliminary trials a tract of six hundred acres of land on the southern slopes of the Blue Mountains between the elevations of 4,000 and 6,000 feet was set aside as a plantation in 1868 and forty
acres planted with five species of Cinchona, the quinine trees of the Andes, A number of other trees from various parts of the world were also introduced and still flourish in this location. The reservation was increased at various times until the areas used for various experimental purposes included much more extensive plantations at the above and at lower altitudes. Headquarters for the work were established on a spur extending southward from the main range of the Blue Mountains at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. It is this central station with about ten acres of land, designated by the Jamaican government as Bellevue House and Grounds, that has been secured for the use of the garden.
The buildings include a furnished residence, stable and servants' quarters, two glass houses, three buildings suitable for laboratories and offices, a storehouse and a small building designed for lodging visitors to the station, the entire suite being admirably adapted for the purposes for which it has been secured.
The grounds contain a large number of introduced ferns, shrubs and trees, together with many native species. The valley of the Clyde River at an elevation of about 3,000 feet is within a mile; New Haven Gap and Morse's Gap, three miles distant at a level not much different from the station, furnish unequaled opportunities for the examination of a primitive tropical forest. The summit of John Crow peak may be reached from Morse's Gap, and here at an elevation of 6,000 feet the forest of tree ferns is so luxuriant that a view of the surrounding lower country is obtained with difficulty. The wealth of ferns, hepatics and other lower forms as well as of seed-plants that may be found here is remarkable. In addition, the flora of the coastal region of the island, and the vast collections in Hope Gardens and Castleton Gardens place within easy reach of the visitor an enormous number of species native to regions with a range of conditions from the most humid to those of extreme aridity. The algal flora of the coast is also easily accessible.
The government record proves the general climatic conditions prevalent at Cinchona to be very equable. Thus the lowest temperature reached in the winter of 1899-00 was 53.90° and the highest temperature of the following summer was 70.4°.
The station at Cinchona is in direct communication with Kingston, a city of 60,000 inhabitants, from which place nearly all supplies are obtained.
In addition to the facilities offered by the station at Cinchona, the government of Jamaica, by the courtesy of Hon. Wm. Fawcett, director of the Public Gardens and Plantations, has granted to the garden substantial privileges which will be of great value to visiting investigators. Among these may be mentioned the opportunities for study at Hope Garden, which lies near sea-level near Kingston, including the use of a table in the laboratory, and of the library of about twelve hundred volumes. Botanists are also to be allowed to withdraw books from this library for use at Cinchona under conditions imposed by Mr. Fawcett. Castleton Garden and the other plantations of the government are likewise open to the student.
All persons who may apply for permission to study at Cinchona must submit such evidence as the director-in-chief of the New York Botanical Garden may require that they are competent to pursue investigation to advantage. While in residence at Cinchona they will be under the supervision of the Hon. William Fawcett, director of Public Gardens and Plantations, to whose interest and advice the establishment of this American Tropical Laboratory is largely due.