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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 81/November 1912/A Round-The-World Botanical Excursion

THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

NOVEMBER, 1912




A ROUND-THE-WORLD BOTANICAL EXCURSION
By Professor CHARLES J. CHAMBERLAIN

UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

IN August, 1911, it was my good fortune to start on an extensive botanical expedition under the auspices of the University of Chicago. The principal places visited included the Sandwich Islands, Fiji Islands, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Teneriffe, from which place the return to Chicago was by way of London and New York. The trip was unique in that I went entirely alone and for the purpose of making a strictly scientific investigation of the oriental cycads, a group which is not even suspected of having any economic importance.

The cycads are a gymmosperm family whose remote ancestors were abundant in the Paleozoic age, and whose less remote ancestors were abundant and had a world-wide distribution in the Mesozoic. Now, only nine genera remain, and these are confined to tropical and subtropical regions, and even there they are very local in their distribution. Four genera are western and five eastern. Of our four western genera, one ranges from Florida to Chili, two are found only in Mexico and one, only in Cuba. Of the eastern genera, one ranges from Japan to Australia, two are found only in Australia and two only in South Africa.

Having already made a ten years' study of the American forms, especially the Mexican genera, which I had collected during four visits to the Mexican tropics, it was necessary to make a similar study of the oriental forms before any safe conclusions could be drawn in regard to relationships and evolutionary tendencies. Now, with abundant material of all the genera and many of the species, a study of development and evolutionary tendencies should yield valuable results, especially since the Paleozoic ancestors are becoming well known through the researches of various English botanists, and the Mesozoic forms are being cleared up by Professor Wieland, of Yale.

A glance at a globe or map will show that the trip was not only round the world from east to west, but also more than half the way around from north to south; further, that nearly all the journey was by water; about three months on the water, with less than three weeks by rail, and about three months on foot, or, occasionally, on horseback. Another glance at the globe will show that there was no need for any tongue but English. Why should there be a Volupuk or Esperanto, when English is becoming the universal language? Faddists may complain that English is too difficult, but most of the Maoris in New

PSM V81 D424 Dense forest at ohakune new zealand.png

Fig. 1. Dense Forest at Ohakune, New Zealand.

Zealand speak it, and my Maori guides spoke it even better than the average American high-school girl, for the Maori guides speak English without slang. Many of the Zulus in Africa now speak our language. The stay in New Zealand was brief, only four weeks, but by confining my attention to the north island and following the suggestions of Professor Thomas, the botanist of the University College at Auckland, I was able to see a great deal of the botany of that peculiar region. New Zealand is well within the temperate zone, but not far enough south for severe winters, so that the landscape is green all the year round, most of the trees which shed their leaves at regular intervals being exotics like the willow and poplar. Late in September several species of willows and poplars were just coming into leaf and the apples, peaches and cherries were in full bloom, for September is spring and January is midsummer.

There are splendid forests in the north island, but there are also large areas covered by the bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and worthless, but very dense shrubs. When once cleared, the ground is valuable, for it is extremely fertile and the climate is ideal for raising crops. New Zealand has a hearty welcome for the settler, and the country is prosperous, so prosperous that it is hard to get a man to carry a camera or collecting outfit, for every man has a job and every boy is in school. I did not see a beggar in New Zealand. Women vote under the same conditions as men and neither the country nor the m women seem to have suffered any damage.

After tramping for several days in the vicinity of Auckland, I divided the rest of my time between the forests of Ohakune and Owharoa, and the hot springs district about Eotorua.

The forests about Ohakune consist principally of two conifers, Podocarpus and Dacrydium, both large trees, reaching a diameter of six or seven feet and a height of nearly 200 feet. The branching is mostly in the upper third of the tree, and, consequently, the lumber, which resembles white pine, is very clear. The saw mill at Ohakune and the methods of lumbering are not on so large a scale as in our own forests. A six-foot log must be split before it goes to the saw.

Ohakune is a botanist's paradise. While there is no need of an ax to clear the way, the forest is like a labyrinth and one must take great care not to get lost. (Fig. 1.) In a Mexican forest one never gets lost, because the necessary use. of the machete blazes a trail which one can easily follow back; but in this labyrinth at Ohakune, without any thread, I got lost within half a mile of my hotel. The tree ferns, Dicksonia and Cyathea, are abundant, while smaller ferns cover the ground and hang from the trees. In our own flora only two families of ferns, the Osmundaceæ and Polypodiaceæ, form any conspicuous feature of the landscape; but at Ohakune all the seven time-honored families are present and abundant.

Snow falls every winter, often a couple of inches deep on the level. This was a great surprise to me, for I had always associated the filmy ferns and tree ferns with rather tropical conditions, but here the snow collects in the nests formed by the crowns of the larger ferns, while it entirely covers the smaller filmy ferns. Two much-prized species, the prince's feather (Todea superba), a magnificent fern almost never seen in conservatories, and the kidney fern (Trichomanes reniforme) are very abundant here.

The object of the trip to Owharoa was to see the kauri forests (Fig. 2). The kauri (Agathis australis) is the most important timber tree of New Zealand and it also furnishes the gum from which dammar

PSM V81 D426 The kauri at owharoa nz agathis australis.png

Fig. 2. Agathis australis, the Kauri, at Owharoa, New Zealand.

varnish is made. It reaches a height of 200 feet and a diameter of eighteen feet; but this is exceptional, specimens eight feet in diameter being regarded as very large trees. The trunk is straight and symmetrical and often measures a hundred feet up to the first branches, with a diameter of five or six feet where the branching begins; and, consequently, the lumber is very clear, closely resembling a very high grade of white pine. The forest is not at all pure, for there are many other kinds of trees, some of them not very important as timber. The methods of lumbering are as wasteful as in our own country, the fallen timber being allowed to thunder down the mountain side, tearing up all the smaller trees in its path. Since the large kauris are thousands of years old, some estimates running as high as 5,000 years, a timber company could hardly be expected to make any serious attempt at reforesting. However, there are a few government preserves, so that the big tree will not become entirely extinct. New Zealand has advanced ideas on conservation, for its recreation, forest and scenic reserves already include about 3,000,000 acres.

To the average traveler, the thermal region about Eotorua is the most interesting place in New Zealand. An oasis in the desert, or a park in a city, is easily superior to its surroundings; but a health resort in the healthiest country in the world must have inherent advantages of the highest order. Eotorua is recognized as the Baden Baden of the South Seas, and probably no springs in the world surpass those of the Eotorua district, for some springs are boiling hot, some are warm and some are cold; some are clear as crystal, and some consist of boiling, spluttering mud. The mineral properties are no less varied than the appearance and the temperature. The government has erected an extensive series of baths where one may get a good bath for as little as three pence. 'Whether the baths have all the curative properties claimed for them may be a question, but they are certainly refreshing and invigorating.

The region is not only uncanny and spectacular, but it is profitable both to the government and to the native; for the government manages the baths and is interested in many of the hotels for tourists, and the native Maoris find easy, lucrative employment as guides (Fig. 3). Besides, for the Maori, the natural heat boils the potatoes, fries the eggs, and furnishes hot water for the washing.

No large geysers are playing in this immediate vicinity, but vigorous thermal activity is apparent, and in 1886 the eruption of Tarawera threatened to destroy the whole Eotorua district. Numerous little lakes, of various colors and temperatures, add to the variety and beauty of the landscape (Fig. 4).

The natives of New Zealand, the Maoris, have several villages in this neighborhood. Many of them are well-to-do, have adopted European

PSM V81 D428 Thermal region near rotorua new zealand.png

Fig 3. General View in the Thermal Region near Rotorua, New Zealand.

 

dress and are sending their children to school. With few exceptions, the most experienced and satisfactory guides in the thermal district are young Maori women, who speak English perfectly, and, as nearly as I could determine, have about the education afforded by a first-class grammar school in our country.

On the whole, New Zealand is a remarkable country. The climate is delightful, never uncomfortably warm or uncomfortably cold, no droughts or floods, a landscape green all the year round, even deciduous exotics remaining in leaf longer than with us, a country of fertile plains, beautiful lakes and lofty forests, it is not strange that it should have the lowest death-rate in the world. In the years 1896-1907 the death-rate averaged only 9.86 per thousand. Epidemics like cholera and smallpox are unknown. In wealth, as in health, New Zealand leads the world, for in 1908 the average private wealth per capita was $1,675, and the wealth is increasing. Even teachers share in the general prosperity; I doubt whether any botanist in the world has an estate equal to that of Dr. A. P. W. Thomas, the professor of botany in the University College at Auckland.

The government is progressive, run by the people (including women) in the interest of the people; politics are not controlled by machines; there are no trusts; the government owns the railways, telegraph and telephone lines, has operated for about forty years a postal saving bank which now has about $60,000,000 in deposits, and has a life-insurance department carrying about the same amount in policies. The principal need of the country is people; there is still plenty of room, and the unusual inducements offered to colonists should attract the needed population.

The investigation for which the trip was undertaken really began when I reached Australia, for there are no cycads in New Zealand.

Australia is a large country with an area almost exactly equal to that of the United States, but with a population scarcely equal to that of Illinois. The states are few, but large, most of them being larger than Texas. They are loosely federated, but the tendency is toward closer federation. The government of the various states owns the railways and other public commodities, and the political situation resembles that in New Zealand.

The harbor at Sydney is the finest in the world. It could accommodate all the navies of all nations, and still have room enough for all the liners of the Atlantic to unload at once. While such practical features dominate in a new country, it must not be forgotten that Sydney, until very recently, had the largest pipe organ in the world, and that even now,* on account of its perfect position, the organ is probably the most effective in the world. The organist is a regular officer of the city, and gives free recitals every Sunday afternoon.

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Fig. 4. Lake Tikitapau, near Rotorua New Zealand.

 

Other things might he mentioned to show that in the strenuous material development, the humanities have not been forgotten.

Naturally, as soon as I arrived in Sydney, I went to Professor Maiden, the director of the Botanic Gardens, well known to botanists by his work on Eucalyptus, the most characteristic of all Australian trees. I had expected to get from him some information and advice, but I was entirely unprepared for the splendid hospitality and generous assistance which I received and am still receiving, for he not only gave me valuable material from the garden and sent a competent collector to accompany me during my trips in the vicinity, but he has had the histologist of the gardens prepare some of my material for future use.

In many ways, the gardens at Sydney surpass any I had ever seen, and I have seen the gardens at Kew and Berlin. Palms from Mexico, Chili, the West Indies, the South Sea Islands and other places, grow as well here as they do in their native haunts (Fig. 5). Here, too, are tree ferns and other ferns, and gorgeous flowering trees like the flame tree (Poinciana regia) with its flaming red flowers, and Jacarandra mimosæfolia, a Brazilian tree fifty feet high and bearing great clusters of lilac-colored flowers before the leaves appear. Characteristic of all the Australian gardens are the various species of Araucaria and Agathis. Most of these beautiful trees, shrubs and ferns are too large to be grown effectively in a greenhouse and can not be grown out of doors in our latitude on account of the cold winters, so we can never hope to see in this country a garden like that at Sydney.

In addition to the botanical display there are numerous statues. The judgment displayed in their selection is beyond criticism, for you see no crude productions of local genius, but classics, like Castor and Pollux, the Farnese Hercules, the Discobolus, and others of equal merit.

An excellent museum and a large herbarium, devoted principally to Australian material, add to the scientific value of the gardens.

Three genera of cycads grow in Australia, Cycas, Macrozamia and Bowenia, the first ranging from Japan to Australia, and the other two being confined to Australia. The cycads in the gardens include all the genera of the family, except Microcycas, and the collection of Macrozamia is, beyond doubt, the finest in the world. After studying this splendid collection and spending a day at Avoca, where Macrozamia spiralis forms such dense thickets that one can hardly crowd his way through, I went to Brisbane, 725 miles north of Sydney, but still 100 miles south of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Here, again, I sought the botanical gardens, and at once met Mr. F. M. Bailey, the government botanist, author of the Queensland Flora. Although more than eighty } r ears old, he is still at work and was able to describe accurately the habitats of all the Queensland cycads. His son, Mr. J. F. Bailey, director of the garden, and, like his father, thoroughly acquainted with the Queensland flora, accompanied me on a four days' trip, during which he showed me Macrozamia Denisoni, growing on the top of Tambourine Mountain. It is a beautiful cycad, regarded by some as the most beautiful species of the family, and has an immense cone which reaches a weight of seventy pounds.

Although cycads were always dominant in my plans, one of the most delightful and profitable experiences of the whole trip was an excursion to Tabby-Tabby Island. Mr. Bailey had promised to show me the staghorn fern (Platycerium) and accordingly went from Tambourine Mountain to Tabby-Tabby, a small island owned by Mr. Wm.

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Fig. 5. View in the Botanic Garden at Sydney. The large palm is Jubea spectabilis, a native of Chili.

Gibson, who entertained us royally and took us out in his motor boat to the home of the peculiar fern. I had seen fine specimens in greenhouses, but nothing to suggest the wonderful display on the islands about Tabby-Tabby. One specimen was eight feet wide, and specimens four, five and six feet wide were common. It was easy to get a score of ferns on a single photographic plate, and often one could get both species, Platcerium grande and P. alcicorne, on the same plate. Many of the trees were so loaded that they were leaning, and some had even fallen on account of the great weight of the growing ferns (Fig. 6). Besides the botanical garden, with its extensive collections, Brisbane has an acclimatization garden, in charge of Mr. Soutter, devoted particularly to experiments in acclimatizing plants, the work being similar to that conducted by our own Department of Agriculture at Washington.

While Brisbane is a business city, inclined to emphasize the practical side of everything, the fine arts are not entirely ignored. There is a large art gallery, a fine library and museum, and, in the town hall, a splendid organ upon which regular recitals are given, as in Sydney.

Rockhampton, about 400 miles farther north, is situated on the Tropic of Capricorn; its principal newspaper is the Capricornian. Here, too, I at once sought the director of the botanical garden, Mr. Simmons, who continued the same generous hospitality and helpfulness which had made previous work so successful. The cycad collection in the garden was not very extensive, probably because cycads are so abundant in this vicinity that it does not seem worth while to bring them in.

Mr. Simmons took me out in a carriage, and within less than an hour's drive, showed me Cycas and Macrozamia growing together. The owner of the land, Mr. Snell, is related to the Snell who gave Snell Hall to the University of Chicago, and so we were acquainted at once. The study was rapid and satisfactory, for, just to let me see the anatomy of a trunk or structure of a bud, Mr. Snell chopped down plants which would have been the pride of the conservatory in Kew or Berlin.

About 40 miles from Eockhampton, at Maryvale and Byfield, Bowenia spectabilis var. semdata is very abundant, forming a dense but easily penetrated undergrowth in the ever-present eucalyptus bush. This small cycad richly deserves its specific name, spectabilis, for the leaves are smooth, have a rich dark green color, and retain their beauty for several days after they have been cut off. It seems strange that Bowenia is almost never found in greenhouses.

At Springsure, about 200 miles west of Rockhampton, a fine cycad, Macrozamia Moorei, is being exterminated because it causes "rickets" in cattle, a disease which usually proves fatal.

Ever since I landed at Sydney, botanists had advised me to visit the Cairns district for a view of genuine tropical vegetation. Although Cairns is 700 miles north of Rockhampton and without any railway connection, it seemed worth while to make the trip by the small coasting boats. In density, the Cairns jungle surpasses anything I had ever seen in the Mexican tropics. The profusion of palms, tree ferns and various vines and epiphytes was bewildering. Along the streams Angiopteris, a remarkable fern, small specimens of which are occasionally seen in greenhouses, reaches a tremendous size, with leaves nearly twenty feet long and stalks as large as a man's arm. At Herberton, near Cairns, a beautiful tree fern, Dicksonia Youngii, is so abundant that it forms almost impenetrable jungles. Besides, in open places, all three genera of cycads found in Australia may be secured within a single day's tramp.

In this region I had my first view of the Australian bushman, and. he is certainly the lowest of all the natives I met during the whole trip. I could admire his boomerang and the way he threw it, and also his almost ape-like agility in climbing trees, but he hardly seems to be reassuring material for civilized citizenship.

Although a year's field study of the cycads about Cairns and north of Cairns would doubtless have proved productive, I had no more time,

PSM V81 D434 Platycerium the stag horn fern.png

Fig. 6. Platycerium, the Stag Horn Fern.

and had to hasten to meet my boat sailing from Sydney on December 16, 1911. There are few cycads south of Sydney, and consequently, a steamer stop of three days at Melbourne finished the work in Australia.

Although Melbourne is about 1,500 miles south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the climate is mild, and palms, tree ferns, cycads and araucarias flourish in the botanical gardens. The director, Mr. Cronin, was particularly proud of the tree fern display, which could hardly be surpassed. For scenic beauty the garden at Melbourne deserves a high rank among the great botanical gardens of the world.

After a long voyage of twenty-six days, we arrived at Durban, the principal port of South East Africa. Here I was the guest of Dr. J. B. McCord, a medical missionary, and a fellow alumnus of Oberlin College, whose knowledge of South Africa, and especially of Zululand, greatly facilitated my investigations.

At the botanical garden I met the director. Dr. J. Medley Wood, now an old man, and Mr. J. Wylie, the curator, who is. particularly interested in palms and cycads. Mr. Wylie at once became interested in my work and not only helped me with my study of the cycads at the

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Fig. 7. A Krall in Zululand.

garden, where the collection of Encephalartos is the largest and finest in the world, but he accompanied me into the field and sent a Zulu from the garden to be my guide and factotum during my stay in Zululand.

There are only two genera of cycads in Africa, Encephalartos and Stangeria, and they are found only in South Africa. I found both genera in Zululand and secured an abundance of material for further study.

The Zulus are a superior race, both physically and mentally, thanks to the practical eugenics of the good old days before the English came, when deformed or sickly babies were promptly killed, and thus prevented from propagating their failings.

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Fig. 8. Euphorbia tetragona, near Cathcart, South Africa.

The young man must work hard to get his first wife, for wives cost about $500 apiece. Then, with a helpmeet, it is easier to get the second wife, and a third wife comes still more easily. There is no reason why a man with three wives should work any more, and so life becomes easy for him. As he gets older, he has daughters to sell, and can buy more wives. The average well-to-do Zulu has from half a dozen to a score of wives and it is not unusual for a chief to have several hundred. A man with only one wife has about the same standing as a slaveholder with only one slave had in the south before the Civil War, and, consequently, the earlier wives are eager to work hard to elevate the standing of the family. The whole family lives together in a collection of huts, called a krall (Fig. 7), each wife having a hut of her own, and the polygamous husband boarding around. You can tell the number of wives in a family by counting the houses in a krall.

At Cedara, a government experiment station about eighty miles northwest of Durban, the extensive work in forestation is interesting from both the botanical and economic standpoints. This work is under the direction of Mr. Stayner, who has received all the training Kew affords. Many believe the extensive grass velts of South Africa were originally covered by forests, and that the native, with his childish desire to see things burn, had destroyed the forests before white people arrived. At any rate, trees grow rapidly on the velts, especially on the mountain sides, and if the forestation continues, within a short time there will not only be an abundance of lumber, but the climate of the country will be vastly improved.

Stangeria and two species of Encephalartos grow in the neighborhood, but are not abundant. There are gorgeous flowers on the grass velts, and in the ravines, or kloofs, there are many ferns and lycopodiums.

The next point on my schedule was Queenstown, not very far from Cedara, as the crow flies, but quite remote as South African railways go, through Ladysmith, Bethlehem, Bloomfontein and Springfontein, names made familiar by the Boer war, a country dotted with monuments and cemeteries.

At Queenstown, the president of the bank, Mr. E. E. Galpin, is a fellow of the Linnean Society of London. He kindly arranged for a day's absence from the bank and not only showed me a great display of Encephalartos Frederici Guilielmi, a species I had never seen, but gave me valuable information which only a competent observer could give after many years' acquaintance with the locality. Mr. Galpin also facilitated my work at Cathcart and gave me directions for finding Encephalartos Lehmannii, which, as yet, I had seen only in gardens. Near the Kei River, where I found this species, Euphorbia tetragona is a prominent feature of the landscape, a big tree, reaching a height

PSM V81 D437 View in botanical garden at port elizabeth.png

Fig. 9. View in Botanical Garden at Port Elizabeth.

of 60 feet (Fig. 8). I am further indebted to Mr. Galpin for an introduction to his brothers, the Galpin Bros., wealthy jewelers and competent amateur botanists, of Grahamstown, who took me in their touring car to all the cycads within easy touring-car reach of the city.

Grahamstown is an educational center, with a good college, a conservatory of music and an excellent museum. Dr. Schönland, the professor of botany in the college, gave me an account of the cycads of the vicinity, including the almost unknown Encephalartos latifrons.

PSM V81 D438 Encephalartos horridus in st george park port elizabeth.png

Fig. 10. Encephalartos horridus in St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth.

The botanical garden at Grahamstown maintains the high standing I had learned to expect in the botanical gardens of the English colonies (Fig. 9). The director, Mr. Alexander, gave me some valuable specimens which are now flourishing in the greenhouse at the University of Chicago.

I had two more points, with outlying side trips on my schedule, East London and Port Elizabeth. On the voyage from Vancouver to New Zealand, I mentioned at table to Mr. Vance, who sat beside me, that I could find out but little about these places. Naturally, I was surprised and delighted to find that he had been mayor of East London for years and that his wife knew the cycads of the vicinity and could give me definite directions for finding them.

When I arrived at East London, Professor Rattray, of Selborn College, accompanied me into the field, and although he did. not claim to be a botanist at all, showed such an extensive and critical field knowledge of South African cycads, that I asked him to prepare an article for the Botanical Gazette. Other plants of the vicinity were also of interest, but my time was becoming short.

The final point on the schedule, as far as cycads were concerned, was Port Elizabeth, where Mr. Butters, the director of St. George's Park, gave me definite information and accompanied me on the trips into the field. Prom this place I visited Van Staadens, the type locality of Encephalartos caffer, and Despatch, a good locality for Encephalartos horridus, a frightful species which holds its place in the conservatory as the gargoyle does in architecture, by its forbidding aspect. With its spiny leaves, as threatening as porcupine quills, it deserves its specific name (Fig. 10). It is a pity that nomenclature should be burdened with names like Altensteinii, Lehmannii, Frederici Guilielmi, Vroomi and Purpusi, when suggestive names like spinosus, pungens, sanguineus, ferox and tribulosus are still available; but taxonomists will do it.

The object of the trip was now far more thoroughly accomplished than I had dared to anticipate when I left Chicago, for I had seen all the oriental genera of cycads, and most of the species, growing in the field, and had not only secured notes and material, but had arranged to have plants sent to Chicago and had also arranged to have histological material fixed at short intervals for a year, in order to make sure of a complete study of life histories. Much of this would have been impossible had it not been for the unbounded hospitality which everywhere facilitated the work.

Of the few days at Cape Town, while waiting for the boat, one was spent at Stellenbosch, the Athens of South Africa, one on Table Mountain, one at Glen Cairn, an excellent place for marine algae, and two or three at the South African College. This college is the hope of higher education in South Africa. Its department of botany includes three botanists of international reputation and doubtless other departments are also of high rank, so that the college deserves to rank with first-class institutions of other countries.

The trip back to Chicago was tedious but comfortable, for I was not troubled by seasickness, only one day out of more than ninety days upon the water being marked against my record.

For one who is only an investigator and not at all adventurous, such a trip can hardly be said to have any dangers, except the usual dangers of the sea and, perhaps, some dangers from snakes in South Africa. Long tramps, hard climbing and some hot weather must be expected, but a man of middle age and in fair health should come back stronger than when he started, and the investigator and teacher is sure to come back with abundant material for his research, his lecture-room and his laboratory.