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THE VEGETABLE KINGDOM.
PUBLISHED UNDER THE DIRECTION OF
THE COMMITTEE OF GENERAL LITERATURE AND EDUCATION,
APPOINTED BY THE SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING
Printed for the
SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE;
SOLD AT THE DEPOSITORY,
GREAT QUEEN STREET, LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS,
4, ROYAL EXCHANGE, AND 16, HANOVER STREET, HANOVER SQUARE;
AND BY ALL BOOKSELLERS.
GILBERT AND RIVIN(;TON, PRINTERS,
ST. JOHN'S SQUARE.
THE VEGETABLE KINGDOM.
CONVERSATION I. FLOWERLESS PLANTS. Sea-weeds-
Mushrooms-Lichens .................... 1
II. -- Mosses and Ferns ................. 21
III. FLOWERING PLANTS. ENDOGENS:
Grasses, Sedges, &c. ...................... 33
IV. Palm, Amaryllis, Iris, Ginger,
Arrowroot, Orchis, Rush, Autumn
Crocus, and Lily Tribes ................. 45
V. EXOGENS: Pine,Yew, Beef-wood,Willow,
Nettle, Hemp, Mulberry, and Plane
,, VI. -- Spurgewort, Mastwort, Walnut,
Nutmeg, Cucumber, Begonia, Papaw,
Passion-flower, Violet, Tamarisk, and
Houseleek Tribes .......................... 81
VII. Cistus, Cruciferous, Mignp-
nette, Cotton, Nasturtium, Lime, Milk-
wort, and Soapwort Tribes ............... 99
,, VIII. Ranunculus, Poppy, Fumitory,
Sun-dew, Barberry, and Vine Tribes... 120
CONVERSATION IX. EXOGENS: Heath, Rue, Flax, Balsam,
Geranium, Wood-sorrel, Clove, Buck-
wheat, Goosefoot, Leguminous, Al-
mond, Apple, and Rose Tribes ......... 133
X. --- Saxifrage, Hydrangea, Loose-
strife, Elm, Buckthorn, Spindle, Gen-
tian, Ebony, Holly, Nightshade, Olive,
Convolvulus, Dodder, Tobacco, Thrift,
Plantain, Primrose, Jasmin, Borage,
Labiate, Verbena, Figwort, Butterwort,
Campanula, and Scabious Tribes ...... 151
XI. ---- Composite, Evening Primrose,
Myrtle,Cactus, Currant, Syringa, Cran-
berry, Coffee, Honeysuckle,and Galium
Tribes ................ ...................... 166
XII. -- Umbelliferous, Ivy, Cornel,
Witch-hazel, Sandalwort, Loranth, and
Birthwort Tribes............................ 178
FIRST STEPS .IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
Etfe V tgetable Ringbom.
IT was a lovely April morning: the sun shone
brightly after heavy showers; the birds sang joy-
ously among the trees, and scattered rain-drops as
they flitted from bough to bough: every plant
was laden with moisture, and the thickly blos-
somed cherry on the garden wall had showered
down it4 beautiful petals under the influence of
the driving rain. The gravel-pat afforded the
only dry walking ground, and here qght be seen
three young folks, newly escaped from their morn-
2 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
ing studies, and now driving the hoop, or tossing
the ball with much glee.
An hour quickly passed away in this manner,
Sbut when their father came out to take his morn-
ing walk, they hastily laid aside their games, and
begged that they might accompany him.
"The roads are too wet for you at present,"
said he, "but as you seem tired of play, I will
spend a few minutes with you before I take my
walk, and we will see if the garden affords an
example of the lowest order of plants; for I
have not forgotten my promise to give you the
same kind of sketch of the Vegetable Kingdom,
which I did last autumn of the Animal Kingdom."
Oh, thank you-thank you, papa," said all
three, and Henry added "that he thought it must
be the very best time to learn about plants, now
they were all springing up afresh, and now the
crocuses and snowdrops and violets were so beau-
tiful." He was surprised, however, to see that his
father passed by all the flower-beds, and went to
a part of the garden where nothing seemed to be
growing. T ere, under the shelter of a wall, and
where the p,!i was very damp, he began to take
up a portion of the green coating which covered it.
LOWEST FORMS OF VEGETABLES.
"What are you going to do with that green
stuff, papa?" said Robert; there is plenty of it
on the glass of the hothouse; and there was a great
deal on the rocks last summer, close by the sea."
I am going to show it to you under the micro-
scope, as an example of the lowest stage of vege-:
table life. Some of the plants of this order come
so near the lowest tribes of animals, that even the
best naturalists find it difficult to decide between
Why do they not watch them very closely, to
see whether they move asked Mary.
"' Even that will not decide the matter, for some
of these plants move about in water by means of
little cilia, or hairs, exactly like certain animals."
That is very odd," said Henry; "how can
people possibly find out which is which ?"
"The only certain distinction which I have
heard of is one that can only be proved by scien-
tific persons; it is the presence of starch, which is
found in many of these tribes, and which is known
to be a vegetable and not an animal production.
Still, there are mysteries in this subject known
only to that Infinite Being who planned and
executed the wonderful scheme of creation."
4 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
"I never see any of that green slime," said
Mary, except in very wet places."
And for a good reason," replied her father;
"all the plants of this lowest race are inhabitants
of the water, both fresh and salt; and when a
path becomes soaked with rain, as this is, and the
water settles for some time on the surface, then do
these minute plants spring up, giving a greenish
tinge to the ground."
"And what is the name of these water plants "
The great tribe to which they belong is that
of the Algce."
"Algve," said Mary, "is the word which mamma
wrote in our book of dried sea-weed, and I thought
it meant sea-plants."
So it does; but it also includes their fresh
water relations, of which very many families are
of this slimy character, and inhabit still waters
and oozy places in the northern parts of the
Henry took up a bit of the damp earth that
was covered with this green substance, and he
found that it fell to pieces very easily, and that
there were no roots to the tiny plants to bind it
together. His father told him that this tribe of
plants has been called brittleworts, on account of
their so easily breaking into fragments.
There is another order of algae," he continued,
where many of the plants are red, violet, or olive,
instead of green, although they are found in fresh
as well as in salt water. They are called con-
ferve, and some are remarkable for the colour
they give to the water. The Red Sea appears to
have derived its name from the multitude of
minute confervae often seen floating in its waters.
A French writer tells us that as he entered this
sea by the straits of Babelmandel, in July, 1843,
he was astonished to find the waters stained red, as
far as the eye could reach. Collecting some of the
water, he found it to be covered with a thin layer
of a brickdust colour. This layer changed in the
course of the day to a deep violet colour, but the
water itself was tinged with a beautiful rose-
I am glad they found out what it was," said
Henry, for.I have heard that common sailors are
superstitious, and perhaps they would have fancied
they were sailing through a sea of blood."
6 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE. -
"Other families of these plants make the water
green, or brown, or violet," said his father; "so
that we need not be surprised at any wonderful
stories we read about the colour of the sea. It
also sometimes happens that when meadows are
long under water, they are covered to the depth
of an inch with an entangled layer of similar
plants, almost like woollen cloth, and which is
commonly called water-flannel."
Are these plants of any use? asked Robert.
"I do not know of any use in the smaller
species; but some of the larger confervae, called
Laver, are eaten by many persons, either stewed
or pickled. Yet we may be quite sure that it is
for some wise purpose that God has filled the seas
and rivers with such multitudes of these plants.
Another order of algoe contains the different kinds
of Fucus, or Sea-wrack, some of which are used
as food by the poorer classes of Ireland, Scot-
land, Iceland, &c. Some are also employed as
manure, and are of importance in the manufacture
of glass and of soap, on account of the quantity of
impure soda (called kelp) which is obtained from
them. Those large dark-looking weeds, with air-
bladders in their leaves, which you called your
FUCUS, OR SEA-WRACK. 7
weather-glass, were some of the common kinds of
"Those were the weeds you said were useful in
8 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
Yes; they contain iodine, 'which is particu-
larly useful in those swellings of the throat called
goitre. In some parts of South America where
this disease is common, the inhabitants chew the
stem of these weeds, and call them by a name
which means, 'goitre-stick.'"
"Some of the stems are very thick," said Mary ;
"and one very tough sort, I remember, you called
Did I tell you of the odd use these girdles
are sometimes put to? They are cut in pieces
about four inches long, and while they are fresh,
the hilt of a pruning-knife is stuck into each
piece. As the stem dries, it clings closely to the
hilt and forms a good and strong handle, and from
its withered and brown appearance it' looks very
much like buck's-horn, especially when tipped with
metal. Thus a number of knives can be easily
and cheaply finished off."
The children thought the sea-wracks very use-
ful weeds, especially when they found, that if fuel
is scarce, they can be dried and used for that
purpose; that the young shoots are eaten in Edin-
burgh, as "tangles," and that cattle will thrive
on the plants when boiled. Robert also remem-
AIR-BLADDERS IN SEA-WEEDS.
bered that it was from the air-bladders of one of
these weeds* that he made such famous whistles
when he was by the sea-side.
"What are the air-bladders for ?" asked Mary.
"No doubt to support the weeds on the water;
for some of them are of enormous size and length.
Dr. Hooker saw them high up in the South Seas,
growing in large patches wherever the water was
free of icebergs; the plants were several hundred
feet long, and could scarcely have been supported
without air-bladders. Around the Falkland Islands
they were also very abundant, and sometimes clasped
the rocks, and became tree-like in their form, the
stems being thicker than a man's thigh, and the
long leaves drooping like the branches of a willow.
Dr. Hooker tells us that no one who has not
actually seen it can form an idea of the amount
of life which is nourished and housed by one of
these tree sea-weeds. Various kinds of worms,
small sponges, corals, crabs, eggs of fish, and
myriads of shells, with their inhabitants, find a
home there, while the lesser sea-weeds cling to it
as moss clings to a large tree."
"How very different the dark-looking, leathery
10 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
sea-wracks are from my beautiful pink sea-weeds!"
Your pretty specimens," said her father, be-
long to a tribe called Rose-tangles, which are
most of them rose-coloured or purple. Some of
the ocean caves are quite lined with dark red
weeds of this description. Rose-tangles are not
only pretty, but useful; a nourishing jelly is made
from one of them, improperly called Carrageen
moss; a substitute for tobacco is found in another,
called dulse, which is washed in fresh water, dried
in the sun, and then rolled up for use, by the Irish
and Scotch. Dulse is also stewed with milk, or
eaten raw with fish. That very bright coloured
weed, in your book, is a great favourite every
where, and may be easily known from other fami-
lies in this tribe by the way in which the branches
are divided. Here, also, we find the beautiful
corallines, of which we have so many specimens
on our shores. There is a small kind of rose-
tangle, which is invaluable to the Chinese as a
12 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
glue and varnish. About 27,000 pounds weight
of this plant are annually brought into Canton,
and sold at sixpence or eightpence the pound.
With this they varnish the paper for their
lanterns, and give the beautiful gloss to their
silks; and it seems likewise to be the principal
ingredient in a celebrated transparent composition
which they spread out over slips of bamboo, and
use instead of glass in windows, the bamboo slips
being arranged in the manner of a frame."
PLANTS OF STAGNANT WATERS.
Mary was delighted to find that the beautiful
rose-tangles served so many useful purposes in
the world; and she was amused to hear that the
eatable birds'-nests, which her brothers had so
often laughed at the Chinese for being so fond of,
are supposed to be made of some of these weeds;
so that, after all, in devouring the nests, the people
are, perhaps, only eating a jelly, such as we get
from the carrageen and other plants of this family.
Her father told her that the only remaining algae
he had to mention were weeds of ill odour, living
in stagnant water, either fresh or salt, and having
their stems often coated over with carbonate of
lime. They are upright tubes, with whorls of
smaller tubes surrounding the stem, and are
The children were much pleased with what they
had heard of the great tribe of plants that inhabits
the waters; and Mary thought it would be a won-
derful sight if any one could look down into the
deep deep sea, where so many beautiful things
"There are no storms there," she said, "for
I have learned some pretty lines that tell me
14 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
'The water is calm and still below,
For the winds and waves are absent there,
And the sands are bright as the stars that glow
In the motionless fields of upper air;
There, with its waving blade of green,
The sea-flag streams through the silent water,
And the crimson leaf of the dulse is seen
To blush like a banner bathed in slaughter.
There, with a slight and easy motion,
The fan-coral sweeps through the clear deep sea,
And the yellow and scarlet tufts of ocean
Are bending like corn on the upland lea.'"
During the foregoing conversation the party
had approached the gate of the orchard, where, in
summer, a few mushrooms occasionally sprang up.
In a few weeks," said their father, "we shall
have to set out for yonder pastures, on our mush-
room expedition. After these rains, it is likely
that they will be numerous; for these plants, like
the algae, are very fond of water, though they do
not live entirely in it."
We must be careful what we gather," said
Henry, for some kinds are poisonous."
"The Fungus tribe, which includes our common
mushroom, is a very curious and wonderful race
of vegetables," said his father, "springing up with
a rapidity unknown in other plants, and not un-
THE FUNGUS TRIBE.
frequently growing many inches in the space of a
night, especially after storms."
"The large puff-ball we found in the meadow
was a fungus," said Henry; "and so, I suppose,
are all the plants we call toad-stools: and so are
the beautiful orange-coloured velvety spots we
sometimes find on old fences."
"Every kind of mouldiness, or mildew, where-
ever we may find it," added his father, "also pro-
ceeds from the growth of innumerable small fungi."
Then the mould I saw in the cellar, and that
on my cup of paste," said Henry, "must be of
"And that on mamma's preserves," said Mary,
"and on the bread when it is very stale. I sup-
pose we may make these plants grow when we
like: it is only to keep our food a long time, and
it will be covered with them. Do they grow from
seed, or what brings them ?"
"That is one of the mysteries we cannot pene-
trate," said her father. "We cannot tell how it
is, that in the dark or in the light, in the open air
or in the closet, these plants spring up. Whether
their seeds are so light as to be carried about
invisibly, and lodged in such various places, or
16 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
whether fungi are merely different states of decay-
ing vegetable matter, it is quite impossible to say;
but this we know, that in a single fungus, a
botanist* reckoned ten millions of seeds, or sporules,
as they are called; and these, which are carried
about like thin smoke, may be conveyed by in-
sects, elasticity, adhesion, or other causes, into
remote places, and spring up when they find a
substance suited to their growth."
"How could any one reckon ten millions?"
asked Henry. "I have heard that it would take
about a fortnight to count one million."
"In reckoning such minute substances, we do
not, of course, count one by one throughout, but
after finding out how many there are in a certain
space, we multiply the others by them. Thus, if
I wished to reckon the sweet peas your mamma
is sowing in the garden, I would fill a small
measure with the seed, and if I found that it
contained two hundred seeds, I should afterwards
know that every time I filled it there would be that
number, or very nearly. Before we leave the fungi,
I must tell you that they are far more numerous in
many foreign countries than in our own. In
Australia, for instance, they are much used by the
natives, and are also eagerly sought after by the
curious pouched animals of that land."
Mary asked, if any besides the common mush-
room were eaten in this country; and her father
told her that two other families of fungus are
much esteemed, namely, the Morel and the Truffle;
the former growing up in beech woods, in a mush-
room shape; the latter, an underground produc-
tion, black and warty on the outside, but white
within. Truffle hunters are assisted by dogs,
whose keen scent enables them to find out the
places where the fungus is growing.
The children were also informed that the "dry
rot," which is so often of serious consequence to
the timbers of ships and buildings, is a fungus;
also the blight in corn, and the diseases called
"smut," "ergot," and "rust;" likewise a blighted
appearance on the leaves of some plants, such as
the dingy red spots on the leaves of the pear-tree,
which, on turning up the leaves, are found to be
caused by a small fungus growing on the under
How odd that one vegetable should grow upon
another in that way," said Robert.
18 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
You have seen many examples of it in the
lichens you are so fond of collecting," replied his
father; "these, as you know, are very common
on timber and on stone. They gain their nourish-
ment from the atmosphere, and not from the
material on which they grow; therefore they are
not so injurious as the fungus, which is fed out of
the very substance of what it grows upon."
How delighted we were," said Mary, when
you first taught us to find lichens. We had no
idea that the yellow and white patches on the
bark of the elm trees, and the brown and grey
spots on the walls of our house, were all living
vegetables. And then, what beautiful pale grey
lichens we found on the church porch, and even
on the tomb-stones they were so flat and close to
the stone that they looked like stains."
Without lichens," said her father, our land-
scapes would lose much of their picturesque beauty,
and our ancient edifices much of their venerable
character. It is remarkable in large and smoky
cities, where lichens do not flourish, how much
less interesting is the appearance of the old build-
ings. The harmonious colouring of these little
plants is there greatly missed."
LICHENS : THEIR USES.
"Are lichens of any use, papa asked Robert.
"They are of great use in several ways. They
are the first plants to clothe the surface of bare
rocks; and therefore they are the first vegetable
substances on newly-formed islands in the midst
of the ocean, thus preparing the way for higher
orders of plants, and finally for the abode of man.
Their domestic uses are of two kinds: some are
nourishing and medicinal in their properties, and
some are valuable as affording dyes. Iceland
Moss and Rein-deer Moss are both lichens; and
it is from a lichen that the dye called litmus, or
orchil, is obtained, which is very largely. used by
manufacturers. There is a common lichen, called
Lungs of the Oak, which is also used as a strength-
ening diet for invalids: while in Siberia it is
employed for giving a bitter to beer. These and
many others are therefore of considerable im-
Why does Henry always look out for lichens
that have little cups or shields upon them ?" said
"Because these shields contain the spores, or
seed, and the lichen is in perfection when so
Cetraria islandica. Rocella tinctoria.
20 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
adorned. Some of these shields, as you remember,
lie flat upon the lichen, others are elevated on
little stalks. They are always best developed in
places fully exposed to the light; hence it is of
"LUNGS OF THE OAK LICHEN.
very little use to search for shield-bearing lichens
in shady groves or in the dark clefts of rocks.
You have proved how well lichens can be kept,
without the trouble in drying which you have
with other plants. Some of those in my cabinet
were gathered twelve years ago, and are very
little altered: and I have seen older collections in
MOSSES AND FERNS.
MARY had been arranging a cushion of moss on
a china dish, and sticking violets and primroses
among its delicate fibres. This had a pretty
effect, and her mamma praised her spring nosegay.
" Will you tell us, papa," said the little girl,
"something about these beautiful mosses, that are
so bright and green long before the leaves of the
trees are out ?"
Mosses," said her father, "are not so simple
in their structure as lichens, and therefore come
higher in the scale of vegetable life. There are
plants nearly related to them, called Liverworts,
which are of a somewhat fleshy substance, and
grow only in very damp places. You remember
finding a mass of liverwort on the damp earth
near the pond; it is also to be found on trees in
shady and moist places. A very curious fact con-
nected with liverworts is, that in the little case
which contains the spores there is a spiral thread
lying among them, or sometimes two twisted toge-
22 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
their, and contained in a delicate transparent tube.
These threads have a strong elastic force, and
perhaps assist in dispersing the seed."
Henry asked why they were called liverworts,
and was told that they were formerly used in
liver complaints, and that one of them* is still
thought to be of some value in cases of dropsy.
The mosses in Mary's nosegay," said her
father, "belong to a vast order, called Urn-mosses,
their seed-vessels being urn-shaped. You have
often seen on the garden wall small tufts of moss
with a number of slender stalks rising from them,
each stalk supporting one of these little urns."
0 yes, papa," said Mary; "and I have looked
at them through Henry's little microscope, for
mamma told me they were pretty little cups with
lids to them. In some of them the lids had fallen
off, and I saw a number of teeth rising up round
the edge of the cup, like a beautiful fringe. And
mamma said, that if I counted those little teeth,
I should always find them to be four times four,
or four times eight, or four times some other
Yes; constantly a multiple of four; and all
this regular and beautiful apparatus for the pro-
tection of the minute spores or seeds, which lie
within. These beautiful seed-vessels, as well as
the leafy appearance of the stems in mosses, will
show you that they are considerably raised above
"And are they put to as many uses?" asked
They are not. As far as the immediate
health and convenience of man are concerned,
mosses seem to be of little consequence, except
for the beautiful green carpet they spread under
his feet, in places where little else will grow. But
they perform a similar office to lichens in nature
24 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
generally; preparing waste and barren lands for
higher vegetation, and often existing on the limits
of eternal snow. There are some curious little
reddish or brown mosses *, which cover the rocks
like a mat in such bleak spots, and bear their
seed, not in urns, but in tiny globes. Each globe
is made up of four valves, which split open to let
the seed escape, but are still held together at the
top by a very small lid, which does not fall off as
in the Urn-mosses. These little plants are called
Split-mosses. There are others, called Scale-
mosses, not much unlike these in the shape of the
seed-vessel, but having no lid, so that the four
valves burst quite asunder when the seed is ripe.
Other moss-like plants are called Club-mosses,
because their spore-cases are often collected into a
club-shaped body, not unlike a fir-cone. These
delight in moist and warm climates. Thus, you
see, there is great variety in this humble
"Among them all," said Mary, "what is that
very beautiful pale green moss, which was sent to
mamma from Crowborough, in Sussex, with such
curious horns at the ends of the branches "
It is called Stag's-horn Moss *, and is one of
the club-mosses I have just referred to."
Near to mosses come those curious plants called
Horse-tails t, which you see in ditches, and often
gather for the purpose
of pulling apart the nu-
merous toothed divi-
sions of the stem. Also
the common duckweed,
and other creeping or
floating plants, its rela-
tions, which are col-
lected under the name
of pepperworts. These
are so simple in their
structure as to be placed
by modern botanists
below ferns, to which
great tribe I now lead
"I should not have
thought it a great tribe,"
said Henry, "for we STAG'S-HORN MOSS.
see very few ferns in our walks, compared with
Lycopodium clavatum. t Equisetum.
26 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
That is true; but we must not always judge
of a whole tribe of plants by what our own neigh-
bourhood, or even our own country, affords. Ferns
in this country are leafy plants, with stems that
mostly creep along the surface of the earth, or
hide themselves beneath it; but in tropical coun-
tries there are tree-ferns, whose leafless trunks
rise to the height of thirty or forty feet, and send
out an elegant tuft of foliage at the top. And
although many of our woods, and hedgebanks, as
well as our rocks and old walls, are ornamented
with very beautiful kinds of fern, yet these are
not to be compared to the ferns of the tropics, for
number or variety. The island of Jamaica alone
is said to contain at least four times as many
different species as the whole of Great Britain,
and some of them growing to a majestic height."
"They may be very large and handsome," said
Mary, "but I cannot fancy any thing more beauti-
ful than the fern we brought home from the
woods. We little thought, as we scrambled
through a mass of fern leaves, that every one of
them was loaded with hundreds of little seed-
vessels on the under side. It was quite by accident
that I caught sight of them, scattered like little
yellow beads all over the back of the leaf, or
THE LADY-FERN. 27
perhaps I ought to call it the branch, for there
Were a great many small leaves upon it."
In ferns it is called the frond, and according
to its shape, and the arrangement of the seeds,
you may discover the
name of the species.
The large frond you
brought from the woods
has the seeds clustered
together, along the mid-
dle vein of each leaflet.
It is called Male Fern, ,
on account of its strong
growth and hardy na-
ture. A very delicate
and graceful species is
called Lady Fern, while
some lines of Sir Wal-
ter Scott's about the
lady-fern, and she now
repeated them:- THE LADY-FERN
Aspidium Filix, mas.
28 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
Where the copse-wood is the greenest,
Where the fountain glistens sheenest,
Where the morning dew lies longest,
There the lady-fern grows strongest."
The juices of several ferns," continued her
father, "have been used as medicine, and the
stems of others as food; but their ordinary uses
in this country are merely for thatching, or for
heating ovens, or for horse-litter. But there is
one thing I must not omit to say about the
foreign ferns. Do you remember, Henry, having
your curiosity excited by a picture of a Scythian
lamb, as it was called ?"
0 yes, papa; it was an odd-looking thing-
half-animal, half vegetable; with four legs that
were exactly like the stalks of a plant."
That was nothing more than a woolly-stemmed
fern, Barometz, common in the deserts of Scythia,
and which, when deprived of its leaves, and turned
upside down, is not much unlike a lamb, and has
been used to deceive simple people. Ferns are
altogether so curious and interesting, that I hope
you will one day make them a separate study;
they are the highest forms of flowerless plants,
for you must have noticed that all the tribes we
ARRANGEMENT OF FLOWERLESS PLANTS. 29
have yet spoken of are without blossom of any
How strange that they should have seeds, and
not flowers!" said Robert.
"And that the seeds should grow in such odd
places," said Mary; some on the backs of the
leaves, and some in little cups, and some in urns,
and some in clubs."
"They are not true seeds, therefore you must
learn to call them spores. You must also
understand that these flowerless plants can be
brought under two great divisions: first, those
simple plants in which there is no distinction
of leaf and stem; and secondly, those plants,
whose leaves and stems are quite distinct. Tell
me what you think must belong to the first
"The green slime we saw in the garden," said
Robert, "for even through the microscope it only
looked like a bundle of threads."
"And perhaps the sea-weeds," said Mary, "for
some of them seem all stem, and some of them all
leaf, so that it would not be very easy to find out
a regular stem and leaf on the same plant."
And I am sure the lichens must belong to the
30 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
first division," said Henry, "for they are leafy or
leathery all over, lying flat on the place where
they grow.. Mushrooms have stems, but then they
have no leaves, so I suppose they must come in
the same division."
You are right; and having thus found out the
members of the first division, it follows as a mat-
ter of course, that mosses and ferns come into the
second, for in all these plants leaf and stem are
perfectly distinct. In leaving these flowerless
plants we find the same thing occur, which we so
often noticed in rising from tribe to tribe of the
animal kingdom; I mean that the orders blend
together in so gradual a manner, that we are sure
to find a great likeness to the one we have left, in
that which comes immediately above it. Thus it
happens that the lowest of the flowering plants
look almost like flowering lichens, or mush-
Have we ever seen them ?" asked Mary.
You have not, and perhaps you never may in
their own climate; for they are, I believe, wholly
confined to tropical countries. They are parasites
upon roots or trunks of trees, and have no true
leaves, and very little stem: yet they have flowers
-W o WW
A GIANT PARASITE. 31
growing immediately from the branch of the tree,
and surrounded by scales, which take the place
"They must look as if they were the blossoms
of the tree itself," remarked Henry.
They cannot be so mistaken," replied his
father, "because in these parasites the whole plant
is of a uniform dull colour, either brown, yellow, or
purple. The scales that represent leaves, and the
fungus-like mass that sometimes forms a sort of
stem, is never green as in other plants. A giant
parasite of this race*, when in bud, is of the
size of an ordinary cabbage, and when in blossom
measures a yard across."
What an enormous blossom!" exclaimed Mary,
" I pity the tree that has to support it. You told
us one day that lazy men and women are called
parasites when they live at the expense of their
friends, without doing any thing for their own sup-
port; this immense flower must be a very expen-
sive parasite, and must wear out the poor tree
"All these strange plants form a sort of inter-
32 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
mediate class between the flowerless and the flower-
ing, and I have mentioned them to you to-day,
because I would not too closely connect them with
the important division of the vegetable kingdom
which will form our next subject.
GRASSES, SEDGES, &C.
BEFORE their papa was ready to tell them about
another division of plants, Mary and her brothers
repeated to each other what they could remember
about that which he had already spoken of; con-
taining, first, plants that have no flowers and no
distinction of leaf and stem, as seaweeds and
lichens; secondly, those that have no flowers, but
distinct leaves and stems, as mosses and ferns;
and thirdly, such as have no true leaves or stems,
but perfect flowers, as that strange giant parasite
with blossoms a yard across. They were curious
to know what came next, and they were soon
satisfied, for their father came into the room with
a bundle of dried grasses in his hand, which had
been gathered when in blossom.
"I am obliged to be satisfied with these dry
specimens," he said, "for the spring grass is not
yet forward enough to give you a good idea of
this interesting tribe. We have now arrived at
34 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
are very differ
plants, of which all the rest of the
vegetable world is made
up; but there is a very
evident difference be-
a tween this kind of ve-
getable growth which I
hold in my hand, and
po "~u that of trees and shrubs.
-c- Can you tell me what it
SHenry took hold of
S some of the grass, and
said, "These dried stems
are brittle and jointed,
and when we gathered
them they were tough
and juicy; at first there
was a leaf wrapped
round the blossoms, as
if to take care of them;
I remember ears of wheat
have just the same sort
of sheath round them
when they first come
EADOW-GRASS. out. Trees and shrubs
ent; they have hard woody stems,
that I can cut pegs and wedges from, and
I never saw this odd sheath round any of their
"But trees have no flowers," said Robert.
Indeed they have," exclaimed his sister, and
I wonder you never saw me picking up lime
blossoms and elm blossoms, under the trees. They
are small, but very pretty. I like even the little
purplish laurel blossoms, and the tiny dark flowers
on the arbor vitae. And oh how pleasant it is to
go down into the alder bed to get the beautiful
catkins, or to run to the wood for
'Hazel-buds with crimson gems,
Green and glossy sallows.'
But perhaps you do not know what sallows are:-
they are willows; and you recollect what pretty
green and shining tufts there are at the end of
the willow branches in the early spring."
"Mary is wild after flowers," said Robert;
"and she finds out all the early buds and catkins.
She gathered all these grasses just before hay-
making time last summer."
"All flowering plants," said his father, "are
ranged under two great classes, or divisions, called
Endogens and Exogens, from their manner of
36 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
growth. The stem in the first of these classes
increases inwardly, that in the
second increases outwardly."
Our large trees must in-
crease outwardly,"said Henry,
"for we saw the layers of
felled last year, and you
S taught us about the age of a
tree being known by the
number of rings in the trunk."
Exactly: but these gras-
ses grow in the first place
from within, while their stalks
do not increase outwardly be-
Syond a certain size, so that
they belong to the first and
smallest of these two great
Henry wondered how any
Sone could tell at first sight
whether a plant grew in-
wardly or outwardly, and his
father directed him to a sim-
FOX-TAIL GRASS. ple and easy mark of these
different manners of growth.
VEINING OF LEAVES
"The plants that increase within," he said,
"have the veins of their leaves in straight lines
from one end of the leaf to the other, and those
that increase without, have a beautiful network
of veins all over the leaf. If you collect a few
leaves from the garden you will soon see the
The children ran into the flower garden and
gathered such early leaves as they could find, and
bringing them to their father, he held up to the
light a crocus and a hyacinth leaf, and showed
them how beautifully regular are the parallel
veins running from end to end.
"This shows that crocuses and hyacinths are
endogens," he said; "but if you look at these
lilac and ivy, and primrose and violet leaves, you
see at a glance that the veins branch out from the
rib which runs down the middle of the leaf, and
then subdivide into a kind of network; there-
fore these leaves belong to exogens."
"Oh yes, papa," said Mary, "and that is what
makes skeleton-leaves so pretty. How very easy
it will be to find out which are endogens and
which are exogens; but I wish they had not such
38 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
Those names simply mean, 'growing inwardly,'
and 'growing outwardly;' and they are the only
hard names I shall trouble you with for a long
And how many plants belong to this straight-
veined division, or endogens?" asked Henry.
"Very many that you are acquainted with, and
very many more that you know nothing about.
In the first place, there is the great tribe contain-
ing the various Grasses which clothe the hills and
valleys with verdure, and in many cases bear
precious grain; for oats, barley, wheat, rye, maize,
and rice, are all produced by plants of this tribe;
while the inferior kinds of grass feed our flocks
and herds, and thus do us nearly as much service
as the others. But you must not suppose that all
the pastures of the earth consist of the same kind
of short sweet herbage with which our own fields
and meadows are covered. In South America
there are field crops of grass, especially on the
banks of the river Amazon, which grow to the
height of six or seven feet, and yet are perfectly
tender and delicate."
"We might easily lose ourselves in such a
field as that." said Henry; "and even tall men
VARIETY OF GRASSES.
would not be able to see each other over the tops
of the grass."
"On the Falkland Islands there is an extra-
ordinary kind of grass, growing in large tufts or
hillocks, which hide the view of the cattle feeding
among them. I have seen some of this grass
growing in the Botanical Gardens at Kew; but it
was a poor little stunted specimen, compared with
the descriptions of the tussac grass, as it is called,
in its native country."
"What a good thing it is," said Robert,
"that grass comes up every where without any
It is a great mercy," replied his father, "that
God has made the grass to grow upon the moun-
tains, and green herb for the service of men.' It
is also matter for thankfulness that by the skill
and industry of the farmer, our fields are sown
with the best varieties of these grasses, mixed in
such proportions as are suited to the wants of our
cattle. Uncivilized nations move from place to
place in search of fresh pastures; but civilized
people carefully cultivate the same land year after
year, and make it yield as much as possible."
"Some of the grasses smell very sweetly when
40 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
they are in blossom," said Mary, "and I dare
say they have a sweet taste to cows and sheep."
"No doubt. Sugar is to be found in most
grasses, and the sugar-cane is itself a grass. Maize
or Indian corn also abounds in sugar, and has
been recommended for cultivation as a substitute
for the sugar-cane."
What a useful tribe !" remarked Henry. It
would be worth while to make out a list of the
things the grasses are used for. It would be a
very long one; for besides the use of the grass
itself and the different kinds of grain, there would
be hay and straw to notice, and all the things that
are made of them."
"And the use of reeds and canes," said his
father, "which are only large grasses. But
Sedges*, which much resemble grasses in outward
appearance, are a distinct tribe, and have not the
same nourishing qualities; they are therefore not
much sought after by cattle. You have seen
them growing up in marshy places, and have
noticed their frequently having a sharp triangular
stem, which will almost cut your fingers. The
Papyrus of the banks of the Nile is a species of
sedge, and so is the pretty Cotton-grass*, of which
Mary brought home so much last summer."
"Almost enough to make a pillow," replied the
little girl; "and when I have collected some more
42 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
I am to sleep upon it, and it will be just like a
pillow of down."
Robert wished to know what is the real use of
the silky tufts on the cotton-grass, and he was
told that they surround the seed, and are intended
to waft it to different places.
"Next to the grasses, I must notice certain
tribes, having a general tendency to one manner
of growth, namely, to bear their flowers upon a
club-shaped spadix, as it is called. The common
Arum*, or Lords and Ladies, or Cuckoo Pint,
has this kind of spadix, and is a good example
of a tribe of plants chiefly confined to the tropics,
where they grow to a considerable size."
"I thought Lords and Ladies had no flowers;
but only poisonous red berries wrapped up in a
curious hood," said Robert.
I do not wonder at your thinking so, for the
flowers are naked; that is, they have no petals, or
flower-leaves, but only those parts which are
necessary for the formation of the seed. The ber-
ries are very poisonous, but the root can be manu-
factured into a kind of sago. The hood you speak
of is a very curious mantle for the protection of
THE ARUM TRIBE.
these naked flowers: it is called the spate. There
is another plant which you are fond of searching
for, and which bears its flowers on a spadix or
club, but it has no spathe to wrap them up in."
44 FIRST STEPS IX GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
The children could not guess what plant it was
until their father said it grew in ditches, when they
immediately recollected the Bulrush*.
"Not that it is properly a rush," continued
their father; for the rush tribe has a higher place
in the vegetable system; but it is a curious sedgy
plant, bearing numerous and nearly naked flowers
on its spadix. Near to these tribes are placed the
duckweeds t, curious plants which, although they
have no spadix, have yet a certain natural con-
nexion with the foregoing. I cannot enter into
descriptions which belong to the scientific part of
botany, because you are not yet able to ,under-
stand them; but I may often lead you to notice
the more conspicuous features of the different
tribes, and this will be a great help to you. The
grasses and the arum group will be sufficient for
our present conversation: to-morrow we will talk
about the palms."
RUSH-AUTUMN CROCUS, AND LILY TRIBES.
"The palm-tree in the wilderness
Majestic lifts its head,
And blooms in solitary grace
Where all around is dead."
MARY had read some verses, beginning in this
manner, and she tried to find them, and also to
learn the different uses of palms, before her father
came into the study. She found out, that in
Egypt, Arabia, and Persia, people make their
principal food of the fruit; that they make couches,
baskets, bags, mats, and brushes from the leaves,
and also roof their houses with them; and that
they make garden-fences, and cages for poultry,
from the branches; besides using the fibres for
thread, ropes, and rigging. Her father told her
that the uses of the palms are almost endless; for,
according to Humboldt, wine, oil, wax, flour,
sugar, sago, and salt are obtained from the tribe,
besides many inferior articles.
46 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
"Even in England," said Henry, "the cocoa-
nut palm is very useful; for we get the nut to eat,
and the shell polished for cups, and the fibres made
into beautiful matting."
"And mamma says that soap and candles are
made of palm oil; and that the little box on the
chimney-piece, which we call vegetable ivory, is
made of the kernel of a sort of palm," added Mary.
"I have seen pictures of palm trees," said
Robert, "and they seem to be very tall trees, with
a single stem and large tufts of leaves at the top."
That is their common appearance; but there
are at least four hundred distinct species of palms
(and perhaps many more) ; and among these there
is considerable variety; so that palms are oc-
casionally met with that are of a shrubby or
branched growth, or are armed with stiff spines.
Quite in character with the immense size of the
leaves in palms, is the enormous cluster of blos-
soms contained in each spathe; for these trees,
like our common arum, have a large spathe for the
protection of their fruit. Here is a drawing of a
palm blossom, which will show you how the florets
are clustered together: they sometimes amount to
two hundred thousand in a single spathe."
THE PALM TRIBE.
"If that is the case," said Henry, "I dare say
there is a great deal of seed; and it is a wonder
that the palm ever grows
up alone, and blooms 'in
solitary grace,' as Mary's
"Its places of growth
are various," said his fa-
ther; "so that one who
has closely studied the ha-
bits of this noble race, says,
'not a few love the hu-
mid banks of rivulets and
streams; others occupy the I
shores of the ocean, and
some ascend into alpine
regions; some collect in-
to dense forests, others
spring up singly or in clus-
ters over the plains.' But PALM BLOssoM.
this you must understand of the sunny regions
within the tropics, beyond which these plants do
not extend. The tribes of plants immediately
above palms are chiefly foreign, and I shall only
mention the pineapple and agave, or American
48 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
aloe; the latter belonging to the tribe which
contains our snow-drop and daffodil."
CLUSTER FROM THE DATE-PALM.
Robert asked if it is true that the aloe only
flowers once in a hundred years, and was answered
in the negative.
The agave, of which this fable is told, is a
hardy and useful plant, forming in its native
country excellent hedges, which it is impossible to
The Amaryllis tribe.
AMARYLLIS AND IRIS TRIBES. *
penetrate. The fibres of the leaves are used as
thread, and are manufactured into paper. Some
of the families contained in this tribe have a
poisonous juice in their bulbs, especially a species*
growing at the Cape of Good Hope, in which the
Hottentots are said to dip their arrow-heads. Our
snowdrop and daffodil have a share of the same
quality, and their bulbs have long been known as
emetic. Infants, who are fond of putting every
thing into their mouths, have been seriously in-
jured by swallowing daffodil blossoms, which
shows that some of the poisonous principle resides
also in the flowers."
"I am disappointed that my pretty snowdrops
have any thing poisonous about them," said Mary.
"I hope those handsome purple and yellow cro-
cuses are better off."
"They belong to the Iris tribe, and I cannot
flatter you that all are free from similar qualities;
however, the crocus itself is rather beneficial than
otherwise, and it is from one t of its family that we
"Why does mamma put saffron in the canary's
Haemanthus toxicarius. t Crocus sativus.
50 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
drinking glass, when he is moulting?" asked
"Because it is of a warm and stimulating
nature, and appears to render the same sort of
service to the bird in helping him to throw off his
feathers, as it does to human beings in helping
them to throw out troublesome eruptions of the
skin. Medical men frequently use it for this
latter purpose on the Continent, and I believe in
this country also. Among the tribes closely fol-
lowing this, we meet with other examples of warm
and stimulating qualities in the ginger tribe, a
very useful race of plants."
"Green ginger preserves are delicious,"said Henry;
"and people make ginger wine and ginger beer,
otherwise I should not think ginger very useful."
"All the ginger plants are natives of hot cli-
mates, where the inhabitants need this sort of
stimulant more than we do, and chew such power-
ful spices with much pleasure."
The children would have been surprised to hear
this, had they not seen a Hindoo servant shortly
before, whose mistress was accustomed to treat her
with nutmegs and ginger, just as we should treat a
child with sugar plums.
GINGER AND ARROWROOT.
"Ginger, as you know, is the root of the plant,
but several plants of this kind produce very pun-
gent seeds, as the cardamoms, and some a still
hotter kind, called Grains-of-Paradise. Others
yield a dye, as turmeric, which is much used in
manufactures. Near these comes a small tribe,
containing the plantains and bananas, valuable tro-
pical fruits, of which you have often heard. The
plants also furnish many useful articles, especially
flax, from which some of the finest muslins of
India are prepared. The pretty plant called
Indian Shot, of which we once had several speci-
mens in the conservatory, belongs to a neighbour-
ing tribe, called Marants, from some of which we
get arrowroot. Three or four of the species yield
it in abundance, but especially one*, which is
much cultivated in the West India islands."
How do they get the arrowroot from the
plant asked Mary.
When the roots are a year old, they are dug
up, washed, and grated, or beaten to a pulp in
wooden mortars. This pulp is thrown into clean
water, and stirred about to separate the fibrous
* Maranta arundinacea.
52 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
parts which are collected in the hand. The
milky liquor which remains is poured through a
sieve, and afterwards allowed to settle for some
time. The arrowroot sinks to the bottom, and
when the water is poured off, the white pasty mass
that remains is placed on clean white cloths in the
sun, to dry. It is then fit for use, and will keep
for a very long time."
What is the plant like ? asked Robert.
"It is a handsome plant, with long and broad
leaves, of a very rich green. I will show you a
hot-house specimen on the first opportunity."
The children were now told that they had
arrived at a very curious and remarkable race of
plants, different in many respects from other
natural orders, but not the less interesting to
botanists, or even to common observers.
"Do you remember," said their father, "the
odd-looking Bee-orchis we used to watch for so
eagerly every spring ? There were a few roots in
a corner of the orchard, but unfortunately they
have now died away."
Oh yes, papa," said Mary, "it looked exactly
like a bee settled on a flower."
One of the marks of the orchis tribe, is the
VARIETY AND BEAUTY OF ORCHIDS. 53
very general enlargement, and often the very
curious shape and appearance of one of the inner
rows of petals. In the bee-orchis it is quite different
from all the other petals, being of a dark colour,
velvety texture, and looking, at a little distance,
very much like a bee. In another, it resembles a
fly; in another, a lady's slipper, and so on, giving
corresponding names to the different species. You
are fond of searching for some of the common
kinds of orchis in the woods and marshy places
where they grow; but from these poor little ter-
restrial plants you can scarcely form an idea of the
orchids of tropical countries; where, instead of
being content with such a lowly situation, they
take root among the branches of living trees, or
spring from the decaying bark of those that have
fallen, putting forth the most brilliant and remark-
able flowers, which, towards evening, give out a
delicious scent. I must contrive a visit for you to
some botanical garden where orchids'are reared;
and if you can bear for a few minutes the hot damp
atmosphere, which is artificially created for them
to live in, you will be delighted and amazed at the
extraordinary shapes of the flowers, and at the
curious growth of the plants, frequently parasitical,
54 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
on little logs of wood suspended from the roof of
What is the use of these curious plants ?" asked
"In many, we see more beauty than use; but
there are several which are applied to economical
purposes. A nourishing substance called salep is
obtained from the roots of one species *: vanilla,
used in the manufacture of chocolate, of liqueurs,
and confectionary, is the dried fruit of another t:
while the roots of a third + are so gummy, that
they are used in the United States for mending
broken earthenware, and are called putty-root."
"I wish putty-root grew here," said Robert,
"that I might mend mamma's broken china."
Besides this," continued his father, a few are
taken medicinally; and in New Holland the mealy
roots of many species are eaten by the natives.
Near to the orchis tribe come several tribes of
water plants or marsh plants, all natives of warm
climates, and more interesting to the botanist than
they would be to you; let us therefore proceed to
Orchis mascula. t Vanilla planifolia.
+ Aplectum hyemale.
THE RUSH TRIBE.
The children were very familiar with rushes,
and Mary was in the habit of peeling them for the
sake of a beautiful white pith with which their
stems are filled, and which her mamma had taught
her to apply to many ornamental purposes. They
also knew that rush-lights are candles in which
this pith is used for a wick, and that a great many
useful things are made of rushes.
These plants," said their father, are mostly
natives of cold countries, although several are
found in the tropics. Even in the severe climate
of Melville Island, our arctic voyagers found two
species of rush. A damp and cold soil appears to
suit them best, and where rushes spring up it is
generally a sign that the land wants draining."
But I have seen them growing on dry heaths,"
That may be. Heaths are frequently dry on
the surface, while a little way beneath is a cold
clay, in which rushes would flourish. Large tracts
of land in Japan are devoted to the cultivation
of rushes, and are flooded at intervals like rice
grounds: this large supply of rushes is entirely
devoted to the making of rush-matting for cover-
ing floors. You have seen the basket-maker
56 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
in our village using rushes for mats, chair-
bottoms, and other articles, therefore I need say
no more of their uses. We now approach the
lilies, first pausing at a dangerous tribe called
Melanths, where there are some fatal poisons, as
well as some useful medicines. Do you remember
the pale purple crocuses that came up without
leaves in September !"
Yes, papa," said Robert, I had two or three
in my garden, and now there are leaves coming
up without blossoms. How odd it is that the
leaves and the flowers are so far apart !"
This will help you to distinguish it from the
spring crocus, which belongs to another family.
This autumn crocus*, or meadow saffron, which
we are glad to see when other flowers are gone,
is yet a dangerous plant, and there are well-
known cases of poisoning from chewing the bulb
or the young shoots."
Would any one except a baby be so foolish as
to chew it ? inquired Henry.
Some time ago a poor woman picked up a few
of these crocus roots in Covent-garden Market,
and fancied they were onions. One would have
EFFECTS OF WHITE HELLEBORE.
thought that she must have missed the powerful
odour of the onion, and so have discovered her
mistake, but unfortunately she did not; but ate
them, and was poisoned. Another plant of this
order, called White Hellebore *, is a nauseous and
dangerous plant, containing a peculiar principle
called veratria, which acts in a singular manner on
the nose, producing most violent sneezing when
taken as snuff in ever so small a quantity. It has
a similar irritating effect when taken into the sto-
mach, and a few grains tried on some of the lower
animals have been fatal."
"Is it not very cruel to try the effect of poison
on cats and dogs asked Henry.
Exceedingly cruel, if it is done for mere sport
or curiosity; but if there is a prospect of saving
human life by it, or of doing some important ser-
vice to mankind, then it is lawful and proper to
make experiments of this sort. But let us leave
this gloomy race of plants, and proceed to their
near neighbours, the more innocent and beautiful
Is that a large tribe, papa?" asked Mary. I
can only think of five sorts, the tall white lilies,
58 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
THE VERNAL SQUILL.
THE LILY TRIBE.
and the orange-coloured, and the Turk's-cap, and
the trumpet, and the dear sweet little lilies of the
"The lily tribe," said her father, "is very ex-
tensive, for in reality the showy tulips, the speckled
bell-shaped fritillaries, the sweet tuberose, the ele-
gant agapanthus, and the fragrant hyacinths, rank
with lilies; and there are many useful plants, such
as onions, asparagus, squills, aloes, &c. which are
also placed by Lindley in his great order of Lily-
I thought you had told us about aloes before,
papa," said Robert.
I spoke of the Agave, or American aloe, which
is said to flower once in a hundred years, but
that is of a different family, and has very dif-
ferent properties from the true aloes, several
species of which are used in medicine*. These
latter are tree-like plants growing in tropical
countries. Some of the relations of our lilies,
indeed, grow to a majestic height in those warm
climates, and from their stem and leaves various
gums or resins are collected, some of which are
useful in medicine, especially dragon's blood, the
Aloe vulgaris, A. soccotrina, and others.
60 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
strange name of a resin which comes from a very
large species*, growing to the height of sixty or
seventy feet in the Canary Islands."
What grand and beautiful things the lilies
must be !" exclaimed Mary. Which of them do
you think it was, papa, that our Saviour spoke of,
when He said that 'even Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these '"
"Probably those 'lilies of the field' were the
scarlet liliest, which still spring up freely on the
plains of Syria."
Robert was disappointed at hearing this, for he
had made up his mind that our humble lilies of the
valley were the flowers which our Saviour had con-
descended to notice.
The children were told that several tribes of
plants, following lilies, are natives of marshes or
slow-running water in foreign countries; so few
being British that it would not be necessary to
name more than the Flowering Rush, the Water-
plantains, and Pond-weed, as specimens.
"But immediately succeeding these," said their
father, "there is a group containing half a dozen
tribes that would be very puzzling to you, were
Dracaenas Draco. t Lilium chalcedonicum.
APPROACH TO A HIGHER STRUCTURE. 61
they common plants. Although their growth is like
that of endogens, yet they have net-veined leaves,
which you know is a sign of the exogens. I shall
not trouble you with the names of these tribes,
because nearly all the plants are natives of hot
countries, and are not likely to offer any difficulty
to us. Among them are the useful yams, culti-
vated as potatoes, and the esteemed sarsaparilla
plants, much employed in medicine. But if you
want an English specimen of this kind of growth,
you must search for Herb Paris, that odd-looking
plant called by country people True Love, which
grows about a foot high, and bears four broad egg-
shaped leaves at the top of the stem, and a green
blossom followed by a purplish-black berry."
I wonder what makes these plants so different
from all the rest of the endogens," said Henry.
"Perhaps we are coming near the net-veined
plants, and so these are gradually getting like
them, just as the tribes of animals gradually came
near each other, as we travelled upwards."
"You are right, Henry," said his father: "we
are now coming to the important and almost end-
less races of exogens, which make up the great bulk
of the vegetable kingdom. And now I must tell you
62 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
of another mark by which the three great divisions
of the vegetable world are distinguished by bota-
nists. The first or flowerless division has no true
seeds; the second and third divisions have seeds,
but they are differently formed. The seed of an
endogen, when it first begins to grow, sends down-
wards a slender root called the radicle, and upwards
a single seed-leaf or lobe, which is the beginning
of the young plant. But the exogens do more
than this, for they send up two seed leaves instead
of one, as you may have often noticed in lupines
and other plants, where the two thick fleshy seed
leaves push through the soil, nourishing and pro-
tecting the young plant, and having a very dif-
ferent appearance from the leaves which come
afterwards. Sometimes these seed leaves remain
underground, as in the Windsor bean, and gradu-
ally die away when their purpose is answered.
Even before the seed has begun to sprout, these
differences are visible with the microscope, but it
is not often necessary to examine the seed in this
way, because there is such a very plain and sim-
ple means of knowing endogens from exogens
You mean the straight-veined leaves and the
CHARACTERS OF ENDOGENS.
net-veined," said Henry. Yes, that is a very nice
way of knowing them apart, and so little trouble:
I am getting quite a habit of holding up leaves
to the light to see which division they belong to.
But, papa," he added, "do you not think that
there is something about endogens that would
almost tell you what they are at a distance, with-
out examining the leaves Look at the lilies and
daffodils in the garden; how delicate they seem,
as if they grew up very quickly and would not
last long. They do not look strong and hardy
like other plants."
"Endogens," said his father, "are less highly
organized than exogens, and are, generally speak-
ing, very short-lived. There are exceptions to
this, for some of the palms live two or three hun-
dred years; but even in this case their existence
is short, compared with that of many of our forest
trees. Before we begin our last great division of
the vegetable world, let me give you one other
character by which endogens are in most cases to
be known. In examining their flowers we shall
find the number three or some multiple of that
number to prevail, while in exogens the number
five or its multiple generally prevails."
64 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
Mary gathered a snowdrop, and looked at the
blossom. "There are more than three of these
pretty white petals," she said.
Her father pointed out to her that there are six
(twice three), arranged in two rows, one within
the other, three petals in each row. He also pointed
out six stamens, and then opened the seed-vessel,
which looked like a little green berry; and there
Mary saw three distinct cells for holding the seed.
"As the spring flowers open," said her father,
"take notice how many have the number three
conspicuous. You will find that lilies of the
valley, although they have but one petal to make
up their delicate, cup-shaped flower, yet have
this cup divided at its edges into six (twice
three) segments, enclosing six stamens, while the
seed vessel has also three cells. The same is the
case with the hyacinth. In the tulip and nar-
cissus you will find the petals six, stamens six, and
cells of the capsule, three. Thus you may go on
with numerous examples, and I would gladly see
you gaining this sort of general knowledge of
endogens, before you puzzle yourselves with the
difficult words which are necessary to express
their botanical characters."
MULBERRY, AND PLANE TRIBES.
THE young larch firs in the plantation had now
put on their beautiful green foliage, and the
children were comparing their delicate colour with
the dark green of the hardy spruce fir, and with
the deep bluish-green of the Scotch fir, when
their father asked them how they should know
that these trees, so different in colour, were all of
"Very easily, papa," said Henry; "because
they all have needle-shaped leaves, and they all
And they all have a very pleasant smell," added
Mary, "for that is the reason why we gather fir-
cones in autumn. Mamma sometimes has a few
of the dried cones put on the drawing-room fire,
where they blaze up very quickly, and scent the
room; and we put some in our clothes-drawers to
66 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
keep away moth, for the insect does not like the
smell that we are so fond of."
"The three marks you have mentioned," said
their father, "are indeed true signs of the Pine
tribe, which all bear cones, and are therefore
called Conifers: and also have peculiar spiny
leaves, and contain an abundance of strong-smell-
ing resin. But can you tell me whether they are
endogens or exogens ?"
Mary said she could hardly tell by looking at
the leaves, because they were so narrow, but she
fancied they were straight veined. Henry did not
think so, and he felt sure the trees were exogens,
from their hard and woody growth. Robert, too,
remembered that his father had said that all our
forest trees are exogens, so this settled the matter
-yet they were told that because of some differ-
ences connected with the seed, these trees have
sometimes been considered a distinct class.
"I shall scarcely do wrong, however," said
their father, in calling them the lowest race of
exogens, from which they do not differ in growth,
but increase exactly in the same manner, by yearly
additions to the outer portion of the wood."
I cannot understand how trees get their new
FORMATION OF WOOD AND BARK.
layer every year without our noticing it," said
Mary; there are the elms at the end of the gar-
den, with their rough old trunks; I play under
them nearly every day, and I do not see the old
bark fall off, and a new one come instead of it."
These new layers of wood are formed under
the bark, and out of our sight. You have seen
people stripping off the bark from trees after they
are cut down, and you must have noticed how
easily it comes off; it is, indeed, quite distinct from
the wood, and has a gummy substance between it
and the true wood."
"Then as the wood goes on increasing, does
the bark stretch very much, or how does it manage
to make room ? "
The bark itself is also gradually renewed on
its inner side, while the outer portion cracks and
peels off, or perishes by slow degrees. Thus,
while the solid trunk of the tree is formed by zone
upon zone of new wood, which is added in suc-
cession, year after year, the bark is renewed by
zone within zone of fresh material; but with this
difference ;-in the bark, the outside perishes, and
a new layer adapted to the increasing size of the
tree gradually takes its place; in the true wood
68 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
every layer is permanent, and forms solid tim-
Then,"" said Mary, the old bark is obliged to
keep on giving way to the young bark; but that
must get old-looking too before it comes up in
sight, or else we should see a greater difference in
the tree than we do."
"All these processes take place so gradually
that we are unconscious of them, just as we are
generally unconscious of the changes going on in
our own bodies, where new material takes the
place of the old in a very similar manner."
Robert held up his fingers to show that some of
the skin was peeling off, and that new skin had
formed underneath; upon which Henry compared
him to a young birch tree, whose silvery bark
often peels off in long thin slips. You forget,"
said Robert, that young birch trees make very
good rods," and he began playfully to chastise his
brother, when their father called them back to the
subject of conversation, by saying,-
"The Pine tribe is an exceedingly valuable one,
on account of its timber, which is well known
as deal, fir, cedar, &c. There are vast forests of
pines in North America, and in some parts of
THE PINE AND YEW TRIBES.
northern Europe. The loftier species make capital
masts for ships, while some others, as cedar, cy-
press, and juniper, are noted for the extraordinary
durability of their timber. The celebrated gates
of Constantinople, which lasted eleven hundred
years, were made of cypress. The different kinds
of resinous matter obtained from pines are also
very valuable, and are known as turpentine, pitch,
balsam, sandarach, &c. The berries of the common
juniper are used in flavouring gin, and the large
seeds of some of the pines are eatable when fresh."
Pines are useful, indeed," said Henry, "but I
always thought our hardest and strongest wood
was yew-tree wood. I have heard that the ancient
Britons made their bows of it, and they were
famous ones, very strong and elastic."
"That is true," said his father; and the yew
tribe, which comes next to the pine tribe, is not to
be surpassed as to the durability of its timber;
but the tribe must still be considered far less
valuable, because the trees are much less common.
In Europe, we have only one species, the common
yew. Asia is richer in trees of this kind, and in
New Zealand the most valuable timber is gained
from members of the tribe. I must warn you,
70 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
however, that the leaves of the common yew are
Robert was surprised to hear this, and he
thought he must have had a narrow escape from
poisoning, for he well remembered being tempted
to eat some of the pretty rose-coloured berries of
the yew. His father told him that the soft part of
the berry is quite harmless, if the seed is not
swallowed; but he advised him in future not to
meddle with any strange fruit, however tempting
"There are several foreign trees," said his
father, whose wood is not very inferior to that
of the yew in hardness; but I shall now lead you
to a group which may be known by having their
flowers arranged in catkins, as we are accustomed
to call their dense spikes of blossom. Foremost
are the beef-woods *, a curious race of trees and
bushes in Australia, whose great peculiarity is,
that they have no leaves."
Dear papa, what odd trees! said Mary; how
strange it seems that they should be able to live
and grow without leaves. Our trees have no
leaves in winter, but when summer comes, if any
THE BEEF-WOOD TRIBE.
of them are leafless we
know that they are
trees have drooping
jointed branches, and at
every joint there are lit-
tle sheaths, occupying
the place where we
should expect the leaves
to grow. Their flowers
are in catkins, and the
seed is collected into a
sort of cone, which once
led to the opinion that
they belonged to the
"I am glad they"
have catkins and cones
to show that they are
living, and not dead
trees," said Mary; "but
I should like to know
why they have the odd
name of beef wood
72 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
They are called so by the colonists because the
timber is very much the colour of raw beef. One
of. the species is also called
the she-oak, because its
branches and cones contain a
pleasant acid, and travellers
suffering from thirst obtain
great relief by chewing them.
I must now ask Mary, who
is so fond of catkins, to name
some of the other trees of
Mary soon thought of the
birch and the alder -, which
her father told her were near
relations, and with few ex-
ceptions, more valuable as
ornaments than as timber.
"Among birch," he said,
"there is a tree in North
America I with so tough and
thick a bark, that the Indians
BLOSSOM OF ALDER. make boats of it, and various
other useful articles. Our common birch yields
Betula. t Alnus.
+ B. papyracea. B. alba.
THE WILLOW TRIBE.
an oil which gives the peculiar smell to Russia
leather, which is dressed with it. A sparkling
wine can also be obtained from the sap of the
BLOSSOM OF WILLOW.
birch, and some North American species furnish
excellent sugar. The alder is less remarkable for
its uses, but there is a bitter principle in its bark
which has been employed medicinally."
"I have thought of some other trees with cat-
74 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
kins." said Mary. "All the willows and poplars
seem to have them; for I have seen them on the
weeping willow that grows by the water, and on
the common willows, and on the tall Lombardy
poplars, and on the quivering aspen."
LEAF OF WHITE POPLAR.
"True," said her father; "the willow tribe,
including all the willows and poplars t, has this
general mark of relationship, besides others which
bind the families especially into one order. Their
wood is sometimes valuable as timber, but oftener
OSIERS AND SALLOWS.
for common domestic purposes. Henry's cricket
bat is made of the common white willow *; your
weeding basket, Mary, is of the common osier f,
and your mamma has a basket made of the fine
basket osier, which grows in meadows and marshy
places in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. Robert's
arrows are made of the aspen +, and most of our
charcoal is made from sallows."
Robert wished to know why willows are some-
times called osiers and sallows; and he was told that
these names help to distinguish the different species
in this extensive family, which contains upwards
of sixty distinct species, natives of Britain ; so that
the study of willows is not a little puzzling to
Let us now pass on," said his father, to a
neighboring group, which is chiefly distinguished
from this by the flowers not being commonly ar-
ranged in catkins. I shall only notice the nettle
and the mulberry tribes."
Why is the nettle put among trees ?" asked
Because it resembles these particular trees in
important botanical particulars. But the nettle is
S. alba. t S. viminalis. $ P. tremula.
76 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
not always the despised weed it is with us. Some
of the species grow to the height of trees, and have
their branched form; but the wood is very light
Nettles are of no use, are they, papa, but really
mischievous, on account of their sting ? "
We have no right to say of any created thing
that it is of no use; and if you were acquainted
with old herbals, you would find great virtues
ascribed to nettles, and to their relation, Pellitory
of the Wall." But if we do not place entire faith
in these accounts, we yet learn that cordage can
be made from nettles; that a species with tuberous
roots has been used instead of potatoes, and that
even the stinging quality has been made use of
in cases of paralysis, the benumbed limb being
flogged with nettles, to restore sensation."
Mary said, that if there was any life left in the
limb, the person would be sure to feel the sting; but
her father told her that he had never heard of a case
in which this rough treatment was of much service.
"As some nettles," he said, can be made into
cordage, so the hemp tribe, which follows, is of
great service, on account of the tough fibres of the
HEMP AND MULBERRY TRIBES.
well-known hemp *, from which our ropes, door
mats, &c. are manufactured. In temperate climates
this is the grand use of hemp, but in hot countries
it also affords a resin, which has intoxicating pro-
perties, producing drowsiness and drunkenness.
In this sleep-producing property it resembles its
near relation, the hop, which belongs to this tribe,
and is a well-known ingredient in beer."
"Hops are very pretty," said Mary, "but I
should not like them to be trained over trellis-work
as some people have them, in their gardens; because
whenever I touched the blossoms they would give
out that disagreeable bitter smell."
Many persons think it a fine aromatic smell,"
said her father; it is produced by little glands
(easily rubbed off), which are scattered over the
green scales of the hop-head, and contain a bitter
resin. But we must proceed to the mulberry
The mulberry tree was a great favourite with
the children, not only on account of the rich fruit
which it afforded them, just in the hottest weather,
but also on account of the supply of leaves it
yielded to their silkworms. They were surprised
78 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
to hear that the fig tree belongs to this tribe, and
that both have been brought from the East, the
whole tribe being of foreign origin. Their father
spoke of the fig trees, as especially interesting,
since one of them is theremarkable banyan tree of
India, whose immense branches send down shoots
to the earth, which take root, and form pillars for
the support of the extended foliage.
Bring Milton's works," he said; "look in the
ninth book of Paradise Lost, for some mention of
this method of growth in the banyan tree."
Henry read as follows:-
The bended twigs take root, and daughters grow
About the mother-tree, a pillar'd shade
High over-arch'd, and echoing walks between."
"What beautiful shady groves it must make,"
said Mary; "and how pleasant it must be in that
hot country to have such a shelter !"
Her father replied, "The poet Southey, de-
scribing a banyan tree, says:-
SSo like a temple did it seem, that there
The pious heart's first impulse would be prayer:'
we may therefore make due allowance for the poor
Hindoo, who in performing his devotions near this
tree, considers, in his ignorance, that the banyan
THE PLANE TRIBE.
itself is an object of worship. There is something
very touching, to my mind, in the reverence and
gratitude which the heathen show to natural ob-
jects, such as the sun and moon, rivers, trees, and
animals. Sensible of the blessings conferred upon
80 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
them, and ignorant of the source from whence they
come, these poor creatures worship the gifts instead
of the Giver ; and grievous as this error is, yet it
does not seem so gross and debasing as the worship
of images, the work of men's hands."
"Another day," said Mary, "the poor little
Hindoo children will be taught not to worship the
river Ganges, or the banyan tree, but Him who
made all the beautiful groves and streams."
God grant it may be so," said her father.
Henry now inquired whether fig trees are of
any other use than to give fruit and shade, and he
was told that they furnish India-rubber in great
abundance, and that in some of them their milky
fluid forms a wholesome beverage, giving them
the name of cow trees. He was also told that
the noble plane tree *, which affords so much shade,
is not far removed from the mulberry and fig,
although its juice is watery instead of milky.
SPURGEWORT-MASTWORT-WALNUT -NUTMEG CUCUMBER-
BEGONIA PAPAW -PASSION-FLOWER-VIOLET TAMARISK,
AND HOUSELEEK TRIBES.
ONE day the children saw in their father's study
a smooth, thick piece of wood, on which a very
beautiful drawing had been made. Mary asked if
she might have such a piece of wood to draw upon;
but she was told that it was too expensive, and
that she must be contented with paper, until she
could draw in a very superior manner.
This is the wood of the box tree," said her
father, "and it has been prepared in this way for
the use of the wood engraver, whose interesting
work I will one day take you to see. Meanwhile
let us talk about the group of plants to which the
box belongs. They are called spurgeworts, and
many of them are extremely poisonous; but this
does not prevent the use of several families in
medicine*; yet the fatal character of others is such
Euphorbia, Mercurialis, Croton, &c.
82 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
that no medical man would dare to prescribe them.
One foreign tree, in particular, called the Manchi-
neel, which bears a handsome, apple-shaped fruit,
is so poisonous, that persons are said to have died
by merely sleeping beneath its shade, while a
single drop of juice on the skin produces an ulcer
difficult to heal."
"Do you think it can be true, papa, about
people dying who sleep near it said Robert.
I am not qualified to judge of its truth," said
his father; but those who are so inform me, that
with so volatile a poison, it is not at all unlikely
that delicate persons might die from sleeping under
it, and breathing its dangerous atmosphere."
What does 'volatile' mean ?" asked Mary.
A substance is said to be volatile," said her
father, when its essence or principle easily escapes
into the surrounding air. Camphor is volatile;
and hence its powerful odour is immediately per-
ceived, while its very substance becomes converted
Oh yes," said Mary; "the piece of camphor
I put with my dried plants has entirely wasted
Robert said that smelling salts must be very
volatile, for when he left the stopple out of
mamma's smelling bottle, all the scent and the salts
too went quite away in a few days.
I can show you a specimen of a very poisonous
spurgewort," said his father; "it is the common
mercury*, which grows in bushy and shady places,
and flowers in April and May. This insignificant-
looking plant has produced convulsions and death,
so that I must again warn you against chewing
any leaves, roots, or berries of strange plants.
Yet happily in this, as in most poisons, the taste is
so nauseous and burning, that there is little temp-
tation to transgress."
Is there any thing poisonous about the box
tree itself?" asked Mary, "because I often gather
the little curled-up leaves to make cups and saucers
for my dolls."
"And you would not like them to drink out of
poisoned cups," said Henry, laughing.
"The leaves are very bitter," replied her father,
"and it is said that in those parts of Persia where
box trees are common, it is impossible to keep
camels, because the animals cannot be prevented
* Mercurialis perennis.
84 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
from browsing on the leaves, which kill them;
yet, on the other hand, we find that box leaves
have sometimes been used instead of hops, to give
a bitter flavour to beer. Some plants of the group
I am now noticing approach the heaths in appear-
ance, as our common crowberry*, while others
have the remarkable growth which is seen in the
pitcher plant. All these have a certain rela-
tionship or affinity with each other; but we now
rise to a higher group, and you need only look
round this room to see specimens of the most
important member of it."
The children did not see at first what their
father meant, but Henry soon recollected that the
old carved oak, of which the bookcases were
made, must be the specimen.
"You mean the good old English oak, papa,"
said he. The wooden walls of old England are
made of it, so we ought always to admire the oak."
Henry here had to explain to his brother and
sister, that by wooden walls he meant the ships
which protect our island; and his father told him,
that although the oak is chiefly employed in ship-
building, and is called the 'shipwright's treasure,'
Empetrum nigrum. t Nepenthes distillatoria.
yet other timber is also used, especially teak, a
fine timber which abounds in the East Indies.
SPRIG OF OAK.
Mary said that she remembered several other
uses of the oak, besides ship-building. The gall-
nuts are used in making ink, the bark for tanning
leather, and the sawdust for dyeing, besides the
acorns being used for feeding pigs."
86 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
The tribe of trees and bushes to which the oak
belongs," said her father, "has been conveniently
called Mastworts, because the fruit, contained in a
peculiar husk or cup, is called by country people
"I have heard people talk about beech-mast,"
Yes, and the fruits of the hazel, the Spanish
chestnut, and the oak, as well as of the beech, are
all called mast. The uses of these valuable trees
are pretty well known to you. In another tribe
nearly related to this, the only familiar example is
the common walnut, which is a native of Persia
and Cashmere, and is greatly valued in those
countries on account of its oil, which is employed
in cookery, and for burning in lamps."
"I did not know there was such a thing as
walnut oil," said Mary, "until I saw some among
aunt's materials for oil painting."
"Among a great number of foreign plants
having a twining or scrambling habit, we find the
nutmegs; although these have a tree-like growth,
and seem to resemble our common laurels. You re-
member the fruit and leaf of the nutmeg which was
sent to mefrom the West Indies, preserved in spirit."
THE NUTMEG TRIBE.
Oh yes, papa," said Robert; "it was some-
thing like a pear in shape, and the nutmeg was
like a kernel in the middle of the pulp. What I
thought the prettiest, was the red mace which
was wrapped round the kernel like a coarse net.
It is very odd that there should be two such
different spices in one fruit. I like nutmeg very
much, but I do not like mace at all."
Perhaps you do not know that your favourite
nutmeg can only be taken safely in very small
quantities. Whatever the natives of India may
do, it is certain that a European taking this spice
in excess, would soon experience intense thirst,
and headache, and perhaps delirium and death.
Nutmegs are tropical plants, and so are the various
families composing the cucumber tribe, which is
the next I shall mention."
"Cucumbers grow in the open ground as well
as in hotbeds," said Mary, and for that reason I
thought they were English plants."
"Vegetable Marrows and Gourds," said her
father, "also grow freely in the open ground, but
they are natives of hot countries, and so are
melons, and all other members of this tribe. They
have a habit of climbing by means of long curling
88 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
tendrils, and in the wild state several species are
poisonous. Thus the pulp of the bottle gourd*
has produced symptoms of cholera, and it is
recorded that some sailors were poisoned by drink-
ing beer that had been left in a flask made of one
of these gourds. The spirting cucumber is a
virulent poison, and from its pulp is prepared the
powerful drug called Elaterium, a few grains of
which sometimes bring on symptoms of poisoning.
Our common Bryony belongs to this tribe, and
partakes in the same qualities."
"Is it not dangerous to have any thing to do
with such a tribe ." asked Mary.
"It is necessary to use the fruit cautiously,"
said her father; "but cultivation improves many
of the species so much, that they lose nearly all
their baneful properties. It would be a pity to
give up our acquaintance with melons, cucumbers,
and vegetable marrows, because some of their un-
cultivated relatives are dangerous characters. In-
deed we are not at liberty to despise even these
dangerous plants, for several valuable medicines
are obtained from them, especially Colocynth +.
Lagenaria vulgaris. t Ecbalium agreste.
+ Cucumis colocynthis.
THE CUCUMBER TRIBE.
The seeds of most of them are mild and harmless.
In an African species* these seeds, when ripe, are
as large as chestnuts, and resemble almonds in
flavour, yielding also an abundance of oil. The
pulp of the same fruit is excessively bitter, and
produces violent headache when only applied to
Henry thought it very odd that the seed should
be wholesome and the pulp poisonous, which is the
case with nearly all the plants of this tribe. He
was told that the Begonias of our conservatories,
whose red-veined leaves are so much admired, and
whose whole foliage is sometimes of a deep rose
colourt, are not far removed from cucumbers, and
that some of the species have the same scrambling
"Allied in many respects to cucumbers, is a
strange and remarkable tribe of South American
plants, of which we will take the Papaw as an
example. This extraordinary tree has the property
of making the toughest animal substances tender,
so that newly killed meat, when hung amongst its
leaves, becomes fit for cooking in a few hours."
t Begonia sanguine.
* Telfairia pedata.
90 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
What a convenient tree that would be for our
kitchen garden!" said Mary.
"Still more strange is it," continued her father,
"that old hogs and poultry, when fed on its leaves,
become also tender, and fit for the purposes of the
table, in the course of a few hours."
We really ought to have it in England," said
Henry. If it would not bear our cold winters,
we could keep it in a hothouse, and it would be
worth the trouble."
"Perhaps its curious properties would be lost
under artificial cultivation," said his father ; "and
at any rate there would be disagreeable effects
to set against the convenience of having such a
"How so, papa?"
The roots of this tree have a most disgusting
and overpowering smell, like decaying animal
matter, and the blossoms also have a disagreeable
odour. The juice, when analysed, greatly resem-
bles animal albumen, dissolving like it in water.
Fibrin, a principle which is considered peculiar to
the animal kingdom, is found in this tribe, and also
in the fungus tribe, which causes both tribes to
be peculiarly interesting to those who love to
THE PASSION-FLOWER TRIBE.
search out the wonders and difficulties of the vege-
table world. These papaws are, indeed, so unac-
countable in their properties, that I should have
hesitated to tell you about them, except on the
best authority. Remind me to give you their
history at greater length from Hooker's account of
them in the Botanical Magazine."
"Thank you, papa, I shall not forget it," said
His father now began to speak of that beau-
tiful tribe of climbing plants called the passion-
Mary said she knew why they were called pas-
sion-flowers, for her mamma had shown her all the
parts of the flower, which were supposed to repre-
sent the instruments of our Lord's passion or
There were the three nails in the centre," she
said, "and round them the five wounds, and out-
side them the crown of thorns, with the upright
column in the middle, for the pillar of scourging."
Robert said he did not understand how three
nails could make five wounds, but his sister
reminded him that one wound was from the sol-
dier's spear, and also that, in crucifixion, the feet
92 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
were usually crossed, and one nail driven through
both, so that the four wounds of the hands and
feet might be made by three nails. The children
were talking thus in a low voice, on the solemn
subject of our Lord's crucifixion, when their father
told them that the idea of connecting the passion-
flower with that awful event was adopted by some
zealous Roman Catholics, when they first saw
these splendid plants blossoming in their native
woods, and climbing about from tree to tree in
And where are their native woods ." asked
Chiefly in South America and the West
Indies, where the fruit of some species is eaten,
and where infusions of the flowers are used as a
remedy for coughs, and a poultice of the leaves is
used to subdue erysipelas and other eruptions on
the skin. It would not be safe, however, to em-
ploy the passion-flower for such purposes in this
country, as the tribe possesses active and danger-
At this part of the vegetable kingdom we must
pass over several tribes of plants, natives of hot
countries, only mentioning a familiar species,
THE VIOLET TRIBE.
called the Arnotto plant whose orange-coloured
* waxen pulp, when separated from the seeds and
dried, forms cheese-colouring, and is also used in
the preparation of chocolate (see p. 98). We next
pause at the Violet tribe, which, besides our sweet
violets, dog violets, and pansies, contains also many
foreign herbs, emetic in their properties, and known
to us under the name of Ipecacuanha. The roots
of our sweet violet have similar qualities, and the
petals and seeds are likewise medicinal.
Henry remembered reading that violet flowers
were made into wine by the Romans, and also
that they are still used in the East to make sherbet.
His father told him, that this tribe does not con-
sist wholly of small herbs, such as our own violet,
but that some of the foreign families are berry-
bearing shrubs, and one has a twining stemt.
"Do you remember, Mary," said her father,
"the beautiful shrubs which fenced some of the
gardens at Shanklin, when we last visited the Isle
of Wight "
"Oh yes, papa: they were the prettiest I ever
saw, with very slender branches like beautiful
smooth rods, and covered with tiny leaves of a
Bixa orellana. t Corynostylis.
94 FIRST STEPS IN GENERAL KNOWLEDGE.
BLOSSOM OF THE TAMARISK