THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. VIII.—AUGUST, 1861.—NO. XLVI.
THE subject of Trees cannot be exhausted by treating them as individuals or species, even with a full enumeration of their details. Some trees possess but little interest, except as they are grouped in assemblages of greater or less extent. A solitary Fir or Spruce, for example, when standing in an inclosure or by the roadside, is a stiff and disagreeable object; but a deep forest of Firs is not surpassed in grandeur by one of any other species. These trees must be assembled in extensive groups to affect us agreeably; while the Elm, the Oak, and other wide-spreading trees, are grand objects of sight, when standing alone, or in any other situation.
I will not detain the reader with a prolix account of the classification of trees in assemblages, but simply glance at a few points. The Romans used four different words to express those distinctions. When they spoke of a wood with reference to its timber, they used the word silva ; saltus was a collection of wild-wood in the mountains ; nemus, a smaller collection, partaking of cultivation, and answering to our ideas of a grove ; Incus was a wood, of any description, which was set apart for religious purposes, or dedicated to some Deity. In the English language we can make these distinctions intelligible only by the use of adjectives, A forest is generally understood to be a wildwood of considerable extent, retaining all its natural features. A grove is a smaller assemblage of trees, not crowded together, but possessing very generally their full proportions, and divested of their undergrowth. Other inferior groups are designated as copse and thicket. The words park, clump, arboretum, and the like, are mere technical terms, that do not come into use in a general description of Nature.
Groves, fragments of forest, and inferior groups only are particularly interesting in landscape. An unbroken forest of wide extent makes but a dreary picture and an unattractive journey, on account of its gloomy uniformity. Hence the primitive state of the earth, before it was modified by human hands, must have been sadly wanting in those romantic features that render a scene the most attractive. Nature must he combined with Art, however simple and rude, and associated with human life, to become deeply affecting to the imagination. But it is not necessary that the artificial objects of a landscape should be of a grand historical description, to produce these agreeable effects: humble objects, indeed, are the most consonant with Nature’s sublime aspects, because they manifest no seeming endeavor to rival them. In the deep solitary woods, the sight ot a woodman’s hut in a clearing, of a farmer’s cottage, or of a mere sheepfold, immediately awakens a tender interest, and enlivens the scene with a tinge of romance.
The earth must have been originally covered with forest, like the American continent in the time of Columbus. This has in all cases disappeared, as population has increased; and groves, fragments of wild-wood, small groups, and single trees have taken its place. Great Britain, once renowned for its extensive woods, now exhibits only smaller assemblages, chiefly of an artificial character, which are more interesting to the landscape-gardener than to the lover ot Nature’s primitive charms. Parks, belts, arboretums, and clipped hedge-rows, however useful as contributing to pleasure, convenience, or science, are not the most interesting features of wood-scenery. But the customs of the English nobility, while they have artificialized all the fairest scenes in the country, and ruined them for the eyes of the poet or the painter, have been the means of preserving some valuable forests, which under other circumstances would have been utterly destroyed. A deer-forest belonging to the Duke of Athol comprises four hundred thousand acres; the forest of Farquharson contains one hundred and thirty thousand acres; and several others of smaller extent are still preserved as deer-parks. Thus do the luxuries of the rich tend, in some instances, to preserve those natural objects of which they are in general the principal destroyers.
Immense forests still overspread a great part of Northern Russia, through which it has been asserted that a squirrel might traverse hundreds of miles, without touching the ground, by leaping from tree to tree. Since the general adoption of railroad travelling, however, great ravages have been made in these forests, and not many years will be required to reduce them to fragments. In the South of Europe a great part of the territory is barren of woods, and the climate has suffered from this cause, which has diminished the bulk of the streams and increased the severity of droughts. But Nature has established a partial remedy for the evil arising from the imprudent destruction of forests, in lofty and precipitous mountains, that serve not only to perpetuate moisture for the supply of rain to the neighboring countries, but contribute also to preserve the timber in their inaccessible ravines. Were it not for this safeguard of mountains, the South ot Europe would ere this have become a desert, from the destruction of its forests, like Sahara, whose barrenness was anciently produced by the same cause.
Most of the territory of North America is still comparatively a wilderness; but in the United States the forests have been so extensively invaded, that they seldom exhibit any distinct outlines, and few of them possess the character of unique assemblages. They are but scattered fragments of the original forest, through which the settlers have made their irregular progress from east to west, diversifying it with roads, farms, and villages. The recent clearings are palisaded by tall trees, exhibiting a naked outline of skeleton timber, without any attractions. It is in the old States only that wo see anything like a picturesque grouping of woods; and here, the absence of art and design, in the formation and relative disposition of these groups, gives them a peculiar interest to the lover ot natural scenery. There is a charm, therefore, in New-England landscape, existing nowhere else in equal degree; but this is rapidly giving place to those artificial improvements that are destined to ruin the face of the country, which owes its present attractions to the spontaneous efforts of Nature, modified only by the unartistic operations of a simple agriculture.
Travelling in a forest, though delightful as an occasional recreation, is, when continued many hours in succession, unless one be engaged in scientific researches, very monotonous and wearisome. Even the productions of a forest are not so various as those of a tract in which all the different conditions of wildness and culture are intermingled, A view of an unbroken wilderness from an elevation is equally monotonous. Wood must be blended with other forms of landscape, with pasture and tillage, with roads, houses, and farms, to convey to the mind the most agreeable sensations. The monotony of unbroken forest-scenery is partially relieved in the autumn by the mixed variety of tints belonging to the different trees ; but this does not wholly subdue the prevailing expression of dreariness and gloom.
Nothing can surpass the splendor of this autumnal pageantry, as beheld in the Green Mountains of Vermont and Western Massachusetts, in the early part of October. This region abounds in Sugar-Maples, which are very beautifully tinted, and in a sufficient variety of other trees to delight the eye with every specious hue. A remarkable appearance may always be observed in Maples. Some trees of this kind are entirely green, with the exception perhaps of a single bough, which is of a bright crimson or scarlet. Sometimes the lower half of the foliage will be green, while the upper part is entirely crimsoned, resembling a spire of flame rising out of a mass of verdure. In other cases this order is reversed, and the tree presents the appearance of a green spire rising out of flame. We see no end to the variety of these apparently capricious phenomena, which some have explained by supposing the colored branches to be affected with partial disease that hastens their maturity: but this can hardly be admitted as the true explanation, as such appearances exist when no other symptoms of malady can be discovered.
So much has been said and written of late in regard to the tints of autumn leaves, that the writer of this cannot be expected to advance anything new concerning them. Let me remark, however, that these beautiful tintings are not due to the action of frost, which is, on the contrary, highly prejudicial to them, as we may observe on several different occasions. If, for example, a frost should occur in September of sufficient intensity to cut down the tender annuals of our gardens, —after this, when the tints begin to appear, the outer portion of the foliage that was touched by the frost will exhibit a sullied and rusty hue. The effects of these early frosts are seldom apparent while the leaves are green, except on close inspection ; for a very intense frost is required to sear and roll up the leaves. Early autumnal frosts seldom do more than to injure their capacity to receive a fine tint when they become mature.
The next occasion that renders the injurious effects of frost apparent is later in the season, after the tints are very generally developed. Every severe frost that happens at this period impairs their lustre, as we may perceive on any day succeeding a frosty night, when the woods, which were previously in their gayest splendor, will be faded to a duller and more uniform shade, — as if the whole mass had been dipped into a brownish dye, leaving the peculiar tints of each species dimly conspicuous through this shading. The most brilliant and unsullied hues are displayed in a cool, but not frosty autumn, succeeding a moderate summer. Very warm weather in autumn hastens the coloring process, and renders the hues proportionally transient. I have known Maple woods, early in October, to be completely embrowned and stripped of their leaves by two days of summer heat. Cool days and nights, unattended with frost, are the favorable conditions for producing and preserving the beauty of autumnal wood-scenery.
The effects of heat and frost are not so apparent in Oak woods, which have a more coriaceous and persistent foliage than other deciduous trees : but Oaks do not attain the perfection of their beauty, until the Ash, the Maple, and the Tupelo — the glory of the first period of autumn—have shed a great portion of their leaves. The last-named trees are in their splendor during a period of about three weeks after the middle of September, varying with the character of the season. Oaks are not generally tinted until October, and are brightest near the third week of this month, preserving their lustre, in great measure, until the hard frosts of November destroy the leaves. The colors of the different Oaks are neither so brilliant nor so variegated as those of Maples; but they are more enduring, and serve more than those of any other woods to give character to our autumnal landscapes.
It would be difficult to convey to the mind of a person who had never witnessed this brilliant, but solemn pageantry of the dying year, a clear idea of its magnificence. Nothing else in Nature will compare with it: for, though flowers are more beautiful than tinted leaves, no assemblage of flowers, or of flowering trees and shrubs, can produce such a deeply affecting scene of beauty as the autumn woods. If we would behold them in their greatest brilliancy and variety, we must journey during the first period of the Fall of the Leaf in those parts of the country where the Maple, the Ash, and the Tupelo are the prevailing timber. If we stand, at this time, on a moderate elevation affording a view of a wooded swamp rising into upland and melting imperceptibly into mountain landscape, we obtain a fair sight of the different assemblages of species, as distinguished by their tints. The Oaks will be marked, at this early period, chiefly by their unaltered verdure. In the lowland the scarlet and crimson hues of the Maple and the Tupelo predominate, mingled with a superb variety of colors from the shrubbery, whose splendor is always the greatest on the borders of ponds and water-courses, and frequently surpasses that of the trees. As the plain rises into the hill-side, the Ash-trees may be distinguished by their peculiar shades of salmon, mulberry, and purple, and the Hickories by their invariable yellows. The Elm, the Lime, and the Buttonwood are always blemished and rusty : they add no brilliancy to the spectacle, serving only to sober and relieve other parts of the scenery.
When the second period of the Fall of the Leaf has arrived, the woods that were first tinted have mostly become leafless. The grouping of different species is, therefore, very apparent at this time,— some assemblages presenting the denuded appearance of winter, some remaining still green, while the Oaks are the principal attraction, with an intermixture of a few other species, whose foliage has been protected and the development of their hues retarded by some peculiarity of situation. Green rows of Willows may also be seen by road-sides in damp places, and irregular groups of them near the water-courses. The foreign trees — seldom found in woods — are still unchanged, as we may observe wherever there is a row of European Elms, Weeping Willows, or a hedge-row of Privet.
One might suppose that a Pine wood must look particularly sombre in this grand spectacle of beauty ; but it cannot be denied that in those regions where there is a considerable proportion of Pines the perfection of this scenery is witnessed. Something is needful to relieve the eye as it wanders over such a profusion of brilliant colors. Pine woods provide this relief, and cause the tinted forest groups to stand out in greater prominence. In many districts where Pines were the original growth, they still constitute the larger sylvan assemblages, while the deciduous trees stand in scattered groups on the edge of the forest, and the contiguous plain. The verdurous Pine wood forms a picturesque groundwork to set off the various groups in front of it; and the effect of a scarlet Oak or Tupelo rising like a spire of flame in the midst of verdure is far more striking than if it stood where it was unaffected by contrast.
The cause of the superior tinting of the American forest, compared with that of Europe, has never been satisfactorily explained, though it seems to be somewhat inexplicably connected with the brightness of the American climate. It is a subject that has not engaged the attention of scientific travellers, who seem to have regarded it as worthy only of the describer of scenery. It may, however, deserve more attention as a scientific fact than has been generally supposed, — particularly as one of the phenomena that perhaps distinguish the productions of the eastern front those of the western coasts of the two grand divisions of the earth. I have observed that the Smoke-tree, which is a Sumach front China, and the Cydonia Japonica, are as brightly colored in autumn as any of our indigenous shrubs; while the Silver-Maple, which, though indigenous in the Western States, probably originated on the western coast of America, shows none of the fine tinting so remarkable in the other American Maples. These facts have led me to conjecture that this superior tinting of the autumnal foliage may be peculiar to the eastern coasts both of the Old and the New Continent, in the northern hemisphere. May not this phenomenon bear some relation to the colder winters and the hotter summers of the eastern compared with the western coasts ? I offer this suggestion as a query, not as a theory, and with the hope that it may induce travellers to make some particular observations in reference to it.
The indigenous trees of America, or rather of the Atlantic side of this continent, are remarkable not only for their superior autumnal hues, but also for the shorter period during which the foliage remains on the trees and retains its verdure. Our fruit-trees, which are all exotics, retain their foliage long after our forest-trees are leafless; and if we visit an arboretum in the latter part of October, we may select the American from the foreign species, by observing that the latter are still green, while the others are either entirely denuded, or in that colored array which immediately precedes the fall of the leaf. The exotics may likewise be distinguished in the spring by their precocity, — their leaves being out a week or ten days earlier than the leaves of our trees. Hence, if we take both the spring and autumn into the account, the foreign, or rather the European species, show a period of verdure of three or four weeks’ greater duration than the American species. Many of the former, like the Weeping Willow, do not lose their verdure, nor shed their leaves, until the first wintry blasts of November freeze them upon their branches and roll them into a crisp.
In a natural forest there is a very small proportion of perfectly formed trees ; and these occur only in such places as permit some individuals to stand isolated from the rest, and to spread out their branches to their full extent. When we walk in a forest, we observe several conditions which are favorable to this full expansion of their forms. On the borders of a pond or morass, or of an extensive quarry, the trees extend their branches into the opening, but, as they are cramped on the opposite side, they are only half developed. But this expansion takes place on the side that is exposed to view : hence the incomparable beauty of a wood on the borders of a pond, or on the banks of a river, as viewed from the water; also of a wood on the outside of an islet in a lake or river.
Fissures or cavities sometimes occur in a large rock, allowing a solitary tree that has become rooted there to attain its full proportions. It is in such places, and on sudden eminences that rise above the forest-level, on a precipice, for example, that overlooks the surrounding wood, that the forest shows individual trees possessing the characters of standards, like those we see by the roadsides and in the open field. We must conclude, therefore, that a primitive forest must contain but a very small proportion of perfect trees : these are, for the most part, the occupants of land cleared by cultivation, and may be found also among the sparse growth of timber that has come up in pasture land, where the constant browsing of cattle prevents the formation of any dense assemblages.
In the opinion of Whately, grandeur is the prevailing character of a forest, and beauty that of a grove. This distinction may seem to be correct, when such collections of wood exhibit all their proper characters : but perfectly unique forms of wood are seldom found in this country, where almost all the timber is of spontaneous growth. Wo have genuine forests ; but other forms of wood are of a mixed character, and we have rather fragments of forest than legitimate groves. In the South of Europe many of the woods are mere plantations, in which the trees were first set in rows, with straight avenues, or vistas, passing directly through them from different points. In an assemblage of this kind there can be nothing of that interesting variety observed in a natural forest, and which is manifestly wanting even in woods planted with direct reference to the attainment of those natural appearances. “ It is curious to see,” as Gilpin remarks, “ with what richness of invention, if I may so speak, Nature mixes and intermixes her trees, and shapes them into such a wonderful variety of groups and beautiful forms. Art may admire and attempt to plant and to form combinations like hers ; but whoever observes the wild combinations of a forest and compares them with the attempts of Art has little taste, if he do not acknowledge with astonishment the superiority of Nature’s workmanship.”
When a tract is covered with a dense growth of tall trees, especially of Pines, which have but little underbrush, the wood represents overhead a vast canopy of verdure supported by innumerable lofty pillars. No one could enter these dark solitudes without feeling a deep impression of sublimity, especially if it be au hour of general stillness of the winds. The voices of animals and of birds, particularly the hammering of the woodpecker, serve to magnify our perceptions of grandeur. A very slight sound, during a calm in one of these deep woods, like the ticking of a clock in a vast hall, has a distinctness almost startling, especially if there be but little undergrowth. These feeble sounds afford one a more vivid sense of the magnitude of the place than louder sounds, that differ less from those we hear in the open plain. The canopy of foliage overhead and the absence of undergrowth are favorable to those reverberations which are so perceptible in a Pine wood.
In a grove we experience different sensations. Here pleasantness and cheerfulness are combined, and the feeling of grandeur is excited only perhaps by the sight of some noble tree. In a grove the trees are generally well formed, many of them being nearly perfect in their proportions. Their shadows are cast separately upon the ground, which is green beneath them as in an orchard. If we look upon them from a near eminence, we observe a variety of outlines, and may identify the different species by their shape, while in the forest we see one unbroken mass of foliage. A wildwood is frequently converted into a grove by clearing it of undergrowth and leaving the space a grassy lawn. It may then yield us shade, coolness, and other agreeable sensations of a cultivated wood, but the individual trees always retain their gaunt and imperfect shapes.
The greater part of the woodland of this country partakes of the characters of both forest and grove, exhibiting a pleasant admixture of each, combined with pasture and thicket. In Great Britain the woods are chiefly groves arid parks: a wild-wood of spontaneous growth is now rare in that country, once renowned for the extent and beauty of its forests. Most of our American woods are fragments of forest, particularly in the Western States, where they stand out prominently, and deform the landscape by presenting a perpendicular front of naked pillars, unrelieved by any foliage. They remind one of those houses, in the city, which have been cut asunder to widen a street, leaving the interior rooms and partition-walls exposed to view. These sections of wood are the grand picturesque deformity of a country lately cleared, in the older settlements, a recent growth of wood has in many instances come up outside of these palisades, serving in a measure to conceal their baldness.
The most lovely appearances in landscape are caused by the spontaneous growth of miscellaneous trees, some in dense assemblages and some in scattered groups, with here and there a few single trees standing in open space. Such is the scenery of considerable portions of the Atlantic States, both North and South. These varied assemblages of wood and shrubbery are the characteristic features of the landscape in the older villages of New England, and indeed of all the States that were established before the Revolution. But the New-England system of farming — so much abhorred by those who wish to bring agriculture to such a state of improvement as shall make it profitable exclusively to capitalists — has been more favorable to the sylvan beauty of the landscape than that of any other part of the continent. At the South, especially, where agriculture is carried on in large plantations, eve see wide fields of tillage, and forest groups of corresponding size. But the small and independent farming of New England — as favorable to general happiness as it is to beautiful scenery — has produced a charming variety of wood, pasture, and tillage, so agreeably intermixed that one is never weary of looking upon it. The varied surface of the landscape, in the uneven parts which are not mountainous, has increased these advantages, producing an endless multitude of those limited views which may be termed picturesque.
In no other part of the country are the minor inequalities of surface so frequent as in New England : I allude to that sort of ruggedness which is unfavorable to any “ mammoth ” system of agriculture, and plainly evinces that Nature and Providence have designed this part of the country for free and independent labor. Here little meadows, of a few acres in extent, are common, encircled by green pasture hills or by wood. A rolling surface is more favorable to grandeur of scenery ; but nothing is more beautiful than landscape formed by hills rising suddenly out of perfect levels. As it is not my present purpose to treat of landscape in general, I will simply remark that the barrenness of a great part of the soil of the Eastern States is favorable to picturesque scenery. This may seem a paradoxical assertion to those who can see no beauty except in universal fatness; but unvaried luxuriance is fatal to variety of scenes, though it undoubtedly encourages the development of individual growth. An agreeable intermixture of various sylvan assemblages is one of the effects of a barren soil, containing numerous fertile tracts. Not having in general sufficient strength to produce timber, it covers itselt with diverse groups of vegetation, corresponding with the varieties of soil and surface. Thus, in a certain degree, we are obliged to confess that beauty springs out of Nature’s deficiencies.
We live in a latitude and upon a soil, therefore, which are favorable to the harmonious grouping of vegetation. As we proceed southward, we witness a constant increase of the number of species gathered together in a single group. Nature is more addicted at the North to the habit of classifying her productions and of assembling them in uniform phalanxes. The painter, on this account, finds more to interest the eye and to employ his pencil in the picturesque regions of frost and snow ; while the botanist finds more to exercise his observation in the crowded variety that marks the region of perpetual summer.
But while vegetation is more generally social in high latitudes, several families of Northern trees are entirely wanting in this quality. Seldom is a forest composed chiefly of Elms, Locusts, or Willows. Oaks and Birches are associated in forests, Elms in groves, and’ Willows in small groups following the courses of streams. Those Northern trees which are most eminently social, including the two just named, are the Beech, the Maple, the Hickory, the coniferous trees, and some others; and by the predominance of any one kind the character of the soil may be partially determined. There is no tree that grows so abundantly in miry land, both North and South upon this continent, as the Red Maple. It occupies immense tracts of morass in the Middle States, and is the last tree which is found in swamps, according to Michaux. as the Birch is the last we meet in ascending mountains. Tlie Sugar-Maple is confined mostly to the Northeastern parts of the continent. Poplars are not generally associated exclusively in forests; but at the point where the Ohio and the Mississippi mingle their waters are grand forests of Deltoid Poplars, that stamp upon the features of that region a very peculiar physiognomy.
The characteristics of different woods, composed chiefly of one family of trees, would make an interesting study; hut it would be tiresome to enter minutely into their details. Some are distinguished by a superfluity, others by a deficiency of undergrowth. In general. Pine and Fir woods are of the latter description, differing in this respect from deciduous woods. These differences are most apparent in large assemblages of wood, which have a flora as well as a fauna of their own. The same shrubs and herbaceous plants, for example, are not common to Oak and to Pine woods. There is a difference also in the cleanness and beauty of their stems. The gnarled habit of the Oak is conspicuous even in the most crowded forest, and coniferous woods are apt to be disfigured by dead branches projecting from the bole. The Birch, the Poplar, and the Beech are remarkable for the straightness, evenness, and beauty of their shafts, when assembled in a dense wood.
Some of the most beautiful forests in high latitudes consist of White CanoeBirches. We see them in Massachusetts only in occasional groups, but farther north, upon river-banks, they form woods of considerable extent and remarkable beauty; and with their tall shafts, and their smooth white bark, resembling pillars of marble, supporting a canopy of bright green foliage, on a light feathery spray, they constitute one of the picturesque attractions of a Northern tour. Nature seems to indicate the native habitat of this noble tree by causing its exterior to bear the whiteness of snow, and it would be difficult to estimate its importance to the aboriginal inhabitants of Northern latitudes. Yellow Birch woods are not inferior in their attractions: individual trees of this species are often distinguished among other forest timber by extending their feathery summits above the level of the other trees.
The small White Birch is never assembled in large forest groups. Like the Alder, it seems to be employed by Nature for the shading of her living pictures, and for producing those gradations which are the charm of spontaneous wood-scenery. In this part of the continent, a Pitch-Pine wood is commonly fringed with White Birches, and outside of these with a lower growth of Hazels, Cornels, and Vacciniums, uniting them imperceptibly with the herbage of the plain. The importance of this native embroidery is not sufficiently considered by those industrious plodders who are constantly destroying wayside shrubbery, as if it were the pest of the farm, — nor by those “ improvers,” on the other hand, who wage an eternal warfare against little spontaneous groups of wood, as if they thought everything outside of the forest an intruder, if it was planted by accident, and had not cost money before it was placed there. Give me an old farm, with its stone-walls draped with Poison-Ivy and Glycine, and verdurous with a mixed array of Viburnums, Hazels, and other wild shrubbery, harboring thousands of useful birds, and smiling over the abundant harvests which they surround, before the finest artistical landscape in the world !
Pines are remarkably social in their habit, and cover immense tracts in high latitudes, extending southward, on this continent, as far as the very boundary of the tropics, where they are found side by side with the Dwarf Palm of Florida. But in the region of the true Palms the Pine is wanting. It is worthy of remark, however, that in the fossil vegetation of the Eocene world these two vegetable tribes are found associated. This fact, it seems to me, should be attributed to the mixing of the mountain Pines with the Palms of the sea-level, during that revulsion of Nature by which they were hurled into the same chaotic heap. We are not obliged to infer from their contiguity in these geological remains, that the two species ever flourished together in the same region.
Pine woods possess attractions of a peculiar kind: all lovers of Nature are enraptured with them, and there is a grandeur about them which is felt at once, when we enter them. Their dark verdure, their deep shade, their lofty height, and their branches which are ever mysteriously murmuring, as they are swayed by the wind, render them singularly solemn and sublime. This expression is increased by the hollow reverberating interior of the wood, caused by its clearness and freedom from underbrush. The ground beneath is covered by a matting of fallen leaves, making a smooth brown carpet, that renders a walk within its precincts as comfortable as in a garden. The foliage of the Pine is so hard and durable that in summer we always find the last autumn’s crop lying upon the ground in a state of perfect soundness, and under it that of the preceding year only partially decayed. The foliage of two summers, therefore, lies upon the surface, checking the growth of humble vegetation, and permitting only certain species of plants to flourish with vigor.
Mushrooms of various forms and sizes spring out of these decayed leaves, often rivalling the flowers in elegance. Monolropas, uniting some of the habits of the Fungi with the botanical characters of the flowering plants, flourish side by side with the showy Cypripedium and the singular Coral-Weed. The evergreen Dewberry, a delicate species of Rubus, trails its glossy leaves over the turfs, and mingles its beaded fruit with the scarlet berries of the Mitehella. The Pyrola, named by the Indians Pipsissewa, and regarded by them as a specific for consumption, suspends its pale purple flowers in beautiful umbels, as if to invite the feeble invalid to accept its proffered remedies. Variety, indeed, may be found in these deep shades; but it exists without that profusion which in more favored situations often benumbs our susceptibility to the charms of Nature.
The edging of a Pine wood depends on the character of the soil. The PitchPine, that delights in sandy plains, is embroidered at the North by White Birches; and if a road be cut through a wood of this kind, these graceful trees immediately spring up in abundance by the wayside. If a pond occurs in the middle of a Pine wood, its margin is covered first with low bushes, such as the Andromeda, the Myrica, and the sweet-scented Azalea, then Alders and Willows rise between them and the forest. On the side of the pond that is bounded by high gravelly banks, the margin will be covered by Poplars and Birches. The White Pine, the most noble and the most beautiful tree of the whole coniferous tribe, predominates in the New-England forest; though some wide tracts are covered with the more homely Pitch-Pines, which are the trees that scent the atmosphere on damp still days with their delightful terebinthine odors. The woods in the vicinity of Concord, N. H., on the banks of the Merrimack, known by the poetic appellation of “ The Dark Plains,” are of this description. In still higher latitudes the dark, majestic Firs become the prevailing timber, and are regarded as typical of sub-arctic regions, where they are accompanied, as if to form a striking and cheerful contrast with their melancholy grandeur, by groups of graceful Birches, and lively, tremulous Poplars.
The Pine-Barrens of the Southern States are celebrated as healthful retreats for the inhabitants of seaport towns, whither they resort in summer for security from the prevailing fevers. They are of a mixed character, consisting of the Northern Pitch-Pine, the BroomPine, and the Cypress, intermixed with Red Maples, Sweet Gums, and other deciduous trees. The Pines, however, are the dominant growth : but here they do not grow so compactly as in colder regions, standing widely apart, with a frequent intervening growth of Willows and shrubbery. The sparseness of these woods may be in part attributed to the practice of tapping the trees for their turpentine, which has caused them for a century past to be gradually thinned by consequent decay. Their tall, gaunt forms and almost branchless trunks show that they obtained their principal growth in a dense wood.
The first time I entered one of these Pine-Barrens was some years since, in the month of June, when vegetation was in its prime, before the summer droughts had seared the green herbage, and when the flowering trees and shrubs were in all their glory. During my botanical rambles in the wood, I was struck with the multitude of beautiful flowers in its shady retreats,—seeming the more numerous to me, as I had previously confined my researches to Northern woods. The Phlox grew here in all its native grace and delicacy, where it had never known the fostering hand of Art. Crimson Rhexias, called by the inhabitants Deer-Weed, were distributed among the grassy knolls, like clusters of Picotees. Variegated PassionFlowers were conspicuous on the bare white sand that checkered the ground, displaying their emblematic forms on their low repent vines, and reminding the wanderer in these almost trackless solitudes of that Faith which was founded on humility and crowned with martyrdom. Here, too, the Spiderwort of our gardens, in a meeker form of beauty and with a paler radiance, luxuriated under the protection of the wood. Already I observed the predominance of luxuriant vines, indicating our nearness to the tropic, wreathed gayly over the tall and branchless trunks of the trees : some, like the Bignonia, in a full blaze of crimson; others, like the Climbing Fern, draping the trees in continual verdure.
These Pines constitute a great part of the timber of the flat country between the mountains and the coast, and render a journey through that region singularly monotonous and gloomy. In the low grounds, a considerable proportion of the wood consists of the Southern Cypress, a graceful and magnificent tree, whose appearance would be very lively and cheerful, were it not for the abundance of longtrailing “moss” (usnea) that hangs, like funereal drapery, from its branches, and darkens the whole forest. This parasitic appendant wreathes the woods sometimes almost in darkness, especially in those immense tracts on the borders of the Mexican Gulf that consist entirely of Cypress. There it has been poetically styled the “ Garlands of Death,” as signficant of the fevers that prevail wherever it is abundant.
It is remarkable that the two extremes of climate are distinguished by the predominance of evergreens in their vegetation. thus, the acicular-leavcd trees, consisting of Pines and their congeners, mark the cold-temperate and sub-arctic zones, in north latitude, — while Myrtles, Magnolias, and other broad-leaved evergreens, mark the equatorial and tropical regions. The deciduous trees belong properly to the temperate zones, and constitute, indeed, the most interesting of all arborescent vegetation.
With regard to the age of forests, it may be affirmed that there are some undoubtedly in existence which are coeval with the earliest history of nations ; but no individual trees are of such antiquity. Like nations, the assemblage may be perpetual, while the members that compose it are constantly perishing, and leaving their places to be supplied by others of more recent origin. Probably the earth does not contain forests in which any tree exceeds a thousand years of age, though the oldest forest extant may be as ancient as the Chinese Empire.; for the oldest trees are not found in dense assemblages, but are probably such as have grown singly in isolated situations. As soon as a tree in a forest begins to feel the infirmities of age, its place is usurped by some young and more vigorous neighbor, and it is gradually deprived of subsistence in this unequal contest. The tempests and tornadoes, it: may be added, which occasionally sweep over a country, commonly make the oldest and tallest trees their victims ; for events seein to follow the same course in a forest as in human society. The most vigorous growers at any period continue to flourish a certain length of time at the expense of others; but when they have risen above the common level, they become marks for destruction, — they fall before certain inimical forces that do not reach their more bumble companions.
It was the opinion of Humboldt, that, if any tract of wooded country deserves to be considered a part of the great “ primeval forest,” it is “ that boundless district which, in the torrid zone of South America, connects the river-basins of the Amazon and the Orinoco.” This tract, unequalled in extent by any other forest in the world, occupies an area of more than a thousand miles square. In this vast chaos of teeming vegetation, trees of the largest dimensions are connected by an undergrowth of vines and shrubbery which is almost impenetrable. Immense rivers and their tributaries intersect the forest in all directions, and constitute the only avenues of commercial intercourse. This impervious thicket is like a huge wall, separating near neighbors, rendering them, as it were, inhabitants of distant regions, and obliging them to make long and circuitous river journeys before they can hold communication.
Here the leaves of the trees are always green, and flowers appear in constant succession ; but the surface of the ground is without herbage, for the darkness of the wood is fatal to all humble vegetation. The small plants are mostly parasites, thousands inserting their roots into the bark of trees and garlanding them with beauty. Those that take root in the ground show but few leaves or flowers, until they have clambered upwards, through the underwood, into the light of heaven. Almost the only relief afforded the sight, in this vast solitude, comes from the rivers and other collections of water, over whose expanse the eye revels with the delight we feel on emerging from the gloom of a cavern. Every object seems to be struggling to get outside of this chaotic growth, where it can obtain the genial influence of the sun : for near the surface of the ground are perpetual shade and hideous entanglement.
In this primeval forest we must not expect to realize any of our poetical ideas of the primitive residence of the first human family. Here are no Arcadian scenes of peace and rural felicity. On all sides we. behold an undying competition for light and life, among both plants and animals. We are reminded here of life in a crowded city, where the excessive abundance of supplies for human wants imported from the surrounding country causes a still greater superfluity of population, and produces a Struggle for a livelihood more severe than in a rural district of gravel and boulders. The oases of this great wilderness are those places in which there is an absence of the general fertility: barrenness in such circumstances is a relief, — because it allows both freedom and repose.
This wood is the nursery of all descriptions of monsters, living chiefly in trees. On their branches and in their tangled recesses, adorned with all sorts of foliage and flowers, creatures the most terrible and the most loathsome are seen crowding and crouching in close proximity to the most beautiful forms of living things. They fill the air with their discordant utterances, and allowr no permanent silence or tranquillity. Hours ol periodical stillness and repose, occurring mostly at noonday, and affecting one with a sensation of awful grandeur, by contrast with the preceding disturbances, are followed, especially in the night, by a tumultuous roar from the legions of contending animals.
Of stunning sounds and voices all confused,
Borne through the hollow dark, assaults the ear
With loudest vehemence.舡
Even the notes of insects are a deafening crash, like the rattling of machinery in a cotton-mill. Except in the hush of noonday, the notes of singing-birds are drowned amidst the howling of monkeys, the whining of sapajous, the roar of the jaguar, and the dismal hooting of thousands of wild animals that riot in these awful solitudes. The sight of the fairest flowers and the most beautiful insects and birds only renders one more keenly sensitive to the frightful discords that startle and the perils that surround him.
Similar contrasts are observed in the vegetation of this region, where the giant trees of the forest are chained in the embraces of vines that contend with them for existence and finally strangle them. Trees and other plants are crowded together so promiscuously, that Nature seems to be striving to collect into one space every possible variety of species. Trees of the most poisonous and deadly qualities grow side by side with the Bread-Fruit, the Cocoa-Nut, and the beneficent Cinchona. Here are the poison and its antidote,— the monster tree and its miniature epiphyte, — the plant that astonishes by its magnitude, and the one that delights us by its minuteness. Here, if anywhere on the face of the earth, may we form some conception of the state of our planet during the Eocene period, before the world bad come under the dominion of the human race.
But it Nature in this region has manifested an exuberance of animal and vegetable life, thereby rendering her bounties almost unavailable to man, there are other parts in which she seems to have provided for his particular benefit. In these favored regions, we find the Banana, the Cocoa, and the Date Palm, and other special gifts of Providence to the inhabitants of the equator. Palms are generally found only in small groups and plantations, but there are certain species of this family which are associated in extensive woods, and constitute, in some respects, one of the most charming descriptions of forest-scenery. The Dwarf Palms of the sub-tropical regions are chiefly assembled in masses, of which the Palmetto ot Florida and the Chæmerops of the South of Europe are conspicuous examples. The true Palms are likewise sometimes associated in forests, though not generally of a social habit. In one of the most celebrated of these, at the mouth of the Orinoco, composed chiefly of the Mauritian Palms, the wild Guaranos have established a national existence. Like monkeys, they live almost wholly in trees, having their habitations supported either by wooden pillars or by a matting suspended from tree to tree. In the wet season, when the ground is inundated, the inhabitants travel about their village in canoes.
The beauty of a grove of Palms has been a favorite theme of travellers. Humboldt, who saw Nature with the eye of a painter and the feelings of a poet, amidst all the dry details of science, regards them as the most beautiful of vegetable productions. It has always seemed to me, however, that travellers in general have been led to exaggerate the charms of Nature in the tropics, by observing the remarkable beauty of a few individual objects. Their susceptibility to be affected by the scenes presented to their view is likewise exalted by the confinement of their voyage ; they are enraptured with the novelty of everything about them, by the voluptuousness of the climate and the abundance of delicious fruits, and always afterwards recur to the scenes of their tropical visit with an excited imagination.
In countries near the equator, many plants which are herbs in our latitude assume arborescent forms. Such are the Tree-Grasses, which form impenetrable forests, equalling some of the Fir woods of the North in extent, if not in beauty and grandeur. In this part of the world we know the Ferns only as a low herbaceous tribe of plants, consisting of mere fronds rising out of the ground. We admire them for their beautifully compounded leaves, and their colors of red, orange, and russet that variegate our meadows in June, their garlands of verdure upon the rocky hills in winter, and the profusion of their frondage in the shady glens in summer. But in certain parts of the equatorial zone the Ferns pat off the humble guise in which they appear at the North. They no longer associate with the lowly Violet, allowing themselves to be crowded by the Hellebore and overtopped by the Meadow line; hut they rear their branches aloft, and assume the dignity and stature of trees. Man, who looks down upon them in our own latitude, and tramples them under his feet, looks in that region far above his head, and beholds their magnificent fronds spread out like a great tent between him and the heavens.
Tree-Ferns, though confined principally to the equatorial zone, are unable to endure the heat of the plains. They occupy an elevation that affords them the continual temperature of spring, three thousand feet above the sea, — the region of the lowest stratum of clouds, — where they receive the benefit of their moisture before it descends to the earth in showers. Humboldt ranks them with the noblest forms of tropical vegetation, — less lofty than the Palms, but surpassing them in beauty of foliage. The arborescent Ferns and Grasses are true specimens of those plants, of simple organic structure, which are found in the fossil remains of the early geological periods, and are the only plants now extant which may be considered the representatives of that epoch, when the saurians and the mastodons held dominion over the earth, and before the Angel of Light had descended from heaven to make preparation for a higher race of beings.