« PreviousContinue »
the tree and wood have the soft greens of June. The sting of an insect, the gnawing of a worm at the pith, or the presence of minute parasitic plants, often gives the premature colors of autumn to one or a few leaves. The frost has very little to do with the autumn colors. Some trees are not perceptibly affected by it. The sober browns and dark reds, those of the elms and sev. eral of the oaks, may be the gradual effects of continued cold. The brighter colors seem to depend upon other causes. An unusually moist summer, which keeps the cuticle of the forest leaves thin, delicate, and translucent, is followed by an autumn of resplendent colors. A dry summer, by rendering the cuticle hard and thick, makes it opaque, and although the same bright colors
be formed within the substance of the leaf, they are not exhibited to the eye ; the fall woods are tame; and the expectation of the rich variety of gaudy colors is disappointed.
“ The question why our forests are so much more brilliant, in their autumnal livery, than those of corresponding climates and natural families in Europe, cannot, perhaps, be fully answered. It depends, there can be little doubt, on the greater transparency of our atmosphere, and the consequently greater intensity of the light; on the same cause which renders a much larger number of stars visible by night, and which clothes our flowering plants with more numerous Aowers, and those of deeper and richer tints ; giving somewhat of tropical splendor to our really colder parallels of latitude.
“On the first evolution of the leaves in spring, and afterwards when they expand during a series of cloudy days, their color is a delicate yellowish-green, which is supposed to be owing to the green coloring matter within the cells of the leaves, the chromule, or chlorophylle, seen through their white or yellowish membranous coverings. A few hours of sunshine give a visibly deeper tint to the green, which becomes still more intense in the clear and bright sunshine of June and July. This formation of green is found to be connected with the decomposition of the carbonic acid gas which is taken up in the sap, and the consequent evolution of oxygen, and the deposition of carbon in the vessels of the plant. The color of the chromule is therefore thought to depend upon its greater or less oxygenation ; - a free acid, that is, an excess of oxygenation, being sometimes found in the chromule when it has become yellow or red. Minute portions of iron, carried up by the sap and deposited in the vessels of the leaves, may possibly contribute to the depth of the colors, although some of the best physiologists doubt in regard to this.” — pp. 484 - 486.
In wandering through the open country, especially among
mountains or by the sea-shore, we are sometimes chilled by a sense of loneliness and insignificance. But in roaming in the woods in the early spring, there is a strange sense of companionship ; one never feels alone. Is it that the trees are to us like conscious beings, having sympathy with us ? Or do we unconsciously recognize the near presence of the Unseen, benevolently working all around us for our instruction and enjoyment ? We love to be alone ; a stranger intermeddleth not with the unutterable and solemn joy with which we gaze up at the glorious forms that seern to reach the sky above our heads. We feel ourselves short-lived, weak, ignorant ; but we feel it as children in the presence of a benign parent. We cannot but trust in that care which gives to each little spray that waves in the breeze its own exquisite grace and beauty, and creates the minutest seed as perfect in itself as the loftiest oak. Exact order reigns throughout, together with endless variety. The elements of the picturesque in forest scenery are so inexhaustibly various, that there can be no sameness to an observing eye, whether we wind our way through leafy arches and dark dells, or stand in the open glades, and look up to masses of foliage in relief against the sky. A single tuft of Linnæa, in its careless grace, puts the most exquisite embroidery out of countenance. The glossy waxen leaves of the smilax, catching the light in some deep shadowy nook, long detain the eye of an artist ; - why is it to be so much more admired in his imitation of it in the foreground of a picture? The utmost that the cleverest limner can do is to imitate nature so far that imagination may do the rest, the willing judgment consenting to be hoodwinked and blind to all deficiencies. In the copy, too, we lose the airy, graceful motion of the light branch, and the glancing of the shiny edges of the young leaves, as the wind sports with them. Any one who remembers his sensations, when he first looked into a camera obscura, and saw the movement of the trees and clouds transferred to the paper, can appreciate this difference.
In the early part of the season, when every green thing has fully recovered from the blight of winter, and reached the point of perfection, without as yet any of the signs of decay, no leaf yet crisped by heat or devoured by insects, a walk in the woods presents a most interesting and delightful succession of pictures. The different shades of green alone,
mingling and contrasting with each other, are a feast for the eye.
But most of the wild flowers are in bloom at this season, and each tangled thicket is a study for the botanist and the true lover of nature. Mr. Emerson's descriptions of the woody plants of Massachusetts are often as faithful as a painting, enabling us to recall the features of our lovely favorites with much of the same pleasure that we feel when we see them smiling in their shady homes. We love them, those with which we have a familiar acquaintance, and which have given us pleasure every season since our boyhood ; each has its individual character, its peculiarly interesting traits, like our human friends. Our humbler darlings, the violet, lobelia, houstonia, polygala, columbine, convallaria, &c., we miss from among their associates in the book, but they live in our grateful memory, greener than in our garden, where, alas, we cannot often tempt them to grow. We considerately bring home with them as large a portion of their native neighbourhood as can be conveniently transported, and with our own hands we pay them every delicate attention ; but, for the most part, the captives hang their heads reproachfully and pine away, dying evidently of nostalgia. And no wonder that they are homesick, in a trim, weeded border, the gairish sun staring them out of countenance, and the splashing rain bespattering them with mud. A garden Solomon's seal blooms with an indifference worthy of fashionable society, while its country cousins droop and die at its side. Violets and anemones, being naturally of a contented temper, repay the care bestowed upon them, and indeed grow large and portly, as if too well satisfied with their new condition in life. A yellow violet even survived sundry eradications by a stupid gardener, who mistook it for a weed; it held up its head when replaced in the parterre, as if to show the world that it was nowise humbled by the insulting mistake.
Would we could induce its forerunner, the sweet Mayflower, to take up its abode with us so obligingly! Were the beauty less coy, however, it would lose half its charms. Who could wish to find it in a garden, that had ever rambled for it in the shadeless woods, some fine April day, when the sun shines into our very heart, as it is shining into the earth, and waking it from its cold, long sleep? Who could wish to have it in a greenhouse, who had ever, after a long search, discovered its rose-tinged clusters peeping roguishly out from a mantle of fallen leaves ? Besides, the Daphne odora, the pride of “ window gardening,” at least in our estimation, offers us a similar bunch of flowers, and perfumes the warm and lifeless atmosphere of the house with a similar, but more essencelike scent, though not so spirituelle and spicy. Its garb of green, too, is fresh, and always tidily worn on its rather awkward limbs, while the russet habiliments of the epigæa are hardly presentable. The Daphne, to be sure, is to be seen every day, and therefore we more highly value the inartificial Mayflower, which, like modest worth, is to be sought for, often, alas ! in vain. Mr. Emerson describes the Mayflower or ground laurel, epigæa repens, as follows :
6 Often from beneath the edge of a snow-bank are seen rising the fragrant, pearly, white or rose-colored, crowded Aowers of this earliest harbinger of the spring. It abounds in the edges of woods about Plymouth, as elsewhere, and must have been the first flower to salute the storm-beaten crew of the Mayflower, on the conclusion of their first terrible winter. Their descend. ants have thence piously derived the name, although its bloom is often passed before the coming in of the month of May.
“ The trailing stem runs along for several feet just beneath the covering of leaves on the surface of the ground, throwing out from the sides or joints, at distances of two or three inches, bunches of fibres or long fibrous roots, and ascending flowerand leaf-bearing shoots, which usually enlarge upwards. The extremities spread on the ground, brown, hairy, and rough. The flowers are in terminal, crowded, sessile clusters or corymbs. At the base of each partial footstalk is a whorl of three concave, lanceolate, hairy, green bracts, ending in a long point. Just above is the calyx, of five narrow, subulate segments, half as long as the tube of the corolla. The rose-colored or white pearly corolla is a long tube, very hairy within, the extremity expanding into five rounded lobes. On the throat appear the yellow anthers, opening from top to bottom, and resting upon slender filaments, hairy towards the base, proceeding from the bottom of the tube. Leaves alternate. Footstalks hairy, half as long as the leaves, channelled above. Leaves oblong, cordate, rounded at the extremity, and often mucronate, ciliate on the margin, coriaceous and evergreen, smooth and shiny above ; veinlets impressed ; shiny and somewhat hairy, especially on the midrib and veins beneath. Stigma headed, five-pointed ; style straight; ovary ovate, hairy. The flower-buds are formed in August.
“ The Mayflower is found as far north as the Saskatchawan, through Canada and Maine, and thence to the sand-hills of Carolina and Georgia,” — pp. 378, 379.
Very scarce, however, in Massachusetts, at least so far as our observation extends ; probably because it shared the lot of the old forests, its favorite haunt, and disdains to appear among the chance growth that has succeeded them. The description of the sweet viburnum, another universal favorite, we take at random, as a specimen of the author's general manner.
" A beautiful, small tree, rising sometimes to the height of fifteen or twenty feet, with rich foliage, and clothed, in June, with a profusion of delicate, showy flowers. The branches and recent shoots are of a grayish brown, dotted, and often with a scaly or dusty surface. The smaller stems and larger branches are of a dark purple, almost black. The branches are opposite, at large angles. The leaves are broad oval, or lance-ovate, acute, rounded or sometimes heart-shaped at base, acuminate, sharply serrate, smooth above, paler or ferruginous beneath ; the footstalk is rather long, channelled above, conspicuously margined with an irregular, waved or glandular border. The leafstalk, fruit-stalk, under surface of the leaf and the midrib above are set with ferruginous, glandular dots or scales. The leaves are often half bent backwards.
" The flowers are in terminal cymes, sessile in the axil of a pair of leaves or branches. Five or more stalks spring nearly from one centre, and, diverging an inch or more, divide repeatedly into three or more shorter branches, at the base of which is often visible a minute linear bract. The pedicels are very short, terminating in a round ovary, surmounted by a calyx of five minute segments, above which rests a salver-shaped corolla of one petal, expanding with five oval, rounded, reflexed seg. ments of pure white. From the angles of these segments rise the five stamens, with slender, tapering filaments, longer than the corolla, and bearing on their point a short, yellow anther.
“ The great number of the anthers, in a head of flowers, gives a yellow. tinge to the whole, and a very agreeable fragrance is diffused; amidst the flowers are often seen the leaves rising. The fruit is large, often half an inch or more long, on stout stems, oblong, flattened, and, when ripe in October,
turns from a rich scarlet to a shining blue-black, covered with a glaucous bloom, and crowned with the permanent calyx-segments, surrounding the stigma. It is not unpleasant to the taste. The nut is oblong-oval, flattened, with an obtuse point, and grooved on