Page images
PDF
EPUB

in warmer climates, poisonous gases are developed from the swamps, as in those of Panama and in the Pontine marshes of Italy. It is thus that mischief done to the woods on mountains, is a bequest of destruction to coming generations.

No country in the world was formerly more healthy or more richly cultivated than Italy, once the "garden of Europe," now only an extensive morass. Where at one time the richest life prevailed, gloomy Death threatens to extinguish its fresh torch. He is aided by malaria, a disease whose existence is to be attributed wholly to the unhealthy decomposition of animal and vegetable matter in the stagnant marshes so abundant in the country. The poisonous effluvia spreads slowly among the few inhabitants whom iron necessity alone compels to remain. Ague, liver and hypochondriacal affections, are in its train. Pale and yellow complexions, with weak eyes, a swollen abdomen, and a wearisome gait, the accompaniments of these diseases, are everywhere to be seen among the poor inhabitants. Behind them lurks a malignant fever, which carries off the greater portion of them prematurely. What has made this once prosperous, healthy, and populous country, so poor, diseased, and deserted? The woods have been removed from its mountains! Look at the map, and you will see that these run through the central and northwestern portions of the Italian peninsula. The Appenines are at present almost entirely denuded of the noble forests which once flanked and protected their sides, and all travellers agree that there is now no country so sorrowful as that which is included in what is called the States of the Church, and which lies along the Appenine chain, between Genoa and Naples. Unhappy Italy, thy serene and sunny skies are now darkened by storms, but free nations are with thee in their sympathies, and a free press whose influences are already visible in all the movements of thy enemies! For why that concealed and stealthy step? Is it not because despotism fears this fearful weapon, and would avoid its effects, well knowing that it is quite as sure in its aim as

rifled cannon, while it possesses a far longer range? Is there any painting or sculpture in the world which rivals that of Italy? What music is so sweet as the Italian song? It has now lost its softness, its gentle, mournful cadence; its tones are spirit-inspiring and martial. Surely brighter and better days are in store for Italy. May we live to see this interesting people, so long the victims of religious and political despotism, free from their enemies and selfgoverned. "For a nation to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it."

Leaving Italy for Germany, we find even this country, which has produced so many reformers and philosophers, is not exempt from the terrible consequences of the removal of its mountain forests. A journey amongst the forests of Thuringia and the Hartz Mountains furnishes innumerable vouchers of this fact.

Woods are also useful along the sea-shore, where the coasts are low and sandy, as their roots bind together the loose sand, and prevent its being drifted inland by the seabreezes. One or two examples will show this in a striking light.

The sea-sand having overflowed the country situated in the neighborhood of the Gulf of Gascogne, on the western coast of France, and threatened to make it valueless and uninhabitable; Bremontier, a resident of the province, succeeded in opposing an effectual barrier to its further progress by planting a wood. He first of all planted the sand-loving Broom-Rush (Sarothamnus scoparius), and produced in its shade young Pine-trees, and so brought the overflow of the sea-sand to a stand still.

By reference to the map of Prussia, it will be seen that there is situated in eastern Prussia, between latitude 54° 15′ and 54° 45′ North, and longitude 19° 15′ and 20° 25′ East, an extensive lagoon, called the Frische-Haff, or Fresh Gulf, which is separated from the Baltic by the FrischeNehrung, or Fresh Beach, a tongue of land thirty-eight miles in length by one in breadth, the northeast extremity of which communicates with the Baltic by a channel half

a mile across. The low shores along this line of coast are washed by the waters of the Gulf of Dantzig, and in the middle ages its Dunes, or hills of blown sand, which stretch almost from Dantzig to Pillan, were covered with a thick pine forest and an undergrowth of heath.

"King Frederick William, of Prussia, wanted money. One of his noblemen, wishing to secure his favor, promised to procure it him without loan or tax, if he would permit these forests to be removed. The King not only allowed the forests in Prussia to be cleared, which, at that time, were certainly of little value, but he also permitted the whole of the woods on the Frische-Nehrung to be felled, so far as they were Prussian. The financial operation was perfectly prosperous; the King had money. But in the elementary operations which followed therefrom, the State received such an injury that its effects remain even to this day. The sea-winds can now sweep unimpeded over the denuded hills, the Frische-Haff is already half-filled with sand, its depth being now in no place more than twelve feet,—and sedges grow for some distance in its shallowing waters, threatening to convert it into a monstrous swamp; the anchorage extending between Elbing, the sea, and Konigsberg is endangered, and the fishing in the Haff injured. In vain have all possible efforts been made, through sand-heaps and pastures of coarse sea-grass, to cover again these hills with matted roots. The wind mocks at every exertion. The operation of the Prussian nobleman brought the King two hundred thousand thalers; now the people would give millions if they had the woods back again."*

The woods, in their united might, are truly a natural fascine or fortification, which serves to withstand the perpetual encroachments of the sand-hills on low, exposed shores; growing on the side of the mountains, they stay the further progress of glaciers, and protect the inhabitants of the valleys against the avalanche or mountain snow-ball,

* Das Buch der pflanzenwelt, von Dr. Karl Muller. Leipzig, 1857.

which loosening on the lofty Alpine summit, comes thundering with gradually accumulating power down the mountain-side, and spends its fury on the crashing but conquering forests of hardy Coniferæ.

In America we are in danger of losing sight of the utility of the woods. We want the land which they cover for agricultural purposes, we look on them as an incumbrance on the soil, and their cutting down is a mere question of cents and dollars. Witness the disgraceful vandalism which felled the noble Sequoias of California. Hence, the woods are disappearing on all sides, and this, too, on the most formidable scale.

But it is plain that other considerations ought to enter into our calculations as to the removal of a woods, besides its mere value as timber. If we remove trees from the mountain-side, from a low sandy coast, or from an inland district only scantily supplied with water, there is no end to the mischievous consequences which will ensue. By such ignorant work as this, the equilibrium in the Household of Nature is fearfully disturbed, and her wise and beneficent arrangements for our own good are completely frustrated.

CHAPTER XII.

THE DEATH OF THE TREE IS FOUNDED ON AN INNER LAW OF ITS ORGANISM, AND IS NOT THE RESULT OF ACCIDENTAL CAUSES.

We have, in the preceding chapters, traced the development of the tree, from the first appearance of life in the germinating seed, till the period when it arrives at an adult state, so as to be capable of flowering and reproduction. But this history would be incomplete if we did not consider trees in the decline of life, and review those causes which produce their old age, decay, and the ultimate dissolution of the several parts of their fabric.

The individual existence of a plant usually terminates with the formation of its flowers and seed. This law applies at least to annuals and biennials. In herbaceous perennials and shrubs, on the contrary, those branches only die which terminate in flowers, or in an inflorescence. With trees, at length, death extends not to the whole flowering axis, but only to its upper part, which dies down to the origin of the last side-shoots. And the reason is plain the mother-shoot is nourished and its life secured by the daughter-shoots to which it gives birth. If the reader also take the fact into consideration, that of the numerous axes of a tree, only a small number, in proportion to the others, terminate in flowers, he will clearly perceive that the tree has, despite the formation of its flowers, ample means of an independent continuance of its growth and life.

But, we see that, notwithstanding the numerous permanently vegetative branches which the tree possesses, as a preservative against the exhausting influences of its flowers, or reproductive organs, yet nevertheless, it dies sooner or later; and this question arises for consideration: Is the death of the tree brought about in accordance with a regular law to which its organism is subjected? or does it possess a natural tendency to an unlimited duration of life, which is only brought to an end, accidentally, through storms and other hurtful outward influences? The former appears to me to be the correct view, and I am sustained in this opinion by Unger* and Mohl,† both eminent physiologists.

We have seen that every part of the tree is a representative of a certain stage of development through which the tree has passed, whether it be leaf, shoot, or branch. But each of these parts passes through certain regular stages of infancy, maturity, decay, and death.

Now the growth of all the leaf-forms temporarily put forth by the tree, as well as the shoots and branches which

*Grundz. d. Anat. u. Phy. S. 131.
† Vegetabilische Zelle, S. 65.

« PreviousContinue »