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IXIA LONGIFLORA.-THE LONG FLOWER IXIA.
Class III. TRIANDRIA.-ORDER I. MONOGYNIA.
Natural Order, GLADIOLE Æ.
The spatha (or sheaths, which inclose the germen is oblong, permanent. The flowers, which are produced in July, have six petals which are equal; three awl-shaped stamina. The germen oval, three-cornered, situated below the flower, with a single style.
There are many species of Ixia, varying in colour; they have bulbous roots, and may be increased by their offsets; but they will not flower well if parted oftener than every third year. In the autumn the stalks and leaves decay; the roots should then be put under shelter for the winter, unless it is designed to remove them ; in which case they may be treated in the same manner as the Hyacinth, and bulbs in general, and may be replanted any time between October and January. They may stand abroad in the summer, and should then have a little water every evening : they should be sparingly watered in the winter, when left in the earth. Pots three inches in diameter, and five in depth, will be large enough for these plants : the bulbs should be covered about an inch deep.
The Cape of Good Hope, which is so fertile in bulbous flowers, gives birth to a great variety of Ixias. Thunberg mentions two in particular : “The Ixia bulbifera, a bulbous plant, with a red flower, grew here in the greatest abundance. When one approached the place where it grew, it seemed to be but thinly scattered over the field, but at a distance, the ground appeared as if it were covered with scarlet cloth. . . . . .....Here and here only was found, beside the brooks, a green variety of the Ixia maculata, another tall bulbous plant, which is as elegant as singular, with its long cluster of green flowers, growing out like an ear of corn, and is extremely scarce all over the world.”
There is scarcely any situation, unfavourable to vegetation, where plants and flowers are not occasionally found. On one of the highest points in Europe, upwards of eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, at the foot of the Grand Jorasse, far up the stupendous glacier of the Mer de Glace, is a verdant garden, surrounded with snows that never melt. It is called Le Jardin, and is covered with Alpine plants, and a luxuriant herbage in quest of which the Swiss peasantry drive their cattle, at certain seasons of the year, over the icy sea.
Mr. Raffles mentions several instances of a similar description in his elegant and animated “ Tour to the Glaciers of Savoy." In speaking of the vale of Chamouny, he notices the striking appearance of meadows surrounded by woods of unchanging verdure, and ice that never melts. This beautiful valley afforded a grand and imposing spectacle; it was eighteen miles in length, and about one in breadth, environed by mountains of appaling height, and presenting an endless variety of grand and terrific forms. Bare and rugged rocks were every where discoverable, the peaks of which, covered with snowy mantles, seemed to prop the heavens, and to forbid the daring footsteps of man, while from their sides and their brows were rolled down vast accumulations of ice, to blend their fantastic shapes and mingling hues with the softer scenery below; and, in the midst of all, the life and business of husbandry and pasturage, proceeded at an elevation of more than three thousand feet above the level of the sea.
The ocean has also its peculiar flora; “Millions of plants,” says an elegant writer, “ form shades to innumerable fishes, that never quit their native beds; all of which speak a language far more emphatic than the thunders of the Vatican. They have their mountains and their vallies, their plains, recesses, and coves, in which to strike root: inhabitants to wonder at their calyxes, petals, and corollas, and to feed upon their redundancies.” In the Red Sea, and upon the coasts of Patagonia, as well as in the Atlantic, these plants rise from the bottom of the sea to the top; and are so numerous in some places as to interrupt the sailing of the largest ships.
Neither the extremes of heat nor cold are able entirely to impede the progress of vegetation. Lichens have been discovered near the margin of sulphureous volcanoes, and even on the icebergs of the Polar regions.
Plants have also been found growing on animal productions, which resemble in their construction those of the genus clavaria, the stalks and branches being generally terminated by tubercles, or little clubs. One of this description is often found on the chrysalis of the cicada, sometimes even on the cicada itself. The root of the plant in general covers the body of the insect, and occasionally extends over its head. When these singular productions have been for some time preserved in spirits, the plant and chrysalis may be readily separated from each other.
The vegetable fly of the Caribbee islands is of a similar description. It was formerly supposed to be entirely an animal production, and that in the latter end of May the insect, resembling a drone in colour and appearance, buried itself in the earth, from whence it rose again in a vegetable form.
Dr. Hill having carefully examined several vegetable flies, ascertained the incorrectness of this opinion, and has thus stated the result of his investigation. The cicada is common to Martinique, and in its state of a nymph, in which the old authors call it lettigometra, it buries itself under dead leaves to wait its change; and when the season is unfavourable, many perish. The seeds of the clavaria find a proper bed in the body or chrysalis of the insect, and soon begin to germinate, whence the untaught inhabitants conjectured that the fly itself sprang up into a little tree, and some naturalists have figured the cicada flying with a trefoliate plant upon its back.
A variety of interesting plants of various descriptions are peculiar to bog-soil, and will not grow in any other. One of the most elegant of these is the Andromeda polifolia, or marsh-cistus. It is found in the north of England, and grows profusely in the marshy grounds of Lapland, which it decorates in the most agreeable manner. The flowers are blood-red before they expand, but when full grown the corollas are of a flesh-colour. It would be scarcely possible for any painter's art to imitate the lovely hue of this captivating little flower. When Linnæus observed it in the marshy lands of Lapland, he could not help comparing it to Andromeda, as described by the poets; and the more he considered their descriptions, the more applicable they appeared; so much so, indeed, that had the antient poets been acquainted with the marsh-cistus, they could scarcely have contrived a more apposite fable. The plant is always found on some little turfy hillock, in the midst of swamps, as Andromeda herself was chained to a rock in the sea, which bathed her feet, as the fresh water does the roots of the cistus. Dragons and venemous serpents surrounded her, as toads and other reptiles the abode of her vegetable prototype, and throw mud and water over its leaves and branches. As Andromeda cast down her blushing head through excessive affliction, so does the rosy-coloured flower hang its head, growing paler and paler till it withers away. At length Perseus, in the shape of summer, dries up the surrounding water, and destroys the monsters, restoring the damsel to liberty who then carries her head (the capsule) erect.
Many of our native plants appear independant of soil and situation, and are apparently endowed with instinctive motions, by means of which they are enabled to obviate every local inconvenience. The bryonia dioica, or red-berried bryony, which so often wanders over stony banks, and forms a beautiful drapery of lively green, gracefully diversified with small yellowish white flowers, is furnished with voluble stems, and twines round other plants from east to south-west. This is also invariably the case with the humulus lupulus, or common hop; the lonicia periclymenum, or common honeysuckle; the tamus communis, or lady-seal, and many others; whilst different kinds of creeping plants, such as the convolvulus arvensis, and sepium, or small and great bindweed; phaseolus, or kidney bean, &c., turn their spiral stems from west to south-east.
The branches of the honeysuckle shoot longitudinally, till they become unable to bear their own weight, and then strengthen themselves by changing into a spiral form. When they meet with other living branches of the same kind, they coalesce for mutual support, and one spiral turns to the right and the other to the left ; thus seeking, by an instinctive impulse, some object on which to climb, and increasing the probability of finding one by the diversity of their course ; for if the auxiliary branch be dead, the other uniformly winds itself round from right to left.
The seeds of the cuscuta Europea, or greater dodder, open when ripe, and put forth a little spiral, which does not seek the earth to take root, but climbs up other plants, from which, by means of vessels, it draws its nourishment. When sown in a pot the dodder produces seeds, but the plants invariably die, unless they can attach themselves to something else. As soon as the roots have twined round an adjoining plant, they send out from their inner surface a number of little vesicles or papillæ, which fix themselves to the bark or rind. By degrees the longitudinal vessels of the stalk, which appear to have accompanied the vessels, shoot forth from their extremities, and make their way into the foster-plant, by dividing the vessels and insinuating themselves into the tenderest part of the stalk, in so intimate a manner as to be united with it.
Thus throughout the vegetable world a perfect system of mutual dependence every where subsists. The strong assist the weak, and the helpless plant which is unable to support itself, never seeks, without obtaining, the assistance of the great and powerful. What a beautiful and important lesson for the human race !