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DENDROBIUM LONGICORNU.-LONG-HORNED DENDROBIUM.
Class XX. GYNANDRIA.—Order I. MONANDRIA.
For a description of this rare plant we are indebted to Dr. Wallich, by whom it was brought from India in 1828. "This fine species," says that gentleman, "is a native of most of the mountains in Nepaul, where it blossoms during the rainy season. It thrives well at the Honourable East India Company's Botanic Garden at Calcutta, into which it has been introduced from these countries." It grows pretty well in decayed vegetable mould, among moss, in the stove.
An epiphyte, usually hanging down. Root formed of many cylindrical, fleshy, fasciculated fibres; stems numerous, slender, furrowed, flexuose, six inches, a foot, or even two feet long, covered with copious, chaff-like, dark, decumbent, separable hairs, but becoming nearly smooth when old; leaves alternate, spreading bifariously, thrice as long as the intervals, linear-lanceolate, tapering outwards, very obliquely 2-toothed at the apex, the teeth narrow, obtuse, unequal; at the base rather acute, sessile, with very short sheaths, three or four inches long, smooth, obsoletely 3-nerved, striated, nearly flat; flowers large, whitish, two inches long, scentless, smooth, terminal, or sometimes lateral, on leafless stems, placed on a fleshy, cylindrical, hairy peduncle, measuring, with the oblong clavate ovarium, about two inches; bracteae 2, lanceolate, acute, keeled, rather hairy, half a nail long, at the base of the peduncle; sepals erect, spreading, lanceolate, acute, somewhat keeled; the lateral ones adnate to the column, very much dilated downwards, and, together with the elongated base of the column, produced into a long, funnel-shaped spur; petals shaped like the sepals, somewhat conniving under the upper one; labellum large, funnel-shaped, straight, with a short, ovate, blunt lamina, fringed, with a papillose glandular disk, and a few yellow lines on it.
The Orchidaceae are more prized for their beauty and the strangeness of their flowers, than for any very important dietetic or medicinal properties they possess. When the doctrine of signatures prevailed, their geminate roots were supposed to be powerful aphrodisiacs, and hence the names Orchis, Satyrium, Serapias, &c. have been given to various genera; but it is probable that no quantity would induce that kind of madness which characterised the Roman demigods, or the devotees of the more profligate Egyptian divinity.
The tubers of these plants contain a great deal of very nutritious farinaceous matter, consisting, according to modern chemical analysis, of a proximate principle called Bassorine* This substance is known commonly as saloop, or salep; a word derived from the Persian name of the Orchis, which, according to Forskhall, is Sahleb. It used to be sold at the corners of the streets in London, and was a favourite drink with porters, coalheavers, and other hardworking people; and it is still highly esteemed both in Turkey and in Persia. It is said to contain more nutritious matter in proportion to its bulk than any other known substance, and that an ounce a-day will be sufficient to sustain a man: hence it is a favourite food, from its portability, with pedestrian travellers in wild deserts and uninhabited countries.
Some of the South American species, such as the Cataseta and Cyrtipodia, contain a viscid substance, which, when separated by boiling and inspissated, is used by the Brazilians instead of glue. The root of Bletia verecunda is said to be stomachic, and Orchis abortiva and others slightly astringent.
Vanilla is the produce of the V. aromatica, the old Epidendrum Vanilla. This plant is a climbing epiphyte, growing in the West Indies, and its root is used for flavouring chocolate, and also for perfuming snuff.
The Epidendra, Aerides, and many others of the epiphytic species (for they are not truly parasites), are familiarly known as air-plants. They absorb much of their food from the atmosphere, and hence require very little either soil or water; so that when taken from the trees on which they grow, just before their flowers are developed, and suspended by strings from the ceiling of a room, they will live for weeks, and even months, supported solely by the moisture floating in the atmosphere, and go on blossoming luxuriantly; hence they are some of the most favorite and elegant ornaments of the houses in China and Japan.
"Field Paths (says Mr. Howitt, Book of the Seasons, p. 198) are at this season particularly attractive. I love our real old English footpaths. I love those rustic and picturesque stiles opening their pleasant escapes from frequented places and dusty highways into the solitudes of Nature. It is delightful to catch a glimpse of one on the old village-green; under the old elder-tree by some ancient cottage, or half hidden by the overhanging boughs of a wood. I love to see the smooth, dry track, winding away in easy curves, along some green slope to the churchyard—to the forest grange —or to the embowered cottage. It is to me an object of certain inspiration. It seems to invite one from noise and publicity into the heart of solitude and of rural delight. It beckons the imagination on through green and whispering corn-fields, through the short but verdant pasture, the flowering mowing-grass, the odorous and sunny hay-field, the festivity of harvest; from lonely farm to farm, from village to village; by clear and mossy wells; by tinkling brooks and deep wood-skirted streams, to crofts where the daffodil is rejoicing in spring, or meadows where the large blue geranium embellishes the summer wayside; to heaths with their warm elastic sward and crimson bells—the chithering of grasshoppers,—the foxglove, and the old gnarled oak; in short, to all the solitary haunts after which the city-pent lover of nature pants 'as the hart panteth after the water-brooks.' What is there so truly English? What is so truly linked with our rural tastes, our sweetest memories, and our sweetest poetry, as stiles and footpaths? Goldsmith, Thomson, and Milton, have adorned them with some of their richest wreaths. They have consecrated them to poetry and love. It is along the footpath in secluded fields, upon the stile in the embowered lane, where the wild rose and the honeysuckle are lavishing their beauty and their fragrance, that we delight to picture to ourselves rural lovers breathing, in the dewy sweetness of summer evening, vows still sweeter. There it is that the poet, seated, sends back his soul into the freshness of his youth, amongst attachments since withered by neglect,—rendered painful by absence, or broken by death; amongst dreams and aspirations which, even now that they pronounce their own fallacy, are lovely. It is there that he gazes upon the gorgeous sunset—the evening star following with its silvery lamp the fading day, or the moon showering her pale lustre through the balmy night air—with a fancy that kindles and soars into the heavens before him; there, that we have all felt the charm of woods and green fields, and solitary boughs waving in the golden sunshine, or darkening in the melancholy beauty of evening shadows. Who has not thought how beautiful was the sight of a village congregation, pouring out from their old grey church on a summer day, and streaming off" through the quiet meadows, in all directions, to their homes? Or who that has visited Alpine scenery, has not beheld with a poetic feeling the mountaineers come winding down out of their romantic seclusions on a Sabbath morning, pacing the solitary heath-tracks, bounding with elastic step down the fern-clad dells, or along the course of a riotous stream, as cheerful, as picturesque, and yet as solemn as the scenes around them?
"Those good old turnstiles, too—can I ever forget them ? the hours I have spun round upon them when a boy! or those in which [ have almost laughed myself to death at the remembrance of my village pedagogue's disaster! Methinks I see him now !—the time a sultry day,—the domine a goodly person of some eighteen or twenty stone,—the scene, a footpath sentinelled with turnstiles, one of which held him fast as in amazement at his bulk. Never shall I forget his efforts and agonies to extricate himself, nor his lion-like roars which brought some labourers to his assistance, who, when they had recovered from their convulsions of laughter, knocked off the top of the turnstile and let him go. It is long since I saw a stile of this construction, and I suspect the Falstaffs have cried them down. But without a jest, stiles and footpaths are vanishing everywhere. There is nothing upon which the advance of wealth and population has made so serious, an inroad."