Proserpina, Volume 2 Studies Of Wayside Flowers (TREDITION CLASSICS)

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This is [31] partly water, mixed with some kinds of air ammonia, etc. But the things it cannot receive from the air at all are certain earthy salts, essential to it as iron is essential in our own blood , and of which when it has quite exhausted the earth, no more such plants can grow in that ground.

On this subject you will find enough in any modern treatise on agriculture; all that I want you to note here is that this feeding function of the root is of a very delicate and discriminating kind, needing much searching and mining among the dust, to find what it wants. And therefore a root is not at all a merely passive sponge or absorbing thing, but an infinitely subtle tongue, or tasting and eating thing. That is why it is always so fibrous and divided and entangled in the clinging earth. No; the active part of the root is always, I believe, a fibre.

When you sow a pea, if you take it up in a day or two, you will find the fibre below, which is root; the shoot above, which is plant; and the pea as a now partly exhausted storehouse, looking very woful, and like the granaries of Paris after the fire. Then there are other apparent roots which are not even storehouses, but refuges; houses where the little plant lives in its infancy, through winter and rough weather.

So that it will be best for you at once to limit your idea of a. But the root has, it seems to me, one more function, the most important of all.

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I say, it seems to me, for observe, what I have hitherto told you is all I believe ascertained and admitted; this that I am going to tell you has not yet, as far as I know, been asserted by men of [33] science, though I believe it to be demonstrable. But you are to examine into it, and think of it for yourself. Yet if we were to tie them into that place, in a framework, and cut them from their roots, they would die.

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Not only in these, but in all other plants, the vital power by which they shape and feed themselves, whatever that power may be, depends, I think, on that slight touch of the earth, and strange inheritance of its power. It is as essential to the plant's life as the connection of the head of an animal with its body by the spine is to the animal.

Divide the feeble nervous thread, and all life ceases. Nay, in the tree the root is even of greater importance. You will not kill the tree, as you would an animal, by dividing its body or trunk. The part not severed from the root will shoot again. But in the root, and its touch of the ground, is the life of it. My own definition of a plant would be "a living creature whose source of vital energy is in the earth" or in the water, as a form of the earth; that is, in inorganic substance. There is, however, one tribe of plants which seems nearly excepted from this law.

It is a very strange one, having long been noted for the resemblance of its flowers to different insects; and it has recently been proved by Mr. Darwin to be dependent on insects for its existence. Doubly strange therefore, it seems, that in some cases this race of plants all but reaches the independent life of [34] insects. It rather settles upon boughs than roots itself in them; half of its roots may wave in the air. What vital power is, men of science are not a step nearer knowing than they were four thousand years ago.

They are, if anything, farther from knowing now than then, in that they imagine themselves nearer.

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But they know more about its limitations and manifestations than they did. They have even arrived at something like a proof that there is a fixed quantity of it flowing out of things and into them. Now, having got a quite clear idea of a root properly so called, we may observe what those storehouses, refuges, and ruins are, which we find connected with roots.

The greater number of plants feed and grow at the same time; but there are some of them which like to feed first and grow afterwards. For the first year, or, at all events, the first period of their life, they gather material for their future life out of the ground and out [35] of the air, and lay it up in a storehouse as bees make combs.

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We steal them from the plants, as we do from the bees, and these conical upside-down hives or treasuries of Atreus, under the names of carrots, turnips, and radishes, have had important influence on human fortunes. If we do not steal the store, next year the plant lives upon it, raises its stem, flowers and seeds out of that abundance, and having fulfilled its destiny, and provided for its successor, passes away, root and branch together.

There is a pretty example of patience for us in this; and it would be well for young people generally to set themselves to grow in a carrotty or turnippy manner, and lay up secret store, not caring to exhibit it until the. But they must not, in after-life, imitate the spendthrift vegetable, and blossom only in the strength of what they learned long ago; else they soon come to contemptible end.

Wise people live like laurels and cedars, and go on mining in the earth, while they adorn and embalm the air. Secondly, Refuges. As flowers growing on trees have to live for some time, when they are young in their buds, so some flowers growing on the ground have to live for a while, when they are young, in what we call their [36] roots. These subterranean palaces and vaulted cloisters, which we call bulbs, are no more roots than the blade of grass is a root, in which the ear of corn forms before it shoots up.

Thirdly, Ruins. The flowers which have these subterranean homes form one of many families whose roots, as well as seeds, have the power of reproduction. The succession of some plants is trusted much to their seeds: a thistle sows itself by its down, an oak by its acorns; the companies of flying emigrants settle where they may; and the shadowy tree is content to cast down its showers of nuts for swines' food with the chance that here and there one may become a ship's bulwark.

But others among plants are less careless, or less proud. Many are anxious for their children to grow in the place where they grew themselves, and secure this not merely by letting their fruit fall at their feet, on the chance of its growing up [37] beside them, but by closer bond, bud springing forth from root, and the young plant being animated by the gradually surrendered life of its parent.

Sometimes the young root is formed above the old one, as in the crocus, or beside it, as in the amaryllis, or beside it in a spiral succession, as in the orchis; in these cases the old root always perishes wholly when the young one is formed; but in a far greater number of tribes, one root connects itself with another by a short piece of intermediate stem; and this stem does not at once perish when the new root is formed, but grows on at one end indefinitely, perishing slowly at the other, the scars or ruins of the past plants being long traceable on its sides.

When it grows entirely underground it is called a root-stock.

But there is no essential distinction between a root-stock and a creeping stem, only the root-stock may be thought of as a stem which shares the melancholy humour of a root in loving darkness, while yet it has enough consciousness of better things to grow towards, or near, the light. In one family it is even fragrant where the flower is not, and a simple houseleek is called 'rhodiola rosea,' because its root-stock has the scent of a rose.

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At the Aventine, the new cult took its place alongside the old. The name for rennet is earning, in Lincolnshire. Lectures On Architecture And Painting. The proper representation of ground-leafage has never yet been attempted in any botanical work whatever, and as, in recumbent plants, their grouping and action can only be seen from above, the plates of them should always have a dark and rugged background, not only to indicate the position of the eye, but to relieve the forms of the [] leaves as they were intended to be shown. In the following number of 'Proserpina' I have been tempted to follow, with more minute notice than usual, the 'conditions of adversity' which, as they fret the thistle tribe into jagged malice, have humbled the beauty of the great domestic group of the Vestals into confused likenesses of the Dragonweed and Nettle: but I feel every hour more and more the necessity of separating the treatment of subjects in 'Proserpina' from the microscopic curiosities of recent botanic illustration, nor shall this work close, if my strength hold, without fulfilling in some sort, the effort begun long ago in 'Modern Painters,' to interpret the grace of the larger blossoming trees, and the mysteries of leafy form which clothe the Swiss precipice with gentleness, and colour with softest azure the rich horizons of England and Italy. But the seed-vessels are more heart shape than shield.

There is one very unusual condition of the root-stock which has become of much importance in economy, though it is of little in botany; the forming, namely, of knots at the ends of the branches of the underground stem, where the new roots are to be thrown out. Of these knots, or 'tubers,' swollen things, one kind, belonging to [38] the tobacco tribe, has been singularly harmful, together with its pungent relative, to a neighbouring country of ours, which perhaps may reach a higher destiny than any of its friends can conceive for it, if it can ever succeed in living without either the potato, or the pipe.

Being prepared now to find among plants many things which are like roots, yet are not; you may simplify and make fast your true idea of a root as a fibre or group of fibres, which fixes, animates, and partly feeds the leaf. Then practically, as you examine plants in detail, ask first respecting them: What kind of root have they? Is it large or small in proportion to their bulk, and why is it so?

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What soil does it like, and what properties does it acquire from it? The endeavour to answer these questions will soon lead you to a rational inquiry into the plant's history. You will first ascertain what rock or earth it delights in, and what climate and circumstances; then you will see how its root is fitted to sustain it mechanically under given pressures and violences, and to find for it the necessary sustenance under given difficulties of famine or drought.

Lastly you will consider what chemical actions appear to be going on in the root, or its store; what processes there are, and elements, which give pungency to the radish, flavour to the onion, or sweetness to the liquorice; and of what service each root may be made capable under cultivation, and by proper subsequent treatment, either to animals or men. I shall not attempt to do any of this for you; I [39] assume, in giving this advice, that you wish to pursue the science of botany as your chief study; I have only broken moments for it, snatched from my chief occupations, and I have done nothing myself of all this I tell you to do.

But so far as you can work in this manner, even if you only ascertain the history of one plant, so that you know that accurately, you will have helped to lay the foundation of a true science of botany, from which the mass of useless nomenclature,[17] now mistaken for science, will fall away, as the husk of a poppy falls from the bursting flower.

In the first of the poems of which the English Government has appointed a portion to be sung every day for the instruction and pleasure of the people, there occurs this curious statement respecting any person who will behave himself rightly: "He shall be like a tree planted by the river side, that bears its fruit in its season. His leaf also shall not wither; and you will see that whatever he does will prosper.

Now, you know, the fruit of the tree is either for the continuance of its race, or for the good, or harm, of other creatures.


In no case is it a good to the tree itself. It is not indeed, properly, a part of the tree at all, any more than the egg is part of the bird, or the young of any creature part of the creature itself. But in the leaf is the strength of the tree itself.

Nay, rightly speaking, the leaves are the tree itself. Its trunk sustains; its fruit burdens and exhausts; but in the leaf it breathes and lives. And thus also, in the eastern symbolism, the fruit is the labour of men for others; but the leaf is their own life. Notice next the word 'folium. For every leaf is born out of the earth, and breathes out of the air; and there are many leaves that have no stems, but only roots. With Folium, in Latin, is rightly associated the word Flos; for the flower is only a group of [42] singularly happy leaves.

This thin film, I said.

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It is the opening of the substance of the earth to the air, which is the giver of life. For one great use of both is to give shade. So the first we call Platter; the second Plate, when of the precious metals.