It is well, however, to preface this opinion with the word 'possibly': for who, with the past as precedent, shall dare to say that the philosophy of even the wisest can so encompass this question as to foresee and weigh every remote and obscure contingency, and predict to the full the intricate effect which would accrue? The loss to Science, to mention only one consequence, would be immense. Plants, assuredly, in telling us about themselves, have much yet to tell us about ourselves and our planet, and the premature extinction of possibly important links in the chain of evidence would be an irredeemable mischief. Nature-study - that study which draws the sciences from their separate existences to a common centre, and induces them to act reciprocally in unravelling the secrets of the universe - Nature-study, comprehensive and systematic, is only in its youth, and the part which plants (particularly those highly specialized dwellers in the Alps) have to play in this study may be of greater moment than we at present can conceive. As with the Alpine vegetation of Rowenzori, in the Congo, so with the flora of the Swiss Alps: there is amongst it an essentially primitive element, an element that can give word of prehistoric circumstance, and possibly help to solve much that at present remains unexplained. The flora of Switzerland, as M. Henry Correvon points out, may be considered as the synthesis of that of Europe. Its diversity, especially in the Canton of Valais, is extraordinary. In this canton the flowers of every European climate are represented: flowers of the Mediterranean: flowers even of the Eastern steppes and deserts: flowers such as the brilliant Adonis vernalis, the equally brilliant Ranunculus gramineus, the yellow Wallflower, the large Periwinkle, the yellow Achillea, the blue Iris, the red Valerian, the rosy Bulbocodium, the purple Anemone, the blue Hyssop, the poisonous Lettuce, the curious Ephedra Helvetica, the rare Campanula excisa, the yellow Cactus (opuntia), and the feather-like Stipa pennata, with which the peasants, guides, and tourists so often decorate their hats. It is, then, for a flora such as this - a flora which, by reason of its unique nature, must yet prove of inestimable use to Science - that the Society for the Protection of Plants has taken up arms, and, amongst other activities, has fostered the formation of gardens.
But if mere sentiment were the only thing at stake, even on that score the destruction of the flora would probably have a most mischievous effect. The dearth of varied, cheerful loveliness in this direction could not but react unhealthily upon our character by injuring our outlook and thus impairing our capacity. To quote a passage from a Spanish source, used as a motto by the Swiss Association pour la Protection des Plantes upon the title-page of its yearly reports: 'If you wish to understand the importance of plants, imagine a world without them, and the comparison will alarm you, because the idea of death will at once present itself.' No doubt there are many people who will pooh-pooh this line of argument as high-flown and sickly - people who are ready to assert that life is too stern, too serious a business for that we should be expending our energies in defence of such immaterial and sentimental luxuries as are the flowers. The question, however, cannot be rightly dismissed in this superficial manner; it is far from being the frivolous one which these good people would have us believe. Subtleties are of the very life-blood of creation; and the subtle influence of the flowers upon the lives and characters of men, lying largely as it does beneath the surface and amongst the hidden vitalities of existence, escapes the off-hand, hasty glance or the so-called matter-of-fact view. Maybe we Europeans do not show this influence so strongly as do, for instance, the Japanese; maybe our thought, our art, our lives, are not so perceptibly affected; maybe that our philosophy has more of a personal character than has that of this Eastern people, and that we are more self-conscious and less abandoned children of Nature. Be all this as it may, Goddess Flora sits firmly and effectively enthroned within our lives, subtly ruling us to our very great and very real advantage. Ruskin was right, and ' Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.
Children love them; quiet, tender, contented, ordinary people love them as they grow; luxurious and disorderly people rejoice in them gathered. They are the cottager's treasure; and in the crowded town mark, as with a little broken fragment of rainbow, the windows of the workers in whose heart rests the covenant of peace.' Yes; Ruskin was right: in one way or another the flowers are loved by all; and the effect of this love, even though it be the love of 'luxurious and disorderly people,' filters down to most unexpected depths of our being, purifying our outlook upon life to an extent to which, for the most part, we are ignorant. And it is, above all, to this influential love - this healthy, important, ay, this even vital sentiment - for the flowers that the Swiss Society for the Protection of Plants commenced in 1883 to address itself in favour of the Alpine flora, seeking to augment and strengthen this sentiment in the popular breast by giving it a firmer basis in the popular intelligence.
Not without many preliminary failures have these gardens been established in the Alps. From one cause or another - from the unsuitability of the site selected, from the death of the founder, or from apathy on the part of the public in the matter of funds - garden after garden had to be abandoned and left to the tender mercies of goats and tourists - 'ces rasoirs du globe,' who, vulture-like, soon left little else but the dry bones. At length, however, with experience bought and enthusiasm aroused 'to sticking point,' several gardens have been firmly established, and are flourishing abundantly, not only as refuges for floral rarities, but also as distilleries of a purer-principled public spirit with regard to the flora in general. And each year sees fresh gardens springing up, educating the popular mind. For it is not alone against the depredations of the tourist that this movement is directed. It is aimed quite as much, and even more directly, at the herbalist, at the collector for nurseryman and florist, and at the peasant who hawks the rarer plants on the markets of the villages and towns. The rapacious collector who sends plants out of their native country by thousands is by no means peculiar to the Swiss Alps; he is prowling about all over the globe, openly vaunting his 'cuteness' in removing every vestige of this or that plant from its native habitat. Something had to be done to correct this man's morals, or make him ashamed or afraid to put them into practice, at any rate in Switzerland. What North Borneo could do for its Orchids surely Switzerland could do for its Alpines. Culling an apt phrase from 'Major Barbara': 'Morality that doesn't fit the facts - "scrap" it !'; and this the Society for the Protection of Plants set itself to accomplish, with the result that to-day the rapacious vandal is virtually stamped out.