This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Sixth edition. By Professor Asa Gray. Part 1. Structural Botany. Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co., 1879. The botanical labors of Prof. Gray approach the marvellous. How he manages to accomplish so much superior work is a mystery. Here is a book that has been some time on our table, and which it seemed very profitable to read carefully through. As this could not be done at one sitting, a memorandum was kept of the odd time given to it, and it foots up thirty hours! The work contains 442 pages, and when we remember that this embraces only structural Botany, and that parts on Morphology and Physiology are to follow, we may have some idea of the minute and yet extensive labor Dr. Gray has bestowed on his task. It must be a great pleasure to the distinguished author to know that his heavy labors are so highly appreciated as the call for a sixth edition of this work indicates. When he first entered the botanical field it was not highly cultivated. Much, indeed, had been done for descriptive botany, and in the more philosophical departments, Barton, Nuttall and others had worked well. But much remained to be done, and notwithstanding the zeal of those who loved the science in those days, it is but fair to say that the chief dependence of Americans was on European works. It is not so now.
The work of foreign botanists is no less esteemed than it ever was, but American botany has been brought to a higher level. It ranks with any other in the estimation of the world, and it will be no derogation to the work of the many excellent American Botanists now in the field to say that to Dr. Gray the chief honors in this high character belongs.
It is interesting to notice how botany has progressed during the past thirty or forty years as indicated by this work. Before us lies the second edition of this work, issued in 1845, of 496 pages, covering all the around. 'Now something less than this only comprises one-third the task. In this he has now, however, good assistance: two of his former pupils, Goodale and Farlow will undertake the other volumes.
These works are, as their name implies, text books. They are intended as works of reference rather than for consecutive study; and they are for those who may regard themselves as tolerably perfect in the science, as well as for those who are at the lower end. It would have been better if an index had been given to it instead of a mere table of contents; this would have enhanced its " text " book character.
By a comparison of this with other editions it is interesting to note how Dr. Gray's views of things have changed in some respects. This is to be expected, for it is no use to live unless we learn. We note this in order to encourage students to explore even beyond where our esteemed author has carried them. He would be the last to regard himself as infallible, and would be as glad as any to have weak places strengthened, or dark passages made plain. It strikes us as not improbable that the theoretical conception of the plant unit or " phytomer,"-which he adopts, will ultimately prove untenable. By this idea all of a stem between each node may be regarded as the organized plants' lowest terms. Under this conception one can scarcely understand how any portion of an inter-node could ever be made to become a perfect plant. Dr. Gray, if we understand him correctly, seems to regard this as a test, for at p. 317 he remarks, "the phytomer is in itself indivisible,, except by mutilation," and in the same chapter we are told that this ideal phytomer is the analogue of the individual in animals, that is to-say the animal is indivisable. But though it is true that the parts of an internode will not often divide and form individual plants, they sometimes do, as good gardeners know.
The stems of Torenia Asiatica have been chopped to "mince meat," and all the little pieces grow. Moreover, though in the case of woody trees, a. Horse chestnut for instance, there may be a, space of a foot between two nodes, and if we cut these apart in a one year old shoot, no growth will appear nearer than from the bud already formed below: this " individuality " disappears after the space has become a year or two old,, and a bud, indeed many buds will form from any part of the space that may be cut across. Indeed it appears to us that the whole facts connected with the growth of adventitious buds are opposed to the phytonic conception.
Further, we expect to see in the future considerable modifications of Dr. Gray's views in relation to conceptions in cross-fertilization of' flowers, now introduced in Dr. Gray's Textbooks for the first time, as if the logic were incontrovertible. This speculation as formulated by Mr. Darwin, is that it is an almost universal law of nature that all the higher organic beings require an occasional cross with another individual, that no hermaphrodite fertilizes itself for a perpetuity of generations. But as the phytomer in the plant is the analogue of the individual in animals, it is not easy to understand what relation such a formula has to do with plants at all. Even as regards the facts of fertilization in flowers, it is now known that though there are in many cases evident arrangements for inter-crossing, the great majority of plants are habitually self-fertilized, even in those cases-which have these adaptations for cross-fertilization. There may be, therefore, millions of plants of the same species in the world from self-fertilized seed for every single plant from a, cross-fertilized one, and the theoretical advantages of a cross must be immeasurably overborne by the actual fact of numbers.
It would be the old story of the Lilliputians against Brobdignag. Indeed, it is in the reasonings on the objects and uses of structure, and the design in the arrangements that one may expect to see the greatest advance made in future editions. When, for instance, we are told that the glutinous coating in the bud of the old-world Horse "Chestnut is to " ward off water more effectually," we cannot but see that the buds of the American kinds which have no viscidity, ward off water equally as well; of course there are some good reasons for all these things. Dr. Gray does well in suggesting the best that can be thought of now. We may learn more in the future than, as the progress made in this work shows, we have known in the past; and this fact is encouraging to students who may feel that even to the best and wisest, all things are not yet made plain.
The Window Flower Garden. By Julius Heinrichs, New York. Orange Judd Company. This is a prettily bound work, illustrated profusely, well printed, and containing a great deal of useful information. The great trouble with books of this kind is that they are costly if large, and obscure if brief. If this little book •of 92 pages has any fault it is brevity. For instance the window gardener is told that if the window plants are kept constantly syringed they will not be much troubled with insects; but how to syringe the plants without destroying the furniture about the window is not explained. Again, under the head of insects reference is made only to the green fly and the mealy bug, while there are others equally destructive that might have a few words spent on them. However a nice little book at a small price cannot be expected to tell everything. The many useful hints it contains will be well worth all that is asked for it, and prove very useful to housekeepers.