One of the first questions a botanist asks about a plant is, "Where did it grow," and the next is, "When and where did you get it," Yet it is surprising how seldom these points are noted, and how many collections are preserved without sufficient data to guide us in the identification of the specimens. If this book does nothing more than emphasize the importance of observing these points it will do good.
It will also aid in the appreciation of that new development of botanical study, the science of Plant Ecology. It will teach the novice how altitude, latitude, soil and environment affect the vegetation of certain areas; how certain plants are found growing together because of the nature of the soil and of their surroundings. If it also leads to the understanding of their gradual adaptation to changed conditions it will give a broader and more comprehensive view of plant morphology and lead away from the mistaken idea that plants must and should conform to our artificial definitions, and make clearer the laws of evolution.
To feel that plants are living things, that individuality and heredity are constantly struggling in them for ascendancy, bringing about modifications which in course of time are sufficient in amount and importance to create specific differences, these are the underlying principles of the study of plants.
That the love of Nature is gaining ground among us is shown in many ways. The number of books and magazines dealing with natural-history subjects in a popular way, increases yearly to meet an increasing need. A constant demand exists which calls upon our specialists in Science to tell what they know in plain readable language, and expects them to illustrate their meaning in the best and most modern manner. The public calls for increased facilities for learning. Popular lectures, beautifully illustrated, have become the order of the day, and the labour of the brain may be had cheaper than the labour of the hands. Biology and Nature Study have taken their places in the courses of instruction both in private and public schools and the teachers are struggling to fit themselves to meet the new requirements; in fact, the supply does not equal the demand. Parents are seeking for companions for their children in their hours of recreation and vacation who can answer questions on natural objects and phenomena; if they cannot find the right person, they want correct books and magazines.
That the true love of Nature imposes certain moral responsibilities is also beginning to be recognised. First and foremost a respect and care for living things will do away with that spirit of wanton destruction which permits the killing of any animal or the uprooting or trampling of a living plant, just for the fun of it. It will also promote a spirit of unselfishness which can enjoy the beauties of Nature and leave them as we found them for some one else to enjoy after us. It also promotes an-appreciation and love of truth which fosters exactness and precision. From a pedagogic standpoint nature studies are of the utmost importance, as they bring the mind to the consideration of the objective rather than the subjective methods. That they call for greater individuality and latitude of presentation is one of the reasons why it has been difficult to secure the right methods. Our schools cannot be bound by hard and fast rules and requirements; the teacher must meet the needs and opportunities of the students and these are very diverse in different schools and places. She must be ready to make use of any facilities and accomplishments that individual scholars may afford for the benefit of the others, and to bring drawing, photography and poetry, as well as prose, to her assistance. Summer schools and vacation classes seem to meet a widespread want, and to take teachers and pupils away from the densely populated cities is better than to bring living plants and animals to them. Therefore a book that leads searchers to know what they will find in the country is the best kind of a book.
Our thanks are due to Miss Lounsberry and Mrs. Rowan for having contributed a work which cannot fail to advance Nature Study in quite the way that it should be advanced. Mrs. Rowan's figures have been drawn from plants growing in their natural surroundings and they are accurate and elegant. The new process by which it has been made possible to reproduce her coloured paintings is a most valuable addition to methods of illustration.
N. L. Britton.
New York Botanical Garden, February 20, 1899.