This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V26", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
When the botanist informs us that the number of Phaenogamous, or flowering plants, in the world is estimated at 95,620 species, we naturally feel amazed at the fact. And when the many thousands of Cryptogamous, or flowerless plants are added, such as sea-weeds, lichens, mosses and ferns, horsetails, or scouring rushes, fungus', etc, we are still more astonished. Yet all these, in the economy of nature, have some specific or general purposes in the realms of the vegetable kingdom, so wonderfully diversified with the many peculiar features of plant life. From the little grey lichen, clinging for life to the dead tree trunks, to the mighty ligneous monarchs of the primeval forest of ponderous and majestic proportions, are many intervening phases of vegetal forms. And not alone are we confined to terra firma, with all its vast organic treasures. To satisfy our yearnings for the useful and beautiful, as ingenious Nature in her admirable designs has fashioned them for our delectation and use, the seas also teem with strange examples of algaeic vegetation, from the microscopical or infinitesimal, and tiny, filiform, leafless objects, to those of higher or more developed types, hundreds of feet long.
Oceanic jungles, or dense submerged forests of algae, or sea-weed, extending for many miles in the sea's wide domain, often filled the ancient mariner's mind with fear, when impeding the progress of the slow-sailing craft of the olden time. Since then, scientific research has discovered valuable medicinal properties in sea-weeds; besides their use in agriculture and the arts, there are many edible kinds.
Leaving the many mysteries of the sea unsolved, let us turn to what we can more readily understand of the several kinds of flora, as we find them in the rivers, lakes, ponds, or brooks, where we can better see and admire them.
To reach the Nile, Amazon, or other distant rivers is often difficult and dangerous, and for the mere sight-seeing man, unnecessary; especially when similar scenes are before him at home, where, while inhaling the perfumes of the land of the sun, he may form proper ideas of what they really are, in distant lands. And when the readers are told they may indulge their floral fancies, or botanical tastes, with Amazonian wonders, or Nilotic scenes, at Mr. E. D. Sturtevant's, Borden-town, N. J., I feel assured they will thank me for the agreeable information.
To those who are unable to enjoy the privilege the writer had, of a close inspection of the many interesting varieties of aquatic plants at the above-named place, I will endeavor to give a brief outline of what I saw while there.
The species we will first notice is botanically known as Nymphaea, appropriately derived from nymph, a water nymph, as from their well-known beauty and aqueous habitats they well deserve the name. At the head of these the majestic Victoria regia, the wonder of the Amazon and its tributaries, first claims our attention. Even now, at this day, it still excites as much admiration in the beholder as it did in the savan Schomburgk when his keen eyes were first fixed upon it in its native waters years ago. This floral paragon, with its immensely large salver-shaped, dark green leaves of from twelve to eighteen feet in circumference, with its gigantic rosy-white magnificent flowers a foot or more across, as they float on the surface of the water, are as wonderful as they are grand. The spacious tank in which it revels is out of doors, and in the early season is heated with a coil of hot-water pipes, and which seems as well adapted for it to flourish in as is its native river. At least one would suppose so, judging from the luxuriance of it and a number of other species, native and foreign water-plants, which together with it share the same element.
For instance, fine Cyperus specimens of from five to six feet high, of the peculiar Papyrus anti-quorum, from the Nile, the oldest of historical rivers, the flower stems of which, when properly prepared, afford the durable byblus or material upon which the ancient Egyptians recorded important events thousands of years ago, and which the erudite scholar readily deciphers now. Its stems the abject natives twist into ropes, and also use the sweet roots as food. And of no less interest, beside it grows the famous Egyptian Lotus, Nelumbium speciosum, which, in remote times, produced the large seed known as the Sacred Bean of the Egyptians. Its striking appearance waving above the smaller, though not less interesting aquatics, arrests attention whenever seen. And especially so when presenting its beautiful sweet-scented, large, rosy-pink flowers, like magnificent scepters above the elevated leaves which surround these noble flowers. And when we remember the dreamy Lotus eaters served up the large edible seeds at their festivals, and as did these ancient people then, so do the present natives of India still use them as food. And it is not to be wondered at when we hear of the miserable superstitious people of that idolatrous land worshiping them.
It is worthy of notice, that shortly before the Indian mutiny broke out in 1857, the conspirators secretly passed a number of Lotus seeds, concealed in native cakes, to the Sepoy soldiers wherever quartered, to which was imputed some mysterious meaning only understood by the mutineers. In India, China and Africa, where it is indigenous, the native artists seem to make them conspicuous figures in their rudely-executed landscape pictures. Its congener, N. lutea, is a yellow-flowered beauty, a native of this country, but is fast disappearing from where it used to grow, which is much to be regretted. But fortunately Mr. S. has it in abundance.
Among this choice collection of aquatics is the fragrant snow-white garland flower, Hedychium acuminatum, while near by grows the singularly perforated and deeply incised large-leaved Mons-tera deliciosa, in bloom. From its yellow drooping spatha protrudes the erect spadix, upon which, later on, its delicious fruit will appear. The abnormal-looking water fern, Ceratopteris thalic-troides, which has more the appearance of a Rhip-salis than a fern, is one of the most curious and interesting plants in the aquarium, and well deserves a place therein. Besides Trapa natans, which produces an edible fruit not unlike a sweet chestnut in flavor, there were the pretty Limnocha-ris Plumierii, L. Humboldtii, two lovely aquatics, which, with the porcupine rush, Scirpus Tabernae-montani, Pisita stratiotes, or water lettuce, is among the many singularly formed water plants, a real curio, which modestly seeks seclusion and shade.
The same may be said of the interesting little gem (so like a floating Selaginella), Azolla Carolineana. Its fit companion is the wee water lily-like Lim-nanthemuum lacunosum. Equally interesting, too, is the bulbous-rooted water-loving Aponogeton dis-tachyon. Its jet-black anthers give the pure white richly-scented flowers a remarkable appearance.
Amidst all this interesting variety appears the royal purple water lily, Nymphaea Zanzibarensis. This inimitable flower is one of the most beautiful and odoriferous of this lovely genus. Its large, floating leaves, from among which its charming blue or purple flowers emerge, is marvellously beautiful, and might appropriately be termed the grandest of the grand.
Outside, around the margin of the tank, is well covered with a variety of sub-aquatics and other appropriate plants, the tropical appearance of which add much to the interesting scene which, from center to circumference, is a perfect picture of floral beauty.
Although startling at first sight, and probably dangerous when in close proximity, yet in perfect consonance with the surroundings, would be the sight of some ferocious old crocodiles, unshapely hippopotamus, or sinister-looking rhinoceros or other amphibious monsters, if they had appeared, so perfectly natural seemed the leafy retreat for their lairs. But no hidden clangers lurk there. Pretty little gold and silver carp, instead, innocently dart about the pool, apparently playing at hide and seek among the foliage and flowers.
About one hundred yards or so from the Victoria tank is another large aquarium, where many superb varieties of charming Nymphaeas flourish in all their glory.
Knowing my inability to do justice in the description of these extremely beautiful water lilies, the reader, I trust, will pardon me if I fail to convey to their minds a proper sense or conception of their unrivalled grandeur. In remembrance their subtile and exquisite odors seem to greet my olfactories even now, and the task of distinguishing which is the sweetest or most lovely among them, whose floral and leafy beauty are all so grand, is difficult indeed. Yet among the many kinds there is no sameness, as all individually differ in their various degrees of elegance while resting on the surface of the shimmering lake or still lagoon. Both native and foreign species, from pure white, pinky white, pink, rose, yellow, red, purple and blue colors, with their proverbial perfume, have long afforded the naturalist, novelist and poet with sentimental subjects for their pens.
If some admire the admirable Nympeaea Devoni-ensis, N. rubra, N. odorata, N. scutifolia or N. alba, others find their odorous compeers in N. ccerulea, N. odorata, var., delicata, N. odora rosea, N. tuberosa, N. dentata, and lastly the proprietor's unique seedling, semi-double red N. Sturtevanti, which all concede is a glorious regal flower, and, in every respect, is one of the most superb types of the tribe.
In conclusion, after leaving much unsaid upon a subject which really seems to have no end, let me advise all who have a garden of from twenty-five feet square and upwards, and own any sort of a clean tub from two to five feet in diameter, and two feet deep, that will hold water, to sink the same up to the rim in the ground, fill with water, and then place a Nympheae, or Limnanthemuum, or other suitable plant in a pot or soil at the bottom, and I can assure whoever has an eye for floral beauty, will derive much pleasure from the contents of the little aquarium. And if those who, with more ample means, count their broad lands by the acre, enthused with similar feelings to the poor man who finds infinite pleasure in his smaller estate and more humble appliances, will construct on a larger scale a more appropriate tank, lake or pond for their cultivation, they will find the immensely remunerative pleasures a sufficient compensation for the expense incurred.
Many places have some "bosky bourn" or cosy nook, as art or nature has formed it; if not, any efficient landscape gardener can form one. In such a spot a paradisiacal scene may be skilfully counterfeited, where harmonious land and water mutually combine to give to it a romantic beauty.
A natural looking lake, pond or lakelet (avoiding square, oval, oblong or circular forms, well puddled with tenacious clay, and supplied with water from a mossy dripping fountain, would be a suitable place in which to grow hardy aquatics. The tender ones would require warmer quarters under glass during winter, where they would be equally as interesting until put out again on the return of warm weather. The aquarium should be margin d with common mosses from the woods and irregular tufts or patches of sub-aquatics; behind this, as with the pond, a rockery of natural form may be partially hidden among such tropical growth as the following: Erianthus, Arundo, Cala-dium, Calocacasia, Recinus, Philodendron, Canna, Palms, Aralia, Polymnia, Wegandia, Bambasa, Yucca, Heracleum, Alpinia, Ferns, etc. There the happy ones who know no sorrow, as well as the weary toilers vexed and tired with worldly pursuits, while freeing their minds from every "carking care,"
"In the still evening, when the whispering breeze Pants on the leaves and dies upon the trees," will find, at least for the time, peace and content gently merging into terrestrial felicity, where "At every breath soft beaming odors shed, Which still grow sweeter a- they wider spread; Less fragrant scents the unfolding rose exhales, Or spices breathing in Arcadian gales."'
Mount Holly, N. J., October, 1883. I