This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
"Blossoms and fruits at once of golden hue Appear'd, with gay enamell'd colors mix'd".
THE Bishop's garden has been abandoned to take care of itself, the Cubans having cut down his salary from one hundred thousand dollars a year to fifteen, yet it still presents scenes of great beauty, which the rapid vegetation going on all around must soon obliterate. Here we first saw the Bamboo, growing in large clusters in a moist spot. It is an extremely beautiful plant, of rapid growth, soon forming an impenetrable jungle, and yielding a grateful shade from the midday sun, now (in early March) a little oppressive when not accompanied by the usual breeze. Employed for a shady avenue, nothing can exceed the Bamboo. The Bishop's house here was a very small one, apparently only employed for a day's residence. It has been unroofed (probably by a hurricane), and, at each front corner, a plant that is becoming a tree, has taken root in the coral rock of which the house is built, and its roots have descended nearly to the ground, as seen below. When the plant has fully established itself in the earth (it is now like the air-plants, sustaining itself on the moisture of the air), it will grow with great rapidity, and possibly envelop the whole house with its fibres.
As this kind of growth is very common, we shall take this opportunity of describing the process that is going on on thousands of the trees, but, especially, the very large Ceiba. The plant is epiphytical on other trees.* The Spaniards call it Jaquey (pronounced Hawaia). The seed lodges in a high crotch of the Ceiba, takes root there, and immediately begins to envelop downwards the huge trunk with a delicate network of roots that gradually get a footing at the bottom of the tree it has invaded; and now begins the wonderful process. The network spreads rapidly, and has the remarkable faculty of welding itself into one continuous, smooth bark. The Ceiba resists the embrace of the boa constrictor that has attempted his conquest, and a contest ensues; the Ceiba swells out at any neglected point, and appears to desire to burst its bonds; in vain, for the plant is uniformly the conqueror. Very soon the smooth bark of the invader has encompassed every part of its support, and, finally, all the limbs are thus covered, and a new tree, to all appearance, has been formed, with its peculiar leaves waving in the air. This new tree is really the emblem of ingratitude, having swathed its benefactor for support, and obliterated him entirely.
The phenomenon, in all its stages, was a constant source of astonishment to our little botanical party.
THE BISHOP's HOUSE IN THE DESERTED GARDEN.
The Ceiba-tree, with air-plants growing on its branches.
*This epiphyte is the Ficus Indica occidentalis, and another is the Clusia alba. " The latter grows on rocks," says London, "and frequently on the trunks and limbs of trees; the birds scattering the seeds, which, being glutinous like those of the Mistletoe, take root in the same manner: but the roots, not finding sufficient nutriment, spread on the surface of the tree till they reach the ground, where it fixes itself, and the stem becomes a large tree. Roots have been known to do this at forty feet from the surface. The resin is used to cure sores in horses, and instead of tallow for boats." Loudon's Encyc, p. 867. A swing is made by the Cubans of the roots of the Clusia; when they are half the size of one's little finger, they are so strong as to hold three stout men. They are useful for traces and other purposes, and form an example among thousands of the adaptability of the products of this region to the wants of man. (See " Editor's Table").
The Ceiba is also the fruitful bearer of innumerable air-plants, which cluster on its branches, and display their gorgeous flowers on premises not their own.*
The Ceiba bears no resemblance to any of our own trees. It is remarkable in its formation just above the roots, where the body resembles a tripod, imperfectly represented in the drawing; it has in fact three hollows and three corresponding long protuberant supports, between each of which several men could readily shelter themselves in a heavy gale. The air-plants have a secure resting place, the height of the tree and its limbless trunk making them very inaccessible. The Ceiba is not very useful, its only product being a kind of wool from its seed pod, which is used by the poorer classes to stuff pillows and chairs, but is generally thought unwholesome to lie upon.†
Among the most agreeable hours spent in Havana, we should be most ungrateful if we were not to place on record the time passed with Don Francisco Sauvalle, an extensive planter, but to be distinguished in science when most other planters will have left no other mementos than their bones. Mr. Sauvalle is a botanist of that true kind who find their reward in the pursuit of the delightful study. He has taken up the topic of the trees of Cuba, and, wonderful to relate, he has drawn and described no less than seven hundred, excluding shrubs, for which he has not yet found time; but, more wonderful still, he is in the midst of his pursuit, and can yet see no termination to bis labors. He finds thirty native palms on the island, though, if we remember rightly, several of the best previous botanists describe less than half the number. With estates in different parts of the island, and leisure for study, this gentleman has done, and is doing, for Cuba what the Michauxs (father and son) did for the United States; but he has, in a smaller space, a much greater field, so extraordinary is the vegetation, and so much greater the number of species.