Page:Darwinism by Alfred Wallace 1889.djvu/46

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24
CHAP.
DARWINISM

river sometimes rose 30 feet in eight hours, doing immense destruction, and the abundance of the larger carnivora and large reptiles on its banks, he goes on: "But it was among the flora that the principle of natural selection was most prominently displayed. In such a district—overrun with rodents and escaped cattle, subject to floods that carried away whole islands of botany, and especially to droughts that dried up the lakes and almost the river itself—no ordinary plant could live, even on this rich and watered alluvial debris. The only plants that escaped the cattle were such as were either poisonous, or thorny, or resinous, or indestructibly tough. Hence we had only a great development of solanums, talas, acacias, euphorbias, and laurels. The buttercup is replaced by the little poisonous yellow oxalis with its viviparous buds; the passion-flowers, asclepiads, bignonias, convolvuluses, and climbing leguminous plants escape both floods and cattle by climbing the highest trees and towering overhead in a flood of bloom. The ground plants are the portulacas, turneras, and oenotheras, bitter and ephemeral, on the bare rock, and almost independent of any other moisture than the heavy dews. The pontederias, alismas, and plantago, with grasses and sedges, derive protection from the deep and brilliant pools; and though at first sight the 'monte' doubtless impresses the traveller as a scene of the wildest confusion and ruin, yet, on closer examination, we found it far more remarkable as a manifestation of harmony and law, and a striking example of the marvellous power which plants, like animals, possess, of adapting themselves to the local peculiarities of their habitat, whether in the fertile shades of the luxuriant 'monte' or on the arid, parched-up plains of the treeless pampas."

A curious example of the struggle between plants has been communicated to me by Mr. John Ennis, a resident in New Zealand. The English water-cress grows so luxuriantly in that country as to completely choke up the rivers, sometimes leading to disastrous floods, and necessitating great outlay to keep the stream open. But a natural remedy has now been found in planting willows on the banks. The roots of these trees penetrate the bed of the stream in every direction, and the water-cress, unable to obtain the requisite amount of nourishment, gradually disappears.