Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/269

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THE

 

POPULAR SCIENCE

 

MONTHLY.



JULY, 1872



CORALS AND CORAL ARCHITECTURE.
By ELIAS LEWIS, Jr.

THERE are forests and gardens in the depths of the sea. Stately, tree-like structures inextricably branched, and a multitudinous shrubbery, delicate in form, and crowned with brilliant perennial blossoms, constitute a world of life and beauty in the obscurities of the ocean, where the eye of man but rarely penetrates.

But what kind of life is that which produces such wonderful growths? The similarity of the appearances to a garden was too striking not to suggest an answer, for what but vegetal forces can produce growing branches covered with flowers? And so Theophrastus, the old Greek botanist, described these sea-structures as of vegetal origin, and this opinion prevailed for 2,000 years. It began at length to be suspected that the old notion was wrong, and in 1751 Peyssonnel sent to the Royal Society an elaborate memoir, in which he maintained that these ocean-forests are really formed by little animals. This, as a matter of course, was indignantly disputed, and was pronounced by the great Reaumur too absurd to be discussed. To ascribe to "poor, little, helpless, jelly-like animals" the skill and power necessary to build such stately and beautiful structures, looked like a wanton appeal to human credulity, and the point was hence warmly controverted. Linnaeus, however, proposed a compromise. He would admit the animal, but would not deny the vegetable He therefore assumed that these little toilers of the sea were of an intermediate nature, and named them zoophytes, animal-plants. But the coral-polype is now known to be as truly an animal as a cat or a dog. The apparent flower is a little sac-like creature, and the wreath of colored petals its arms or tentacles. These are arranged around its circular mouth to seize and draw in the food upon which it lives and grows, while the structures which it produces are not perishable wood but enduring stone.