Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 14.djvu/88

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78
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

PLANTS AND THE PEOPLING OF AMERICA.[1]
By OTTO KUNTZE.

I HAVE spent some years as a botanist in the tropics of both hemispheres, and in the mean time have studied pretty thoroughly the tropical domesticated plants. In America and in Asia the principal domesticated tropical plants are represented by the same species; for instance, Manihot utilissima, whose roots yield a fine flour, the tarro (Colocasia esculenta), the Spanish or red pepper (Capsicum annuum), which is in far more general use than the black pepper, and whose numerous domestic varieties justify the inference that it has been cultivated from a very early period. This inference is still more valid in the case of the banana (Musa paradisiaca), called also the pisang, from which Musa sapientum is not specifically distinguishable; its fruits, in the cultivated state, are always seedless, and the varieties of the plant far surpass in number those of our apples and pears. Other cultivated plants found in both hemispheres are the tobacco, maize, cocoanut—the American origin of none of which is at all proved; then there is the tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum), and the cultivated bamboo, in which among millions of specimens hardly one has flowers. Thus the bamboo is not propagated by means of seed any more than is the tarro, the banana, the sweet-potato, or paritium. Of fruit-trees common to the Old and New Worlds I would further name the guava (Psidium guava), the melon-tree (Carica papaya), and the mango-fruit (Mangifera Indica). Finally I may name Paritium, tiliaceum, a malvaceous plant hardly noticed by Europeans, but very highly prized by the natives of the tropics. This tree, cultivated everywhere in the East and West Indies, South America, and the Malay Archipelago, supplies to the natives all the cordage they require; but in those countries cordage is not kept in stock as among us. If a rope is needed, a branch is broken off and stripped of its bark; the latter is divided into strips, which are held between the toes and twisted by the hands. When a load is to be carried from one place to another the natives usually secure it with a fresh cord of this kind to both ends of a bamboo carrying-pole. In the cultivated state this malvaceous tree is nearly always sterile, while the paritium-trees, which grow wild in the lagoons of the coast of Farther India, always bear seeds. This rope-tree appears to have existed in America before Columbus's time, for it was at an early period imported thence into the Canaries. What we may only accept as probable concerning this plant we know with certainty concerning the cultivated banana or plantain, which is also seedless. It was generally cultivated in America prior to 1492. Now in what way was this plant, which cannot stand a voyage through the temperate zone, carried to America, to the New World,

  1. Translated from the German by Dr. H. Hartogh Heys van Zouteneer.