Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/63

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53
THE AGE OF TREES.

cline of material prosperity has been followed by a sudden increase of intemperance, and after a prolonged war the vanquished party seems to be chiefly liable to that additional affliction. The explanation is that, after the stimulant-habit has once been initiated, every unusual depression of mental or physical vigor calls for an increased application of the wonted method of relief. Nations who have become addicted to the worship of a poison-god will use his temple as a place of refuge from every calamity; and children whose petty ailments have been palliated with narcotics, wine, and cordials, will afterward be tempted to drown their deeper sorrow in deeper draughts of the same nepenthe.

And even those who manage to suppress that temptation have to suppress the revivals of a hard-dying hydra, and will soon find that only abstinence from all poisons is easier than temperance.

 
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THE AGE OF TREES.
By J. A. FARRER.

SINCE De Candolle, the celebrated Swiss botanist, propagated the idea that a tree has no limits set by nature in its constitution to the term of its existence, the question of the age attainable by trees has never ceased to be debated with considerable interest. De Candolle's argument was to the effect that whereas animals have, by the physiological construction of their vessels, a set limit to the duration of their lives, trees have no such natural termination; and that although their decay and death are so familiar to us that we commonly speak of this or that species as living for a given period like two hundred years, yet such decay is rather the result of accident or disease than of any law inherent in their nature such as in our own case we designate as death by old age. Whence, the same botanist inferred, there is no reason why trees under perfectly favorable conditions should ever perish; and he proceeded to adduce in favor of that theory instances of trees which even then were in the enjoyment of no contemptible moment of eternity.

Until accurate observations have been made for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, it would seem impossible to arrive at even an approximate solution of so wide a problem as this. Under the best conditions we could never eliminate those causes of tree mortality which De Candolle fairly enough calls accidental, but which are contained in the invariable laws of the elements. The largest, and therefore probably the oldest, trees are the special sport of the lightning; and the storm which has so often felled trees of the most prodigious size will, even if it spare the trunk, break off boughs, thus admitting