Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/140

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.
132
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

or our beautiful dappled meadows and cornfields, all aglow with the Infinite wealth of poppies, blue- bottles, foxgloves, ox-eye daisies, and purple fritil- laries. The Alps alone can equal the brilliant color- ing of our own native British flora. Poor as it is in number of species—a mere isolated fragment of the wider European groups—it can fearlessly chal- lenge the rest of the whole world in general mingled effect of gayety and luxuriance.

Now, every one of these English plants and weeds has a long and eventful story of its own. In the days before the illuminating doctrine of evolu- tion had been preached, all that we could say about them was that they possessed such and such a shape, and size, and color; and, if we had been asked why they were not rounder or bigger or bluer than they actually are, we could have given no suflacient reason, except that they were made so. But since the great principle of descent with modification has reduced the science of life from chaos to rational order, we are able to do much more than that. We can now answer confidently. Such and such a plant is what it is in virtue of such and such ancestral conditions, and it has been altered thus and thus by these and those variations in habit or environment. Every plant or animal, therefore, becomes for us a puzzle to be explained, a problem to be solved, a hieroglyphic inscription to be carefully deciphered. In the following pages, I have taken some half- dozen of familiar English weeds or flowers, and tried thus to make them yield up the secret of their own origin. Each of them is ultimately descended from the common central ancestor of the entire flower- ing group of plants; and each of them has acquired every new diversity of structure or appearance for some definite and useful purpose. As a rule, traces ofall the various stages through which every spe- cies has passed are still visibly imprinted upon the very face of the existing forms: and one only re- quires a little care and ingenuity, a little use of com- parison and analogyj to unravel by their own aid the story of their own remoter pedigree. This is the method which I have here followed in the pa- pers that deal with the various modifications of the daisy, of the grasses, of the lilies, of the strawberry, and of the whole rose family.

Again, not only has each English plant a gen- eral history as a species, but it has also a separate history as a member of the British flora. Besides the question how any particular flower or fruit came to exist at all, we have to account for the question how it came to exist here and now in this, that, or the other part of the British Islands. For, of course, all plants are not to be found in all parts of the world, and theu- distribution over its surface has to be explained on historical grounds iust as a future ethnologist would have to explain the oc- currence of isolated French communities in Lower Canada and Mauritius, of African negroes in Ja- maica and Brazil, or of Chinese coolies in San Fran- cisco and the Australian colonies. In this respect, our English plants open out a series of interesting problems for the botanical researcher; because we happen to possess a veiy mixed and fragmentary flora, made up to a great extent of waifs and strays from at least three large distinct continental groups, besides several casual colonists. Thus while at Kil- lamey we get a few rare Spanish or Portuguese types, in Caithness and the Highlands we get a few rare Alpine or Arctic types; and while in Norfolk and Suffolk we find some central European strag- glers, the ponds of the Hebrides are actually occu- pied by at least one American pond- weed, its seeds having been wafted over by westerly breezes, or carried unconsciously by water-birds in the mud and ooze which clung accidentally to their webbed feet. Moreover, we know that at no very remote period, geologically speaking, Britain was covered by a single great sheet of glaciers, like that which now covers almost all Greenland: and we may therefore conclude with certainty that every plant at present in the country has entered it from one quarter and another at a date posterior to that great lifeless epoch. This, then, gives rise to a second set of problems, the problems connected with the presence in England of certain stray local types, Alpine or Arctic, southern or transatlantic, Euro- pean or Asiatic. Questions of this sort I have raised and endeavored to answer with regard to two rare English plants in the papers on the hairy spurge and the mountain tulip.

In short, these little essays deal, first, with the evolution of certain plant types in general; and, secondly, with their presence as naturalized citizens of our own restricted, petty, insular floral common- wealth.

Record op Family Faculties: Consisting of Tabular Forms and Directions for en- tering Data, with an Explanatory Pref- ace. Pp. 64. Price, 90 cents. Also, Life-History Album. Pp. 170. Price, $1.25. By Francis Galton, F. R. S. London: Macmillan & Co.

The "Record of Family Faculties" "is designed for those who care to forecast the mental and bodily faculties of their children, and to further the science of heredity," be- ing arranged for entering descriptive and historical data in regard to the fourteen di- rect ancestors which constitute the three generations immediately preceding a family of children.

Space is allowed also for descriptions of brothers and sisters of these ancestors, and of other relatives about whom little is known. Some of the entries called for are: "Mode of Life, so far as affecting Growth or Health; Bodily and Mental Powers, and Energy, if much above or below the Aver- age; Favorite Pursuits; Minor Ailments, and Graver Illnesses; Cause and Date of Death, and Age at Death." In the preface Mr. Galton rebukes the vanity of those who parade 'the fact of their descent from some distant, illustrious ancestor, and remarks that " one ancestor, who lived at the time of the Norman Conquest, twenty-four gen- erations back, contributes (on the supposi-