Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/66
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
springing direct from the ground in a wide circle, something like a very big and graceful fern. In this early stage nothing can be more beautiful or more essentially tropical in appearance than a plantation of young cocoa-nuts. Their long, feathery leaves spreading out in great clumps from the buried stock, and waving with lithe motion before the strong sea-breeze of the Indies, are the very embodiment of those deceptive ideal tropics which, alas! are to be found in actual reality nowhere on earth save in the artificial palm-houses at Kew, and the Casino Gardens at too entrancing Monte Carlo.
For the first two or three years the young palms must be well watered, and the soil around them opened; after which the tall, graceful stem begins to rise rapidly into the open air. In this condition it may be literally said to make the tropics—those fallacious tropics, I mean, of painters and poets, of "Enoch Arden" and of "Locksley Hall." You may observe that, whenever an artist wants to make a tropical picture, he puts a group of cocoa-nut palms in the foreground, as much as to say, "You see there's no deception; these are the genuine, unadulterated tropics." But as to painting the tropics without the palms, he might just as well think of painting the desert without the camels. At eight or ten years old the tree flowers, bearing blossoms of the ordinary palm-type, degraded likenesses of the lilies and yuccas, greenish and inconspicuous, but visited by insects for the sake of their pollen. The flower, however, is fertilized by the wind, which carries the pollen-grains from one bunch of blossoms to another. Then the nuts gradually swell out to an enormous size, and ripen very slowly, even under the brilliant tropical sun. (I will admit that the tropics are hot, though in other respects I hold them to be arrant impostors, like that precocious American youth who announced on his tenth birthday that in his opinion life wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.) But the worst thing about the cocoa-nut palm, the missionaries always say, is the fatal fact that, when once fairly started, it goes on bearing fruit uninterruptedly for forty years. This is very immoral and wrong of the ill-conditioned tree, because it encourages the idyllic Polynesian to lie under the palms all day long, cooling his limbs in the sea occasionally, sporting with Amaryllis in the shade, or with the tangles of Neæra's hair, and waiting for the nuts to drop down in due time, when he ought (according to European notions) to be killing himself with hard work under a blazing sky, raising cotton, sugar, indigo, and coffee, for the immediate benefit of the white merchant,and the ultimate advantage of the British public. It doesn't enforce habits of steady industry and perseverance, the good missionaries say; it doesn't induce the native to feel that burning desire for Manchester piece-goods and the other blessings of civilization which ought properly to accompany the propagation of the missionary in foreign parts. You stick your nut in the sand; you sit by a few years and watch it growing; you pick up the ripe fruits as they fall from the tree; and