Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/501

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497
THE FLORA OF NORTH AMERICA
THE PROGRESS OF OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE FLORA OF NORTH AMERICA

By Professor LUCIEN MARCUS UNDERWOOD

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

WHATEVER may be the avenue of approach to the subject of botany as a science, whether we work out the details of the development, maturation and division of the elements within the single cell, or seek to trace the race history through the detailed development of a single organism from egg to egg again, or whether we approach it through either the mutations or the variations of a single species, the last problem of investigation as well as the first will bear directly on the question: What are the relations of plants to each other in the natural system of classification? In this broader sense all botanists, whether they are only cytologists, whether they deal with the fascinating problems of embryological development, whether they are field ecologists, or finally whether they are just botanists pure and simple, because they love the things of nature and can not help being botanists if they are anything at all—all these are systematic botanists, even though some of them appear to others as unsystematic, when their wilder flights into the realm of the imagination cause them to become mere theorists with no stable foundation in real facts.

So multifarious have become the problems that have entered into the study of botany in these latter days, that it is sometimes difficult for a layman, brought up in the ancient conception of botany as the mere study of flowers, to understand the breadth of scientific training involved in the development of a modern botanist; in fact, it is often a difficult problem for specialized botanists themselves to understand all the bearings of the highly specialized work of some of their fellows, and the research student of to-day soon finds himself pushing out into ground still unbroken, which his predecessors may have had glimpses of from afar, but never really entered to occupy and cause it to yield its fruits. I am speaking here of real students, not of those sutlers and train followers that swarm about the rear of every respectable army, and often try to pass themselves off for the real rank and file. Of that large array who pursue botany as far as light comedy, because somebody wrote ‘How to know the dandelions in their lair’ and roll such polysyllables as Taraxacum and Leontopodium glibly from their tongues in order to impress the unwitting citizen of their accomplishments, we have

vol. lxx.—32