Page:The fairy tales of science.djvu/276

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236
WONDERFUL PLANTS.

laid" and "satin-wove" post. The papyrus must look down upon its aquatic companions with supreme contempt, for it can boast of a long line of ancestors, whose delicate under-skins served to perpetuate the sublime thoughts conceived by the giant intellects of the past.

The fan-palm of Ceylon is another paper-tree. Its stem attains a great height, and is surmounted by many large palmated leaves, the lobes or divisions of which are very long, and are arranged round a foot-stalk, like the ribs of an umbrella. Indeed, these compound leaves are actually used as umbrellas by the Cingalese, a single out-spreading leaf affording ample shelter for seven or eight people. All the religious books of the Cingalese are written, or rather engraved, on tablets plucked from this wonderful palm, the leaves of the book being simply the leaflets of the tree.

The palms are all wonderful plants, from whatever point of view we may regard them. The services they render man are incalculable. The date palm gives him its nourishing fruit, the cocoa palm its milky nuts, the sago palm its farinaceous pith, and the Palmyra palm its sweet juice, which becomes wine by fermentation. Then, as for useful things that are neither eatable nor drinkable, the palm tribe furnishes vegetable oil, wax, and ivory, fibres that may be formed into cordage, leaves that may be used for thatching, and timber that may be applied to a hundred different purposes.