Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/347

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315
TROPICAL ENGLAND.

then along the remaining six feet a regiment of short swords, graduated from two feet to eighteen inches in length, are set close together on each side of the mid-rib. Of course the faintest stir of the leaf causes these multitudinous swordlets to flash in the sunlight. Hence the continual effect of glittering light, and also the extreme difficulty of securing a good photograph of a cocoa-palm.

A little lower than these tall queens of the coral-isles, rise fairy-like canopies of graceful tree-ferns, often festooned with most delicate lianas; and there are places where not these only, but the larger trees, are literally matted together by the dense growth of the beautiful large-leaved white convolvulus, or the smaller lilac ipomæa, which twines round the tall stems of the palms, and over-spreads the light fronds, like some green waterfall. Many of the larger trees are clothed with parasitic ferns; huge bird's-nest ferns grow in the forks of the branches, as do various orchids, the dainty children of the mist, so that the stems are wellnigh as green as everything else in that wilderness of lovely forms. It is a very inanimate paradise, however. I rarely see any birds or butterflies, only a few lizards and an occasional dragon-fly; and the voice of singing-birds, such as gladden our hearts in humble English woods, is here mute—so we have at least this compensation, for the lack of all the wild luxuriance which here is so fascinating.

I wonder if a time will ever come when these fairy isles shall have passed through changes as marvellous as those which geologists teach us to trace in Old England.

Have you ever fully realised that "once upon a time" all the strange beautiful plants which we call tropical, were growing in rank luxuriance on English soil? I believe that the curious diapered stem of the quaint papawa is one of our common fossil forms. In Dr Buckland's museum at Oxford, I remember seeing unmistakable fruit of a screw-pine (pandanus) found in the Oolite, near Charmouth. As to the London Clay, the Isle of Sheppey seems wholly composed of relics of tropical plants, turtles, serpents, and shells, now unknown save in these warm isles. I have seen a drawing of the section of a fossil fruit found there, which might