Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/524

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
508
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

is reached at Pueblo Nuevo, a small town on one of the eastern branches of the Guayaquil River, about seventy-five miles from this town. A small steam-launch plies between the places.

The elder cinchona district, Bosque de Loja, was the source of the first barks taken to Europe. It extends from 2° to 5° south, to the boundary-line of Peru, and covers the western slope of the Cordilleras below the timber-line. This district has been worked constantly for over two hundred years, and the quantity of bark it furnishes to the Guayaquil market has fallen off in recent years.

At Pueblo Nuevo, mules and servants were engaged for the journey to the mountains. Wheeled vehicles are useless, for want of roads, and all transportation is done on the backs of beasts or Indians. Before reaching the highlands, forests of ivory-nut palms with their long, graceful, feather-like branches, and scattered trees of Cinchona magnifolia, a valueless species, are met with. Occasionally we found clearings, with extensive haciendas of cacao, coffee, sugar-cane, and anatto. The farther we got into the higher mountains, the more the difficulties and dangers increased, and at last a point was reached where the mules had to be abandoned, and, after continually ascending and descending steep places, a point on one of the great spurs was reached, whence was seen an undulating sea of wilderness as far as the eye could reach—a gorgeous expanse of matted verdure; here and there tall, slender columns of gigantic palms pierced the forest-roof, and gracefully waved aloft their drooping branches and leaves; and now and then a huge bank of clouds drifted up, like a Newfoundland fog, curtaining the grand scene for a few moments, and then quickly passing off. Our cascarillero soon descried some cinchonas in the distance by their glistening leaves, which reflected brightly the vertical rays of the sun.

This characteristic reflex of the foliage, with the bright, roseate tints of the flowers, and in some species also of the leaves, affords the means of discovering the cinchonas among the mass of the forest giants. The glossy leaf of the India-rubber tree is easily mistaken for the cinchona, but skilled cascarilleros are usually able to distinguish, at a great distance, varieties by the color of the flowers and general appearance of the tree.

At the bottom of a ravine we followed a small stream, till suddenly our guide shouted, "Cascarilla!" and we were gladdened by the sight of a number of fair-sized trees of Cinchona succirubra.

The cinchonas seek the most secluded and inaccessible depths of the forests; they are rarely grouped in large numbers or close together, but are distributed in more or less irregular, scattering patches. The older trees are grand and handsome, forty to eighty feet in height, trunks straight, branches regular, leaves evergreen (six to ten inches long), of a dark-green color, sometimes tinged with crimson, the upper surface of an almost waxy luster, flowers in terminal panicles of