Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/542

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to find in his work many of the fables of the ancients. These fables, indeed, endured long after his age, and even as late as the beginning of the seventeenth century editions of Egenolph's formerly very popular book of plants appeared, containing the time-honored stories of the basilisk, griffin, dragon, phœnix, etc., almost in the words of the originals, with each animal represented in a neat woodcut. The botanical part of the work of Rabanus particularly claims our attention. We have examined this, not in the entire work, but in a later compendium of the scientific parts made by Stephen Fellner, at Fulda, who in his review described two hundred and sixteen plants as having been mentioned by Rabanus. I have compared these descriptions with the table of plants described by Isidore of Seville, as given in Meyer's "History of Botany," and have found that the latter has fifty plants more than Rabanus, of which a few, however, are synonyms, and should not be counted to his credit. On the other hand, Rabanus has a few plants that I have not found in Isidore, such as lychnis, lichen, corchorus, fœnum, linum, byssus, farrago. The lichen is, as Fellner declares, Marchantia polymorpha. Fœnum is, according to Fellner, Fœnum græcum. Fellner identifies byssus with Gossypium herbaceum, but translates it in another place by wool, while the text says of the plant: "Byssus is a kind of flax. It is very soft and white; it arises out of the earth, is deprived of its moisture by several protracted processes, and is formed into a handsome cloth." Does not this all agree with asbestus? The account continues, however, "Purple is made of it—a cloth for kings—by dyeing it with the blood of a certain sea-shell animal"; and the ancient name for cotton cloth was generally byssus. Asbestus appears again among the minerals as amianthus; but its application to the manufacture of cloths is not mentioned, except with reference to its incombustible quality, where it is said, "Cloth which is in contact with it resists the fire." Fellner defines farrago as a mixture of various forage-grasses. Some of the plants have not been correctly identified by Fellner. Rabanus in the beginning speaks of the distinction between a tree and a herb, which he regards as consisting only in a difference in age, for a tree, he says, can be developed out of a carefully cultivated herb. In the next chapter he treats of the improvement of trees, of grafting, and budding. The third chapter considers the parts of the tree: the root, which is supposed to reach as deep into the ground as the stem rises above it; the stem, crown, flowers, and fruits, which last he distinguishes as hard-skinned or nut-like, and soft-skinned, like the apple. The fourth chapter relates to the vine. This is the only plant of which a measurably comprehensive description is given, and I will therefore quote from the account, omitting the explanations of the names: "The vine consists of the stock and its shoots. The ends of the branches, the younger shoots, are driven back and forth by the wind. The branches have curled tendrils, by means of which they can cling to the trees,