POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
|THE NEW FIELD BOTANY.|
By BYRON D. HALSTED, Sc. D.,
OF RUTGERS COLLEGE.
THERE is something novel every day; were it not so this earth would grow monotonous to all, even as it does now to many, and chiefly because such do not have the opportunity or the desire to learn some new thing. Facts unknown before are constantly coming to the light, and principles are being deduced that serve as a stepping stone to other and broader fields of knowledge. So accustomed are we to this that even a new branch of science may dawn upon the horizon without causing a wonder in our minds. In this day of ologies the birth of a new one comes without the formal two-line notice in the daily press, just as old ones pass from view without tear or epitaph.
Phytoecology as a word is not long as scientific-terms go, and the Greek that lies back of it barely suggests the meaning of the term, a fact not at all peculiar to the present instance. Of course, it has to do with plants, and is therefore a branch of botany.
In one sense that which it stands for is not new, and, as usual, the word has come in the wake of the facts and principles it represents, and therefore becomes a convenient term for a branch of knowledge—a handle, so to say—by which that group of ideas may be held up for study and further growth. The word ecology was first employed by Haeckel, a leading light in zoölogy in our day, to designate the environmental side of animal life.
We will not concern ourselves with definitions, but discuss the field that the term is coined to cover, and leave the reader to formulate a short concise statement of its meaning.
Within the last year a new botanical guide book for teachers has been published, of considerable originality and merit, in which the subject-matter is thrown into four groups, and one of these is Ecology. Another text-book for secondary schools is now before us in which ecology is the heading of one of the three parts into which the treatise is divided. The large output of the educational press at the present time along the line in hand suggests that the magazine press should sound the depths of the new branch of science that is pushing its way to the front, or being so pushed by its adherents, and echo the merits of it along the line.
Botany in its stages of growth is interesting historically. It fascinated for a time one of the greatest minds in the modern school, and as a result we have the rich and fruitful history of the science as seen through eyes as great as Julius Sachs's, the mas-