Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/December 1896/Botanic Gardens I

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search





THE term botanic garden is used to designate a limited area of ground on which is grown a collection of plants of a large number of species, arranged in a manner that will subserve some educational, æsthetic, scientific, or economic purpose. At the present time the utilitarian feature embraces the chief design of but few gardens, yet it is to the economic purpose that these institutions owe their origin. It will be interesting in this connection to note the successive changes of organization by which these institutions, at first as directly practical as possible, have come to subserve the most complex and highly scientific uses.

After the discovery of the medical properties of plants, it must have followed, in course of time, that representatives of the species to which remedial properties were attributed should be collected and grown in some place conveniently and readily accessible as need demanded. The last step did not immediately follow, however, since, among the conditions which were earlier supposed to influence the potency of medicinal herbs, the locality in which grown and the mysteries attending their collection were of the greatest importance. The first authentic record of the introduction of medicinal plants into cultivated plots of ground dates no further back than the time of the elder Pliny (23-79 a. d.), who writes of the garden of Antonius Castor, at Rome, in which were grown a large number of medicinal plants. This step may have been taken much earlier by the Greeks, Chinese, or Mexicans, however. Later the Benedictine monks of northern Italy paid great attention to the growing of remedial herbs, and devoted an important proportion of the monastery gardens to this purpose. This practice was also carried beyond the Alps, and in 1020 a garden was in existence at the monastery of St. Gall, in Switzerland, a few kilometres distant from Lake Constance, which contained sixteen plots occupied by medicinal plants. A garden of this character was founded in 1309, at Salerno, and another in Venice in 1330. In 1309 the Benedictine monks founded an academy called "Civitas Hippocratica" at Monte Cassino, in Campania, which appears to the writer to be among the earliest, if not the first, school of medicine, and established in connection with it a "physics garden." Two centuries later, courses of lectures on the "simples," as the unmixed preparations of herbs were termed, were given in the greater number of Italian universities, under the title of "lectura simplicium" by the professors of anatomy and surgery. It is interesting to note that the laboratory method of handling the course in "cognitio simplicium" was not introduced until the establishment of the botanic garden at the University of Padua, when, in addition to the lectures, exercises in the demonstration of remedial plants growing in the garden were given under the title of "ostencio simplicium."

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witnessed the foundation of many gardens in England, France, Germany, Holland, and Sweden, some of which have had a continuous existence to this day. The garden of Bologna was founded in 1568; Leyden, 1577; Leipsic, 1579; Montpellier, 1596; and Paris in 1597. The last

PSM V50 D187 Oxford botanical garden laboratory.jpg

View of the Laboratory in the Oxford Botanic Garden. Alter a photograph.

named was organized for the purpose of determination of "what variations were possible in the style of bouquets worn at the royal courts." Then followed the establishment of the gardens at Giessen in 1605, Strasburg in 1620, Jena in 1629, Oxford in 1632, Upsala in 1667, and Chelsea in 1680.

The Oxford garden is the oldest in England, and a curious feature in its organization is that during its entire term of existence—two hundred and sixty-four years—it has occupied leased ground. It owes its existence to the munificence of the Earl of Danby, who, besides making such alterations in the surface as to secure it from overflow, erected the wall that still incloses it, at a cost of five thousand pounds. The portion of the garden shown in the view of the Botanical Laboratory exhibits the formal style of planting which prevailed in earlier times.

The Chelsea garden is situated near the Thames, about two miles south from Hyde Park. It was formed by the Apothecaries' Guild of London, for the growth of plants for commercial purposes. Later it was converted to its present use, that of furnishing material to illustrate lectures in pharmacy and medicine.Surrounded on all sides by brick buildings, and shaded by smoke and fog, the rectangular plots of officinal plants exhibit very strikingly the deleterious effects of an atmosphere laden with acids. The would-be visitor to this quaint old place must arm himself with an admission card obtained from the Apothecaries' Society, and from the creaking formalities attendant upon the granting of such permission by unaccustomed but polite officials it may be inferred that the casual sight-seer does not often find his way into the place.

During the period inclusive of the foundation of the last-named institutions plants began, however, to be considered from another point of view—from a strictly scientific standpoint, and as independent organisms. While the Aristotelian school studied plants in a manner closely approaching that of the present time, yet this beginning of biological science had no logical continuation, and during many succeeding centuries was completely lost to sight. In the latter half of the sixteenth century two new forces were manifest in the development of these institutions. Many of the wealthier class who had private gardens began to enlarge them by the addition of species because of their rarity, or because they were brought from some foreign country, and in many instances special collections were made chiefly for this purpose alone. Thus it may be seen that beyond the useful properties of plants,perhaps the first truly scientific idea of them concerned in a crude way some of the principles of geographical distribution. This phase of the subject received an increasing attention, and finally assumed form and order upon the introduction of the Linnæan system of classification into Germany and that of Jussieu into France.

Before this, however, a still more important development in the method of study of plants had ensued, as is shown distinctly in the botanical writings of the latter half of the sixteenth century. The all-important fact of the natural affinities of plants had gradually assumed distinctness—an idea not within the grasp of any one of the herbalists of the time, whose accumulating and repeated descriptions of individual species gave rise to the perception of resemblance and difference in forms, and finally to the idea of natural relationship. This idea finally became paramount: “All the foreign matter introduced into the descriptions of plants by medical superstition and practical considerations were seen to be of secondary importance, and were soon thrown aside in the effort to establish a natural system of classification.”

At the time of this “renaissance” of botany the gardens represented the ideas of geographical distribution and classification

PSM V50 D189 Leipzig botanical institute and garden.jpg

The Botanic Institute at Leipsic showing Entrance from Garden, and Glass Compartment for Use in Experiments with Living Plants. After a photograph. Reproduced by permission from the Minnesota Magazine, vol. ii No. I. 1895.

in addition to the practical aspects of the subject. With the development of physiology and morphology the ideas thus brought into prominence have found expression in the gardens, and the purposes and usefulness of these institutions have steadily broadened until all the more important phases of the subject are more or less represented in the greater majority of instances.

In addition to the scientific and practical uses enumerated above, the botanic garden has become a laboratory for the landscape artist, who may dispose of its masses of plants with a feeling regard for their artistic value in outline and color, making a most effective means of cultivation and gratification of public taste. In many of the better known gardens, especially those located in the great cities, this æsthetic feature has become a very prominent and in many instances the predominant idea.

Only when a botanic garden is equipped with laboratories for the furtherance of investigation, and sustains an organic relation to a school or university, may it be said to attain its highest possibilities of usefulness, in the demonstration of the principles governing the nature and development of one of the two great groups of living things. When designed for this purpose the collection of growing plants should represent as many of the principal forms of vegetation as is possible. Since the probable number of living plants is estimated at half a million, it is obviously impossible to bring together in any restricted area more than a fraction of this number. A census of the flora of the section of Bronx Park in New York, inclusive of about two hundred and fifty acres, which is to be converted into a botanic garden, showed that nearly a thousand species of ferns and seed-forming plants were to be found on that area, only a small number of which were introduced. Of these thousand species many were represented by thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of individuals. In the conversion of the tract into a botanic garden, the gardener will remove all but a few dozen, or perhaps a few hundreds, of each species, which will be confined to certain designated limited areas. In this way he will relieve each species from the competition of its neighbors, and so far as possible from the ravages of insects and animals—the most telling factors in the struggle for existence—and obtain space for the introduction of a large number of species. If these conditions alone determined the flora of a region, the number of species which could be grown in a garden would be determined only by its size and the number of plots it might contain. It is found, however, that the substratum and climate offer rigid limitations to an extension of the flora which may be grown out of doors in any locality. The gardener partially overcomes this limitation by the use of glass houses, where plants from nearly all parts of the world may be grown in specially prepared soils, and kept at temperatures resembling those of the natural habitats of the plants. But under such conditions it becomes extremely difficult to properly adjust the moisture and light, and only a comparatively small addition may thus be made to the flora of a garden. The conditions described above are such that it has not been found possible to grow in one place more than fifteen thousand species of the higher plants. It will be found, moreover, that a large number of the species included are not able to attain normal stature and appearance, and will thus be useless in representing the form intended.

In consequence of this limitation of the number it is customary to supplement the living plants by collections of prepared specimens of contemporaneous and fossil forms, in order to represent

PSM V50 D191 Kew gardens main palm house and lake.jpg

The Main Palm House of the Royal Gardens at Kew, with Lake in Foreground.

more completely the vegetation of the globe. The living as well as the prepared plants are generally so assembled as to demonstrate the descent and relationship of the different groups, distribution over climatic and geographic zones, as well as their principal biological adaptations to the factors to be met in their native habitats. In addition to this strictly natural method of treatment it is also customary to illustrate by proper groups the forms which have become of special interest because of their food-furnishing, textile-yielding, medicinal, or other economic value. In order to accomplish these purposes a suitably equipped garden must contain, besides the necessary facilities for growing plants, museum buildings arranged for the display of prepared specimens, and if it designs to afford opportunities for research it must also be furnished with a library and laboratory facilities.

There are in the world more than two hundred institutions designed as botanic gardens, a large proportion of which are devoted to the cultivation of decorative plants, or subserve the use of pleasure parks, while only a small number are organized on the broader basis of the needs of the branches of botanic science. Thirty-six of these institutions are located in Germany, twenty-three

PSM V50 D192 Kew gardens temperate climate house.jpg

View of Main Portion of Temperate House of the Royal Gardens at Kew. In process of repair. After a photograph.

in Italy, twenty-two in France, thirteen in Austria-Hungary, twelve in Great Britain and Ireland, and ten in the United States.

One of the most widely known is the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, located on the south bank of the Thames, six miles from Hyde Park. The beginning of the Kew Gardens may be dated from the formation of the exotic gardens of Lord Capel in 1759. After a long series of changes in ownership and purpose, additions and alterations in plan, the gardens were transferred from a private possession of the crown to a national institution in 1840, with Sir William Hooker as the first director. About two hundred and seventy acres are included, of which seventy are planted as a botanic garden and the remainder as an arboretum and public park. Besides the large number of well-planned conservatories, greenhouses, museums, and other buildings, it contains a number of structures which reflect somewhat of the varied history of the institution. The main palm house is three hundred and sixty-two feet in length, with a central dome seventy feet in height (Plate IV), and the temperate house has a total length of five hundred and eighty feet, covering an area of an acre and a half of ground. In addition, the garden contains fourteen smaller glass houses. The herbarium and library, which occupy the old palace of the King of Hanover, are probably the largest and most complete in the world. While the research work carried on in the gardens has been principally taxonomic, by the co-operation of the twenty-four gardens of which Kew is the organic head, much of value has been accomplished in the acclimatization of useful plants. There is also located in the garden the Jodrell Laboratory, in which some important results in physiology and morphology have been reached. Its operations, however, are greatly constrained by lack of suitable endowment.

I quote the following explanatory paragraph from a guide to the grounds:

"It may be mentioned that Kew is not only a great educational establishment and pleasure resort, but also the recognized center of the various botanic gardens throughout the empire. The part it has played in the introduction of the cinchona into India, and in fostering various other important industries, is well known. It may be described as the great botanical clearing house of the empire. To it a large number of plants are constantly being forwarded from all parts of the world to be named,

PSM V50 D193 Kew gardens cumberland gate with guard.jpg

The Cumberland Gate, Royal Gardens at Kew, with Guard on Duty. Looking outward. After a photograph.

for which purpose a staff of botanists is provided, and the collection of dried plants, or herbarium, as well as the large botanical library, is unrivaled throughout the world. In the same way the collection of cultivated plants and trees, both hardy and exotic, is the most perfect in existence."

The number of visitors to the gardens during the year amounts to one and a half million, according to newspaper reports. The gates, six in number, are open from noon until dusk. The administrationPSM V50 D194 Plan of kew gardens.jpgPlan of Kew Gardens. Explanatory references: A, principal entrance from Kew Green; B, tropical house; C, timber Museum No. 3; D, water-lily house; E, palm house; F, temperate house; G, pagoda; H, Lion or Richmond Gate; I, "North" gallery; J, lake; K, flagstaff; L, Unicorn Gate (closed); M, Museum No. 1; N, Cumberland Gate; O, rockery; P, Museum No. 2; Q, new range; R, succulent house, greenhouse, and ferneries; S, Brentford Gate; T, Hesworth Gate; U, Victoria Gate, for Kew Gardens Station; V, bamboo garden; W, azalea beds; X, Rhododendron Dell; Y, ornamental water; Z, Kew Church.and care of an establishment of this character near a great center of population require the closest organization and the most scrupulous attention to detail on the part of the executive. In this matter tradition as well as current testimony speaks of the rigid manner in which the numerous necessary regulations are enforced. The general plan of the grounds is shown in Plate VI.

When organized chiefly for research the botanic garden differs in many essential features from the one described above. From this point of view, and with regard to advantages of geographical position and botanical possibilities, the garden at Buitenzorg in Java occupies a foremost position. Originally founded by the Government of Holland in 1817, for the purpose of testing the economic value of plants indigenous to the colonies of the East Indies, and for the distribution of seeds, plants, etc., after the customary manner of such institutions, it has widened its scope and developed its facilities until almost all branches of purely scientific and applied botany may be pursued to advantage within it.

The Buitenzorg Garden is situated within a few degrees of the equator, and by reason of the elevated areas included within its different divisions furnishes suitable conditions for the growth in the open air of plants native to latitudes as high as forty or fifty degrees. The luxuriance of the growth of plants in the lower tropical area may be imagined when it is stated that the average temperature is 85° Fahrenheit, and the yearly rainfall amounts to twelve feet. Of the eleven hundred acres available for the purposes of the garden, an area of about one hundred and seventy-three acres is devoted to experiments with cultivated plants, one hundred and forty-eight to the botanic garden proper, seventy-five to a mountain garden at an elevation of about seven thousand feet, and the remainder is comprised in a mountain forest. The laboratories are most excellently equipped for investigation in forestry, agricultural chemistry, and pharmacology,besides the main divisions of the pure science. In addition to a very complete library and herbarium, the administration has at its service a lithographic establishment for the preparation of illustrations for its publications. It would be difficult to overestimate the value of the results accomplished by the various divisions of this institution, or to predict its future performances. By reason of its facilities and resources it has become a Mecca for the botanists of the world.

The foundation of a botanic garden in the United States dates from that of John Bartram in Philadelphia in 1728, which is still preserved in a modified form. Botany has been given an important place in the college curriculum in America scarcely more than sixty years. In comparatively recent years a few gardens have come into existence, nearly all of which are still in a state of rapid development. During this period of flux they have been able only to afford facilities for general elementary instruction, and to make possible original work in the classification of native plants—a line of research which has been carried on more or less steadily since the earlier settlements were made on this side of the Atlantic. At the present time a few have begun to offer opportunities for research in the more important branches of botanical science. Among these may be mentioned the Missouri Botanical Garden at St. Louis, connected with the Washington University, the Botanical Garden and Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, and the Botanic Garden of New York, now in process of formation and to be connected with Columbia University.

The Botanic Garden of Harvard University was established in 1805. It has an area of seven acres, on which are cultivated about seven thousand species of plants, principally native. For this reason it finds but one greenhouse necessary. The garden contains the famous herbarium and library in which Asa Gray accomplished his work on the plants of North America. The main laboratories and museums are located in the university buildings. Some very important work on the morphology of the cryptogams has been published from these laboratories. The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University is organized entirely independent of the botanic garden. It includes an area of two hundred and fifty acres, of which one hundred and sixty are planted with trees and shrubs. It is furnished with a museum, herbarium, and library, for the purpose of aiding study and research in forestry and dendrology. By an arrangement with the city of Boston the arboretum is thrown open to the inhabitants of that city as a public park. The arboretum has nearly completed a description of all the trees of North America north of Mexico in a series of

PSM V50 D196 Buitzenborg java botanical garden lake.jpg

Island and Lake in Botanic garden, Buitenzorg, Java. Reproduced from "Der Botanische Garten's Lands Plantentuin zu Buitenzorg, Java. Festschriftt zur Feier seines 75-jährigen Bestehens," 1893.

magnificently illustrated quartos, entitled The Silva of North America.

The foundation of the Missouri Botanic Garden at St. Louis is due to the munificence of Mr. Henry Shaw, who bequeathed for that purpose a tract of seven hundred and sixty acres of land and other property in and near St. Louis. The scope of this institution may be best illustrated by the following quotation from the will of its founder: “With a view to having for the use of the public a botanical garden, easily accessible, which should be forever kept up for the cultivation and propagation of plants, flowers, fruit and forest trees, and other productions of the vegetable kingdom, and a museum and library connected therewith, and devoted to the same and to the science of botany, horticulture, and allied objects.” It is connected with the Washington University, which has a School of Botany also endowed by Mr. Shaw in 1885. The botanic garden occupies an area of forty-seven acres. The grounds are laid out in such a manner as to be highly attractive, and as many as thirty thousand people have passed the gates in a single day. Much important work in plant taxonomy has been accomplished in this institution, and the facilities for work may be set forth in the following official statement:

“The herbarium is supplemented by a large collection of woods, including veneer transparencies and slides for the microscope. The library, containing about eight thousand volumes and ten thousand pamphlets, includes most of the standard periodicals and proceedings of the learned bodies, a good collection of morphological and physiological works, nearly five hundred carefully selected botanical volumes published before the period of Linnæus, an unusually large number of monographs of groups of cryptogams and flowering plants, and the entire manuscript notes and sketches representing the painstaking work of Engelmann.

“The great variety of living plants represented in the garden and the large herbarium, including the collections of Bernhardi and Engelmann, render the garden facilities exceptionally good for research in systematic botany, in which direction the library also is exceptionally strong. The living collections and library also afford unusual opportunity for morphological, anatomical, and physiological studies, while the plant-house facilities for experimental work are steadily increasing. The E. Lewis Sturtevant Pre-Linnæan Library, in connection with the opportunity afforded for the cultivation of vegetables and other useful plants, is favorable also for the study of cultivated plants and the modifications they have undergone.”

The New York Botanic Garden is the most recent acquisition to the list of these institutions in America. Its establishment was authorized by the Legislature in 1891, but the enabling act being defective, no steps could be taken in its organization until 1894. To comply with the act of incorporation, a sum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars was raised by privatesubscription, and then the Commissioners of Public Parks of New York City were authorized to set aside two hundred and fifty acres of Bronx Park, and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment was directed to issue bonds amounting to five hundred thousand dollars, to be used in the construction of the necessary buildings, greenhouses, museums, laboratories, etc.

PSM V50 D198 Missouri botanical garden.jpg

View of Main Greenhouse in the Missouri Botanic Garden, with Flowering Specimens of Agave Mexicana in Foreground. Reproduced by permission from the Fifth Annual Report of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 1894.

The scope of this institution may be best illustrated by the following extract from the act of incorporation: “To be located in the city of New York for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a botanical garden and museum and arboretum therein, for the collection and culture of plants, flowers, shrubs, and trees, the advancement of botanical science and knowledge, and the prosecution of original research therein and in kindred subjects, for affording instruction in the same, for the prosecution and exhibition of ornamental and decorative horticulture and gardening, and for the entertainment, recreation, and instruction of the people.” The site of the garden embraces an area of such wide diversities of soil and slope, marsh, meadow, shores, and granite ridges, that it will afford peculiarly fitting conditions for the growth of an extensive flora in the open air. As mentioned above, about one thousand species of plants, nearly all of which were native, were found on the inclosed area at the time of organization of the garden. Through a co-operative arrangement entered into with Columbia University, the herbarium of this institution, numbering over six hundred thousand specimens, as well as the library, will be deposited with the garden, and most of the research and graduate work of the university in botany will be carried on in the museum building. The plans of the museum building are such as to offer ample facilities for laboratories in all the divisions of the subject, while the glass houses promise to surpass anything in existence at the present time. The conditions of organization are such that a high efficiency for the entire equipment will be at once attained. The establishment of this garden marks an important step in the development of botany in America.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity for furthering botanical investigation that has existed since the beginning of the science now confronts the American universities in the proposal to establish a botanic garden and laboratory in the tropics. The real value of such an institution may be best understood when it is stated that botany in its present elementary condition, especially with reference to the physiology and ecology of plants, is based chiefly on the results of investigations carried on in botanical gardens and laboratories situated in the northern hemisphere between the parallels of forty and fifty-five degrees. In the herbaria it has been possible to study normal specimens of prepared plants from the equator to the poles, and consequently the systematic relationships are much better known than any other characteristic. Morphology has shared these advantages to some extent.

In the study of the physiology, ecology, and other branches of the science in which living plants are necessary, attention has been necessarily confined to those indigenous to a zone fifteen degrees in width, extending across one small continent and half way across another, together with introduced species growing under more or less abnormal conditions in gardens and conservatories. As the science progresses it is becoming more and more apparent that many of the generalizations based upon investigations carried on under such circumstances are incapable of general application, and that before a permanent foundation for the science can be laid, research along all lines must be extended to include the most highly developed forms, in the primitive habitat of the plant kingdom, in the tropics. The principles of the relations of plants and their relations to the animal kingdom may only be attained by the study of undisturbed communities of plants in the natural groupings resultant from the struggle for existence. Here are to be found such rapidity of growth and metabolism that the adaptive possibilities of the organism reach their highest expression.

The centers of botanical activity in Europe are so far removed from a tropical flora that only occasionally does a transatlantic investigator find time and opportunity to extend his researches to include normal tropical forms. To do this he must visit Buitenzorg or some other garden nearly half way round the world.

The center of botanical activity in America has at its very doors a tropical region (in the West Indies), unsurpassed in every feature, which may be reached in four or five days from any important city in the country. The establishment of a laboratory and garden in any convenient locality would not only be of untold value in the general development of botanical science, but it would place within easy reach of the investigator or graduate student in American universities facilities unequaled by that of any other country.

The European botanist would also find a laboratory in the American tropics much more easily accessible than those of the antipodes. The foundation of such an institution would be of direct benefit to the greater number of active botanists, and would go far toward making America the scene of the greatest development of the biology of one of the two great groups of living organisms.

A felicitous tribute was paid to Darwin at the opening of the English Church Congress in Shrewsbury, the philosopher's birthplace, by the Bishop of Lichfield, presiding, who said that “all members of the Church of Christ owed a great debt of gratitude to Charles Darwin. He had simplified and interpreted, as a true man of science would be anxious to do, the methods which have been pursued by the Great Almighty Creator in his works, and in so doing he had added to the dignity of the conception which they were able to form of Him who made us and all the world.”