Page images

of the most elegant if not the largest of the countries in which it is found, frequently growing in the crevices of rocks and other places of the same description. The appearance of so large a vegetable production in such situations is to be accounted for from the construction of the seed, which is "winged,” or capable of being borne along by the action of the air, and thus deposited in holes and crevices in the rocks, where it speedily vegetates and springs up. As it increases in size the roots gradually force asunder the walls of their rocky prisons, and throw off large portions of stone, thus by degrees penetrating into the very heart of the rock. It is not always found in these situations, the largest timber being produced in some of the flat and marshy spots on the coasts of America; of this description is that known by the name of Honduras Mahogany, which is much looser in texture and of less value than that from the mountainous districts of Cuba and Hayti. This last kind is known in commerce as Spanish Mahogany, and is chiefly purchased for the purpose of being cut into

A few years ago, the Messrs. Broadwood gave the large sum of 30001. for three


[ocr errors]

logs of Mahogany, which were each about 15 feet long and 38 inches square.

The wood was extremely beautiful, and capable of taking the highest polish. The genus Swietenia was named from the celebrated Baron Van Swieten, author of some botanical tracts, and physician to Maria-Theresa, Empress of Germany. It was at the suggestion of Van Swieten, that the Botanic Garden at Vienna was first instituted.


Antiaris Toxicaria.

“ Fierce in dread silence, on the blasted heath,

Fell Upas sits, the hydra tree of death;
Lo! from one root, the envenomed soil below,
A thousand vegetative serpents grow;
In shining rays the scaly monster spreads,
O’er ten square leagues his far diverging heads,
Or in one trunk entwists his tangled form,

o'er the clouds, and hisses in the storm.
Steeped in fell poison, as his sharp teeth part,
A thousand tongues in quick vibration dart;
Snatch the proud eagle towering o'er the heath,
Or pounce the lion as he stalks beneath;
Or strew as marshalled hosts contend the plain,
With human skeletons the whitened plain.”

Of all the vegetable productions with which we are acquainted, there is not one, perhaps, which has excited more curiosity or more dread than the celebrated Upas, from which the inhabitants of Java, and of the Molucca Archipelago, derive their noted poison. The Upas tree, as it was called, was described as being of an

[graphic][merged small]


size, rising from the ground in countless trunks, and spreading over a space of many square miles, while each trunk was covered with disgusting scales, and the whole appearance was said to resemble a huge collection of venomous serpents. No vegetation grew within its baneful influence—one withered and arid space surrounded it on all sides. The birds of the air drooped and died if they chanced to wing their course within reach of its noisome exhalations; while the beasts of the forest which came near, instantly sank under the influence of the poison. The whitened bones of animals and men were the only objects which broke the painful monotony of the scene.

To procure the exudation from the tree, criminals condemned to death were employed; for even avarice itself seemed to be palsied by the dread horror of the tree, and the largest bribes would induce no one to venture upon what was deemed a certain and painful death. The criminals themselves were driven to their task, and a species of compassion was shewn even to them, as they were furnished with masks, and every protection which could be devised to screen them from the fatal exhalations; but in nearly every

« PreviousContinue »