Page images
PDF
EPUB

rewarded by the harvest of new and beautiful things, that surround him in a deep and dark defile shut out from the sight of all mankind. At the lower end of the valley through which we had to pass a fire had been raging, and all the trees stood without bark, the greater part, indeed, with half-charred stems. The wood itself is much altered by such a circumstance; for while its colour and compactness are improved for the purposes of manufacture, it becomes useless for fuel, and receives the name of

pellin.' Forest conflagrations often occur from unknown causes in the uninhabited districts of the Andes, and consume everything up to the elevation where the Chilian knee wood and the dwarf beech tree grow, near the limits of perpetual snow. After such fires the forest never again throws up lofty stems, but produces only a thick underwood, that envelopes and destroys the higher trees that may have escaped. It is curious to observe the new and peculiar vegetation that in all parts of America succeeds such an occurrence.

“ In Pennsylvania, the few forests that have hitherto escaped the ravages of the axe and fire, resemble a park, being quite free from shrubs ; but scarcely has the tract been burnt when a rhododendron, before unseen, shoots up, particularly on the lofty mountains, which present a lovely spectacle, being loaded with flowers, that indeed form an impenetrable thicket. In places where not a single tree has escaped the devouring element, arises a bushy oak, the scrub oak, impeding the progress of the hunter, and proving the greatest enemy to the farmer, as its roots run deep, and throw up new shoots so readily, that it is almost impossible to eradicate it. In the warmer tracts of this part of the world, the consequences are itself more apparent. The formidable stinging treė nettle, the ugly species of Psychotria and Piper, presently occupy the bounds of the woods in Cuba ; and where cultivation is not promptly employed, an impenetrable mass of crooked thorned Smilaces, Ipomeas, and other climbing plants soon occupy the soil.

“ Towards the evening we had ascended the moderately high ridges of the valley, and the dense crown of trees that was seen above these indicated our near approach to the desired, aim,

G

and added new vigour to our exertions. When we arrived at the first Araucarias, the sun had just set; still some time remained for their examination. What first struck our attention were the thick roots of these trees, which lie spread over the stony and nearly naked soil, like gigantic serpents, two or three feet in thickness; they are clothed with the same rough bark as the lofty pillar-like trunks, which are from fifty to a hundred feet in height. The crown of foliage occupies only about the upper quarter of the stem, and resembles a large depressed cone. The lower branches, eight or twelve in number, form a circle round the trunk; they diminish till there are but four or six in a ring, and are of a most regular formation, all spreading out horizontally and turned up at the tips. They are covered with leaves like scales, sharp pointed, above an inch broad, and of such a hard texture that it requires a sharp knife to cut them from the parent branch. The general appearance of the Araucaria is most striking and peculiar, though it certainly bears a distant family likeness to the pines of our country. Its fruits, placed at the end of the boughs, are quite

[graphic][merged small]

round, and about as big as a man's head, and consist of beautiful layers of scales, that cover the seeds, which are the most important part

corn

of this truly noble tree. The Araucaria is the palm of those Indians who inhabit the Chilian Andes from lat. 37° to 48°, yielding to those

nations a vegetable sustenance, that is found in greater plenty the more they recede from the whites, and the more difficult they find it to obtain

by com

Such is the extent of the Araucaria forests, and the amazing quantity of nutritious seeds produced by each full-grown tree, that the Indians are ever from want ; and the discord that prevails frequently among the different hordes, does not prevent the quiet collec

[graphic]

merce,

tion of this kind of har-. vest. A single fruit contains between two and three hundred kernels, and there are frequently,

secure

even

FRUIT OF ARAUCARIA.

« PreviousContinue »