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Characteristics of the North American Flora1

Nature volume 31, pages 253255 | Download Citation



II. THIS Contrast is susceptible of explanation. I have ventured to regard the two antipodal floras thus compared as the favoured heirs of the ante-Glacial high northern flora, or rather as the heirs who have retained most of their inheritance. For, inasmuch as the present Arctic flora is essentially the same round the world, and the Tertiary fossil plants entombed in the strata beneath are also largely identical in all the longitudes, we may well infer that the ancestors of the present northern temperate plants were as widely distributed throughout their northern home. In their enforced migration southward, geographical configuration and climatic differences would begin to operate Perhaps the way into Europe was less open than into the lower latitudes of America and Eastern Asia, although there is reason to think that Greenland was joined to Scandinavia. However that be, we know that Europe was fairly well furnished with many of the vegetable types that are now absent, possibly with most of them. Those that have been recognised are mainly trees and shrubs, which somehow take most readily to fossilisation, but the herbaceous vegetation probably accompanied the arboreal. At any rate, Europe then possessed Torreyas and Gingkos, Taxodium and Glyptostrobus, Libocedrus, Pines of our five-leaved type, as well as the analogues of other American forms, several species of Juglans answering to the American forms, and the now peculiarly American genus Carya, Oaks of the American types, Myricas of the two American types, one or two Planer-trees, species of Populus answering to our Cotton-woods and our Balsam-poplar, a Sassafras, and the analogues of our Persea and Benzoin, a Catalpa, Magnolias, and a Liriodendron, Maples answering to ours, and also a Negundo, and such peculiarly American Leguminous genera as the Locust, Honey Locust, and Gymnocladus. To understand how Europe came to lose these elements of her flora, and Atlantic North America to retain them, we must recall the poverty of Europe in native forest trees, to which I have already alluded. A few years ago, in an article on this subject, I drew up a sketch of the relative richness of Europe, Atlantic North America, Pacific North America, and the eastern side of temperate Asia in genera and species of forest trees (Am. Journ. Sci. iii. vi. 85). In that sketch, as I am now convinced, the European forest elements were somewhat under-rated. I allowed only 33 genera and 85 species, while to our Atlantic American forest were assigned 66 genera and 155 species. I find from Nyman's Conspectus that there are trees on the southern and eastern borders of Europe which I had omitted, that there are good species which I had reckoned as synonyms, and some that may rise to arboreal height which I had counted as shrubs. But on the other hand and for the present purpose it may be rejoined that the list contained several trees, of as many genera, which were probably carried from Asia into Europe by the hand of man. On Nyman's authority I may put into this category Cercis Siliquastrum, Ceratonia Siliqua, Diospyros Lotus, Styrax officinalis, the Olive, and even the Walnut, the Chestnut, and the Cypress. However this may be, it seems clear that the native forest flora of Europe is exceptionally poor, and that it has lost many species and types which once belonged to it. We must suppose that the herbaceous flora has suffered in the same way. I have endeavoured to show how this has naturally come about. I cannot state it more concisely than in the terms which I used six years ago.

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