Popular History of Lichens.

A Popular History of British Lichens, comprising an account of their structure, reproduction, uses, distribution and classification. By W. Lauder Lindsay, M.D., Fellow of the Botanical and Royal Physical Societies of Edinburgh, etc. Lovell Reeve, 5, Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. Lontoo 1856.

(Tekstiin lisätty kappaleita lukemisen helpottamiseksi. // Some paragraphs added to the original text for making reading easier.)

"God made them all:
And what He deigns to make should ne'er be deem'd
Unworthy of our study and our love."
"Art's finest pencil could but rudely mock
The rich grey Lichens broider'd on a rock."—Jane Taylor.

The purpose of the writer in laying before the public a familiar natural history of British Lichens, is to open up a hitherto neglected, or at least little read, page of the book of Nature; to introduce to those who desire an object to lead them to our coasts or hills, or who require a pursuit combining healthful recreation with scientific interest, a somewhat new, attractive, and fertile field of labour; to offer to observers in Natural History an opportunity of contributing towards the filling up of a gap, hitherto very conspicuous, in British Botany, as well as towards the further development of the economical resources of our country.

The Lichens may be said to be the only family of the Gryptogamia which has not met with its due meed of scientific or public attention, and whose natural history has consequently hitherto rested on a most insecure and unsatisfactory foundation. They have ever been the acknowledged opprobria of Cryptogamic Botany. The delicate waving frond of the fern is anxiously tended by jewelled fingers in the drawing-rooms of the wealthy and noble; the rhodospermous seaweed finds a place beside the choicest productions of art in the gilt and broidered album; the tiny moss has been the theme of many a gifted poet; and even the despised mushroom has called forth classic works in its praise.

But the Lichens, which stain every rock and clothe every tree, which form

"Nature's lively o'er the globe
Where'er her wonders range,"
have been almost universally neglected, nay despised.

This neglect is to us the more surprising when we consider the facility with which they may be collected, preserved, and examined even by the humblest observer. The lichenological student requires no cumbrous or expensive apparatus: an old knife and hammer, a few pill-boxes or a tin-case for collecting, a supply of cardboard and paper, with gum or glue for preserving, and a pocket-lens and microscope for examining, constitute his whole armamentaria. Nor is it necessary, for the purpose of collecting, to run the risks or suffer the expense of foreign travel: the objects of his search surround him abundantly; from the sea-coast to the mountain summit, he will find them on every tree or rock. Moreover they may be collected at all seasons, in all weathers and climates, at almost all elevations, and in all countries hitherto discovered. But their very familiarity—the very simplicity and inexpensive nature of their study—has doubtless operated in some degree as a cause of this neglect; for many minds are irresistibly at tracted by the love of everything that is foreign, while others are fascinated by the possession of complex and expensive apparatus or instruments, which it is beyond the power of the humble observer to purchase.

- Our own investigations in the forest and on the mountain have too frequently called forth the look of surprise or smile of compassion to permit us to doubt that such studies are popularly regarded as at best profitless and harmless hobbies; that the collection or examination of "Time-stains" or "Crottles" is considered a wasteful disposal of time and energy. This feeling evidently originates in ignorance of the structural and utilitarian beauties of the family. We shall have occasion in the following pages to show that, in regard to its relative position in the scale of vegetable life, this group of plants, humble and insignificant though it appear to be,—

"Holds a rank
Important in the plan of Him who framed
This scale of beings; holds a rank which, lost,
Would break the chain and leave behind a gap
Which Nature's self would rue;"—
that Lichens are of infinite importance as handmaids of Nature in operating her changes on the face of our globe, —in softening down the pointed crags of our mountains,— in covering with fertile soil alike the bare surface of the volcanic lava and the coral islet,—in a word, that they are the basis of soil and consequently of vegetation; that a small section, which furnishes valuable and familiar dyes, gives rise to an import of the annual value of many thousand pounds; that many others, under the vernacular term "Crottle," have been for ages, and still are, used as household dye-agents by the peasantry in many parts of our country; that in many parts of the world they furnish in dispensable food not only to cattle but to man; that they play an important part in the history of Arctic enterprise, inasmuch as they have frequently saved the lives of Arctic travellers; and that they are celebrated in the history of medicine in this and other countries.

If, in addition to these high recommendations, we consider that many species have a texture which, by readily imbibing and eagerly retaining moisture, renders them in a sense independent of all climatal changes, enabling them equally to brave polar cold and tropical heat; that many not only cling with such tenacity as to be inseparable from, but can corrode or disintegrate, the hardest and barest rocks, even pure quartz; that the most ample provision has been made by the great Author of all for their reproduction or multiplication, in spite of the most adverse external circumstances, and under conditions fatal to all higher vegetation, both by the multiplicity and abundance of their reproductive cells—which sometimes constitute almost the entire bulk of the plant,— the extremely minute size and delicate nature of these cells, by virtue whereof they are disseminated by every shower or Zephyr, and the readiness with which these germinate; and that throughout the family, both in structure and products, there are many analogies which bind them closely to the Phanerogamia, we cannot fail to increase our surprise that a curiosity has not been sooner awakened to become familiar with the natural history of plants which strew the path of man wherever he roams over the wide world,—which constitute the meet universally diffused type of terrestrial vegetation.

Whether we look upon the Lichens from a scientific or utilitarian point of view; whether we regard the universality of their geographical range,—their beautiful structural adaptations to the position which they occupy in the scale of vegetation, to the part they play in the economy of Nature as the pioneers of vegetable life,—the numerous links in structure and composition which connect them with the Phanerogamia,—the importance of their products in our arts and manufactures,—their celebrity in the past history of British and continental medicine,—their connection with the history of Arctic enterprise,—the abundance of nutritive species in the countries and under the conditions of season and climate where they are most required for the sustenance of man and the lower animals,—and the curious combination which they present of essential simplicity of structure with infinite variety of form, we think we have a sufficient basis whereupon to found our plea for the study of Lichenology. A passing glance would, we are convinced, demonstrate to the most superficial observer,—

"That not alone in trees and flowers
The spirit bright of beauty dwells;
That not alone in lofty bowers
The mighty hand of God is seen;
But more triumphant still in things men count as mean."

One of the most celebrated of recent continental lichenologists, Schaerer, has appended to his latest work the following expressive quotation from Cicero:—

"Haec Btudia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant."
"These studies invigorate youth and solace old-age."

The study of the simplest forms of vegetable organization should naturally form a prelude to, or foundation for, the examination of plants having a more complex structure and higher position in the scale of being. It is moreover eminently calculated to lead to the acquisition of habits of minute observation and patient research,—of an accurate sifting and noting of facts,—than which nothing is more valuable, not only to the student of Natural History, but to the educated of all classes of our community. And, lastly, it could scarcely fail to create or intensify a love of the beautiful in Nature,—to furnish important lessous in Natural Theology, by indicating many of the infinite beauties of Creation, and thereby to lead the mind of the observer by imperceptible gradations to "look from Nature up to Nature's God."

There are certain sections of the public upon whose attention in particular we would strongly urge the claims of Lichenology or kindred studies. But in so doing we would have it distinctly understood that it is far from our object or wish to make a special pleading in favour of Lichenology to the exclusion of, or in preference to, other branches of natural history, to which, though in different degree, our remarks equally apply. Let each observer consult his own tastes or opportunities in the selection of a subject. We rejoice to find that a love of natural history is being rapidly and widely created, diffused, and fostered throughout our country; its study is becoming an essential feature in the curriculum of our most elementary schools; its objects are described and its phenomena expounded in all our mechanics' institutes and cognate societies; and by means of the Press its general facts are placed at the command of the humblest of our fellow-workers on the busy stage of life. These proceedings we accept as the exponents of the public tastes and tendencies in regard to natural history; and we firmly be lieve that these and their resulting attainments require only to be directed into proper channels—to be employed in fertile and remunerative fields,—to be productive ultimately of great good to science.

The following classes of persons, who command the great requirements of time and opportunities, would in particular secure important advantages by familiarizing themselves with such studies as those to which we have alluded:—the invalid from our large towns, whose delicate mental and physical organization have suffered wreck in the too eager or engrossing pursuit of wealth or fame, and who is now compelled for a season to relinquish former habits or studies, and to seek instead the vague objects of change of air and scene in the pure genial atmosphere of the country; the summer lounger at our sea-coasts, whose chief or sole occupation is perchance to listen daily to the mournful and unceasing wail of the "sad sea waves," or to watch the tides alternately leaving and obliterating their footprints on the shifting sands; the habitué of our fashionable watering-places, who compels himself daily to drink a certain quantity of mineral water, walk a certain number of miles, and read a certain proportion of a novel, so as to occupy or dissipate his time; the tourist among our Highlands and Islands, whose chief aim is too frequently to pass over the greatest amount of space in the shortest possible time, and who too seldom merges from the beaten track laid down in his favourite guide-book; the Art student in search of the picturesque among our hills and vales, who cannot truly appreciate the picturesque without being acquainted with the minutest elements of which it is composed; and the fair denizen of our urban drawing-rooms, whose accomplishments, gained it may be at a great expense of time and money, are too frequently frivolous and profitless, and who have, more than any class of persons above mentioned, the necessary time and qualifications.

By following out any branch of natural history, the invalid finds a new charm in every walk; he feels that he can profitably employ, without mental or bodily fatigue, even the idleness which illness has thrust upon him, by acquainting himself with the characters of the lowliest yet not least interesting, organisms in the scale of vegetable or animal life. It may not be supererogatory here to remind the reader of the well-acknowledged influence over the human mind of gently-exciting studies as moral medicines of the most soothing, and intellectual food of the most nourishing, kind. We would commend the invalid—

"To pace
The forest's ample round,
And see the spangled branches shine,
And mark the moss of many a hue
That varies the old tree's brown bark
Or o'er the grey stone spreads."

Let him try our recipe; let him look upon nature with the eye of a naturalist, and let him communicate his im pressions to his brethren in affliction. Were he to subject himself to such a course of mental and physical hygiene, we place his physician and all the potency of the materia medica at defiance.

The lounger at our sea-coast bathing-places would experience a new delight in his scrambles among the cliffs, were he acquainted with the character or uses of the lichens which crust their surface with a grey or yellow coat, for littoral or marine species are possessed of additional in terest from the circumstance that they include the most valuable tinctorial species,—whose products are the bases of the Orchil, Cudbear, and Litmus, so familiar to the dyer and chemist. The tourist, merely in search of fresh air and exercise, or of that equally vague entity denominated scenery, clambers upwards of three thousand feet to the summit of Ben Lomond or Ben Nevis, for the purpose of catching a glimpse of sunrise or sunset, or of viewing a certain number of counties,—mountains, rivers, lakes,—spread like a carpet at his feet. But his hopes in the majority of cases are too likely to prove delusive: he probably sees nothing but "mists on the brae," for every traveller in the Scotch Highlands knows full well how apt he is to be disappointed in his expectations by the mists and storms of its moist and treacherous climate. To him the black heaths, time-stained boulders, and bristling crags are only so many obstacles to the attainment of his aim. Instead of beauty, he finds only desolation in the scene; and under a sense of disappointment, overcome by a feeling of loneliness and gloom, he is perhaps too prone to have recourse to artificial stimulants of a questionable character.

But under the same circumstances, the naturalist requires no other stimulus than the sight of the natural objects which encompass and strew his path. His eye never dims,—his energies never flag,—his spirit never wearies, so long as he can find, on every rock or tree,

"Ten thousand forms minute
Of velvet moss or lichen, torn from rock
Or rifted oak."

He looks upon every mis-shapen boulder as a treasury of Lecanoras, Lecideas, and Umbilicarias; in each he reads valuable lessons on the characters and geographical range of Lichens; he may be said literally to find "sermons in stones." In the rock-cleffs and gullies of our Highland mountains he finds,

"Cabined and confined
At once from sun and dew and wind,"
various Lecideas and Cladonias; and even on the naked rocks of their cloud-capped summits, where there is an almost total deficiency of a higher vegetation, luxuriating
"Amidst the war of elements,
The wreck of matter and the crash of worlds,"
he meets with the curious and valuable black leathery Umbilicarias.

Should the mists obscure his view, they do not damp his spirits; he atones for his disappointment by filling his vasculum, and adding to his stock of knowledge a new store of observations. The Art student, in his professional tours among the scenic beauties of our country, would also look in a different light on every mossy tree, crusted crag, or time-stained battlement; he would be led to paint Nature from a higher and holier view-point.

To the fair sex especially, during their summer search after health and happiness, we would commend the study of Natural History as infinitely more ennobling than the host of fashionable though profitless accomplishments, which they at present take such pains to possess. Many ladies have already taken a high stand as Algologists and Pteridologists; many have cultivated the physical sciences, with such success as may well encourage others to follow their example: they are by nature better fitted than men to collect and preserve minute and delicate organisms; and we see no reason why they should not be equally capable of examining and describing, did they direct their energies or acumen in this direction. The Poet too, whose highest aspiration ought to be to describe Nature, and who frequently borrows his imagery from the beauties of creation, ought to be well acquainted with at least the general features of Natural History. An ignorance of this subject however is too often, we fear, betrayed in his productions. As a humble illustration bearing on our present subject, the poetGray speaks of the

"Rude and moss-grown beech;"
while any tyro in Lichenology might have taught him the inappropriateness of such an expression, for the bark of this tree remains comparatively smooth, although it is liable to separate, as its age increases, in annular masses; and it is habited by Graphideæ and Lecideæ, while it is seldom or never the habitat of the Ramalinas, Usneas, Physcias, or Cornicularias, which constitute the familiar "beard" or "moss" of aged trees.

We have often regretted the many valuable opportunities annually lost of improving our knowledge of natural history in general, and certain branches thereof, of which Lichenology forms one, in particular; while we are satisfied that the idler, professional or amateur, voluntary or non-voluntary, could not find a more pleasant as well as profitable means of dissipating ennui, and occupying a leisure that must at times lie heavy on his hands. Nay, we may go still further, and recommend it as a delightful relaxation in the intervals of business or more severe study: in our own experience we have found it so. Let it not be supposed that we can recommend these pursuits merely as forms of intellectual gratification to the individual engaged in them; they are capable of a more extended influence and application. We believe that every observer, however humble his sphere, and however meagre his opportunities, has it in his power to contribute materially to the progress of science, and to the development of its economical or practical applications, by the simple noting of matters of fact.

No group of plants is more Protean in its characters than that of the Lichens,—none more subject to structural alterations under the influence of external circumstances. Hence the investigation of the innumerable phases or forms under which species may occur—and without an accurate knowledge of which all classification must be unsatisfactory and temporary—is a labour of almost insuperable difficulty to an in dividual; while it becomes one of comparative ease to a multitude of observers, working towards a common end under different conditions of climate and country. In no section of botany therefore are the labours of individual collectors or investigators, on however small a scale, more likely to contribute to a higher status of the science, or a more accurate knowledge of the natural history of the plants composing it, than in that of Lichenology. The paucity of labourers in this field,—the deficiency of corroborated and multiplied observations common to all countries and climes, have been one great cause of the obscurity which has hitherto enveloped the subject of Lichenology. Should this little Work induce any labourers to enter either upon the comparatively circumscribed, but also comparatively unworked, though pro mising, field of Lichenology, or the broader and more at tractive region of general Natural History, its purpose will have been fully answered.

Within the limits of a popular treatise we feel it impossible to do justice to a subject of such novelty and extent as the Natural History of British Lichens. We can only enumerate the general characters of the more common and better known species, which beginners in the study of Lichenology are most likely to meet in their country rambles.

By confining ourselves to the description of typical or common species, and by means of introductory chapters devoted to the consideration of their external characters, internal structure, uses, distribution, and classification, we hope to be enabled to lay before the general reader, or the young student of Nature, a comparatively complete, though concise, view or account of the principal features of their natural history.

Experience of the difficulty of procuring information upon, or access to lichenological literature has induced us to append, in foot-notes to the several chapters, references to the works most worthy of consultation for fuller details than are hereinafter contained. The addition of these references may, we trust, serve to render the Work not unacceptable to the more advanced student of botany or natural history, as a familiar introduction to the study of native Lichens; and may enable those who are desirous of dipping more deeply into the study of Lichenology than they can do in the pages of a popular treatise, to prosecute the subject according to their time or inclinations.

"Not a plant, a leaf, a flower but contains
A folio volume. We may read, and read,
And read again, and still find something new,—
Something to please,—something to instruct,—
Even in the noisome weed."

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