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Life under exceptional conditions.
HE vegetable world has been broadly divided into two sections, the Flowering and the Flowerless. To the former belongs the host of many-hued blossomers: in the latter, combined with a minority of rarer colouring, is found a multitude of graceful verdant plants modified
by numberless variations of form and tint, producing neither blossom nor even seed after the ordinary fashion, but luxuriant, vigorous, evergreen in some instances; lofty, lowly, as the case may be ; lovers oftentimes of shade and moisture; frequently, if not habitually, endowed with properties nutritious, medicinal, or in some other mode serviceable to man; at the least, refreshing his eyes or spreading a soft bed for his weariness.
To this latter class belong the Ferns, scattered over wide tracts of various soil and climate, and ranging in stature from two or three inches to fifty feet and upwards. An attempt to describe them by generalities needs at every point qualification. Green is their foliage; yet some specimens display theirs frosted, or sprinkled as with silver or gold. Green their general surface : yet portions may be purplish brown or blackish purple; the fructification, at least usually, is yellow, brown,or of some kindred colour; and many stalks are roughened by brown scales, amounting on some to shagginess. The green itself moreover runs through a scale of many tints, pale, deep, olive-like, glaucous; or an indescribable bloom playing upon it makes it very lovely. To the eye and to the touch alike
the fronds offer varieties of surface, and appear glossily smooth, or in a way hairy : while for texture they range
between an almost transparent delicacy of thinness, a thick opaque leatheriness, and an absolute rigidity. Neither are the roots uniform of structure or of habit: for while all are fibrous, the young rootlets are distinctively downy or velvety; though for the most part they grow downwards, some shoot out sideways and others upwards; in one class of Fern they imbibe nourishment from the soil, in a second more or less from the atmosphere. The spores, which without being seeds perform the functions of seeds, ripen not in berries, pods, or winged mops; but merely congregate upon the upper or under surface of the frond in dots, stripes, irregular patches, or even as a general coating. Some Ferns produce none but fruitful fronds; others, both barren and fertile: even such individuals as protrude what simulates an actual blossom-spike, are not true flowering plants but exceptional forms of the flowerless family.
Thus in general terms it may be said that the entire Fern which we behold is one mass of fronds, mingled only with that which the fronds themselves bear. But what an almost infinite variety meets us in the contours of this world of foliage. Leaves ribbon-like, smooth, pendent; stately groups, intricately cut and combined into the form of a crown; airy feathers; young tips curling like a bishop's crozier; dwarf forests of vigorous waving verdure; leaves notched and notched again, twisted, ramified, of a hundred outlines, of a hundred curves, veined in diverse patterns, indefinitely varied.
Not least sightly among English Ferns is the common Brakes or Bracken, bred abundantly on heaths and elsewhere. It frond is wrought into leaflets and subleaflets, which compose in the aggregate a somewhat triangular figure. Its learned name Pteris, derived from the Greek "wing” or “feather,” may perhaps originally have indicated some yet more feathery member of the same tribe; but its special designation of "aquilina" points to a feature certainly and characteristically its own : for if instead of merely plucking a well-developed frond we sever its thick stalk in a smooth slant, the surface thus disclosed exhibits markings which (more or less) resemble the figure of the imperial spread eagle, the outline shifting according to the angle of the cut. Which leads us to a thought of wings out of sight, and angels unawares.
Yet more exquisite than the Bracken is our beautiful Maidenhair Fern, still the most beautiful even among many beauties. Its slender stalks resemble human hair, black and glossy; and add an airy look of detachedness to the sprays of cheerful green leafage which spread and cluster with an indescribable ease and lightness of elegance. In shape each leaflet is somewhat like an open fan: but what fan is like it?
Yet for all its exceeding delicacy, the Maidenhair is of no feeble habit. It roots among rocks and in caves, nestling in crevices and hanging from stony ceilings: it braves the sea breeze and sea spray, repelling wet from the surface of its foliage, and clothes cliffs with a tapestry such as the looms of Tyre never wove. Some mildness of temperature it needs: this granted, it will flourish freely and even retain the fronds of one season until those of the next appear to take their place.
Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; to cause it
to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man ; to satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth ?- Job xxxviii. 25-27.
Service and strength, God's Angels and Archangels;
His Seraphs fires, and lamps His Cherubim : Glory to God from highest and from lowest, Glory to God in everlasting hymn
From all His creatures. Princes that serve, and Powers that work His pleasure,
Heights that soar to'ard Him, Depths that sink to'ard
Flames fire-out-flaming, chill beside His Essence;
To'ard its Creator.
His Will their solace, thus they wait on Him;
To'ard their Creator.
With lofty Cherubs, loftier Seraphim,
With all His creatures.