Sunday, 1 February 2009

Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, 1833

ARAUCA'RIA., in Botany, is the name of a singular genus of gigantic firs, found scattered over the southern hemisphere. It is known from all the other firs by its stiff broad leaves, by a long leafy appendage with which the scales of its cones are terminated, and by its anthers having many cells. Only three certain species have been described, of each of which we shall give some account.
Araucaria excelsa, commonly called the Norfolk Island Pine, is found not only in the spot after which it has been named, but also in several other places in the South Seas, as ,in New Caledonia, Botany Island, Isle of Pines, and in some parts of the east coast of New Holland. It is described is a most majestic tree, growing to the height of from 160 to 228 feet, with a circumference sometimes of more than ? feet. Its trunk rises erect, and is sparingly covered with long, drooping, naked branches, towards the extremities of which the leaves are clustered; these latter, when the plant is young, are long, narrow, curved, sharply pointed, and spreading, but when the tree is old they have a shorter and broader figure, and are pressed close to the branches: old and young trees are consequently so different hat one would think them distinct species. The bark abounds in turpentine; the wood, which is destitute of that substance, is white, tough, and close-grained. It was once expected that his tree would have been valuable for its timber, and that it would have afforded spars for the navy of great size; but t has been found on trial to be too heavy, and so unsound, that Captain Hunter could only find seven trees fit for use out of thirty-four that he caused to be felled. Its wood is, however, useful for carpenters' indoor work. Several specimens of this tree exist in the collections of this country. Unfortunately it will not live in the open air in the winter, and its growth is so rapid as to render it very soon too large for the loftiest greenhouses. A supposed species, called the Moreton Bay Pine, or Araucaria Cunninghami, is scarcely distinguishable from this. It is a highly interesting fact, that a plant very nearly the same as this araucaria excelsa certainly once grew in Great Britain. Remains of it have been found in the lias of Dorsetshire, and have been figured in the Fossil Flora, under the name of Araucaria primaeva.

Araucaria Dombeyi, or, as it is more commonly called, A. imbricata, is a noble species, inhabiting the mountains of the Araucanian Indians in South America, whence the name of the genus derives its origin. This species has its branches closely covered with broad, lance-shaped, very rigid and pungent dark-green leaves; it produces its branches in circles around its erect stem ; and when old it acquires an appearance not very unlike that of the Norfolk Island pine, only it is much less graceful. Its wood is said to be durable, and it yields a great quantity of resin. It is expected to be naturalised in this country, as some individuals now exist as far north as London, which have survived several winters with but little protection. It is, however, not a native of so low a latitude as is commonly supposed, and does not exist on the mountains farther to the southward than the volcano of Villarica.

Araucaria Brasiliensis is extremely like the last, but the leaves are longer, weaker, and less densely imbricated; and it is much more impatient of cold. It is found wild in the southern provinces of Brazil.

All these species are multiplied with difficulty, unless by their seeds; and the latter are so seldom brought to England in a living state, as to render all the species still extremely rare. Travellers may, however, bring them home in safety, by packing them in earth rammed hard into boxes, and kept dry and in the dark, and exposed to as little variation of temperature as possible.

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