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Etching 11 Sandy islands  from Martius's Flora Brasiliensis 1840. Thanks to Lehigh U., Special Collections ! Color by C. Miranda Chor

#11 Sandy islands in the Amazon River, in the province of Para

Latin translation by Ben Hennelly


When I spoke elsewhere in greater detail about the Amazon River (1), I treated its natural history for the most part by comparing the river's realm with a huge channel, of which the stream itself and the lowest parts of the
 valley which surround it were to be understood as the bottommost section.

Amazon river from expedition map of Flora Brasiliensis 1840 by Karl von Martius. Thanks to Green Library, Stanford U. Fair use

If we turn our eyes from this lowest part of the whole realm toward its edges, we have to ascend, now more quickly, now more slowly, until we arrive at the watersheds by which the realm of this river is separated from those neighboring. Now, to whomever examines the geography of the plant life with regard to the position and habitation of the different plants, and to how they are disseminated and distributed according to the varied conditions of the soil and sky, it will become clear in the course of his study that, in the broadly spread realm of this greatest river of the lands, the vegetation rises stepwise through different zones, just as happens on the sides of a tall mountain, except that, whereas on a mountain ridge those zones are not very broad, here they spread out over a vast reach and comprehend whole lands. 

The vegetation that is found in the lowest part of the river's realm corresponds to the zone of plants which occupies the mountain-roots. For, as in the realm of each mountain, some plants do not ascend higher, but rather abide in a deep valley, so also do the plants of the lowest basin -- and this happens still more surely than near a mountain, since some of the plants actually live in the water, and others could not do without the river sand: this basis for the life of both groups is found nowhere except in the river itself or in its lowest regions, which sandy islands occupy. And so for this reason it seemed necessary to represent with a picture also this deepest zone of vegetation in the Amazon River's realm, and its characteristic appearance, as we have depicted already, in etching #1, the vegetation that is found on and along the river's banks and, already a little higher, occupies another zone, as it were. 

It will be clear from what we have said so far that this vegetation which we find in the lowest part of the river can compare, in neither the number of species nor the magnitude of individual plants, with the higher zones of plants. True aquatic plants are only few in number, because the depth of the river-bed is such that hardly any plant might grow up from the bottom to the surface and spread itself out in the light. At the same time living rocks and stays of vines are lacking, on which many aquatic plants usually support themselves. For this reason it happened that I found not even one species from the noteworthy natural order of Podostemeae, of which Bongard (2) especially described several brought from other rivers of Brazil. Those large tree-trunks that stick out here and there from the bank into the river, or are immersed in it, offer just about the only place for aquatic plants to settle in a river of such great depth.Those are generally Musci (Hypnum acuminulatumHypnum microcarponSchlottheimia torquataHookeria pallida), or Musci hepatici, such as Jungermannia TrichomanisJungermannia squamataJungermannia contiguaJungermannia granulataJungermannia diffusaJungermannia gracilis and Jungermannia Confervae, of which I name Ojarasca of the Brazilians, Lyngbya versatilis of Kunz, which Poeppigi says bathing Brazilians avoid because they fear that its thin threads will make their hair fall out where they stick to the body.

 Jungermania sphaeroca

Etching commentary #11