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Etching 28 Ancient Forest  from Martius's Flora Brasiliensis 1840. Thanks to Lehigh U., Special Collections ! Color by C. Miranda Chor

#28 Ancient forest, made impassable by roots and vines, near Jacatibain the Sebastianopolitan province, the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Latin translation by Ben Hennelly

That most famous world-traveler and describer, to whom we owe, in addition to much else, the foundations, as it were, of plant physiognomy, Alex. von Humboldt, states in his work that the character of primeval tropical forests is such that they appear impenetrable (1) , and it is well known that our countrymen extol the forest that remains untouched by the ruinous activity of humankind. The barrier that prevents you from rushing right into the forest consists in some places of numerous, very dense bushes or trees that shoot up between those that are lofty and of greater size; in other places, especially on moist ground, it consists of an abundance of reeds and grasses (GramineaeCyperaceae, especially Scleriaceae, and finally clumps of Amomeae); and still elsewhere, of tenacious, many-branched species of Maranta, or the various windings of vines wandering through the forests in populous flocks. 

This is precisely the scene presented in etching #28, sketched by the kind man Benjamin Mary in 1836, which, so that its nature will be more open to view, encompasses only a small part of the forest whose proximity, thickly covered over, could be seen at a distance. Of the things that meet the eye here, first is a witness of great age, a tree from the family of the UrticineaeUrostigma; of its trunk only the lower part is shown here; its powerful roots, divided in many places and entangled, traverse the picture partly above the ground. Then there are vines or lianas, which descend from the forest top to the ground, often wrapping around trunks. And finally, a crowd of pseudo-parasites, mostly Orchideae, which in groups encircle young trunks or those already decaying, one of which is present on the right side of the etching. 

This picture displays the unrestrained fullness and unconquerable, procreative force with which many primeval tropical forests excel to a spectacular degree. For many, though not all, exceedingly ancient forests display this same character. There are others, to the contrary, such as the one along the Amazon River, depicted in etching #9, in which the aged trees because of their shade concede no place for shoots, and so nothing prevents that you pass nimbly between the gigantic trees. 



Amazon River

Those regions which are wrapped with these parasite-inhabited forests seem both to possess warmer air, and to require a more copious flow of waters, which soil rich in clay retains better and longer. In Brazil these forests rise on the coastal mountain tract throughout the provinces of Sebastianopolis (Rio)Espirito Santo and Sao Paulo. The roots of fig trees, endowed with an incredible striving for growth, under a moist sky put out branches of above-ground root, often in different directions, and make up for any harm they receive from the gnawing of animals or the force of nature by producing plentiful new growth. These do not, like the branches of the trunk, come forth from the axil (central column) of the leaves, but scattered about wherever they are incited by favoring soil. Now they snake across the ground with huge windings, now they penetrate more deeply into the earth. 

Etching commentary #28