The Tropics

The Tropics

The Tropics

The Tropics


I fell somewhat hesitant in accepting the very flattering invitation to present the various aspects of the tropical world to the readers of this series on "living Nature", for I am neither a botanist nor a zoologist. But my profession of geologist, concerned though it is with another realm of! the natural sciences, has nevertheless for a long time put me in close contact with tropical nature. The curiosity and interest aroused in me by the often astonishing and greatly varied plant life of the hot countries finally induced me to accept the proposal.

Ten years spent in the tropics, and journeys that took me successively across Oceania and to the islands of the Indian Ocean, to Madagascar, Africa, the West Indies, Central America, and a large part of South America, as well as the ascent of several high tropical mountains up to 15,000 and 18,000 feet, have made me familiar with this strange world. I thus have had the opportunity of observing the prodigious richness, the complexity, and the extraordinary adaptations, of the tropical flora. I have been able to admire the density and the often disorderly luxuriance of the great forests, and also to contemplate the prickly forbidding and grotesque countenance that a hostile environment sometimes forces desertic plants to assume.

I have tried to record pictorially certain of the more typical and striking aspects of the infinity of graceful, quaint and monstrous forms which the plant kingdom has assembled in the tropics, and some of these photographs have been used to illustrate this book.

To many people the idea of the tropics is, quite mistakenly, one of heavy, humid heat and abundant rains, favouring the development of an exuberant vegetation of enormous vitality. This simplified and very widespread conception of the tropical climate, as exemplified by the hothouse atmosphere that obtains permanently at Singapore, Colombo, Panama and other places near the equator, is only partly true, for the great rain forest -- which used to be called the "virgin forest" -- is only one of the numerous aspects of tropical vegetation. But then in the tropics we find nothing but variety, in the climate as much as in the vegetation which mirrors it so faithfully.

Within the range of tropical climates -- which are distinguished by the greater or lesser importance of the rains and the manner in which these are distributed throughout the year rather than by their differences of temperature -- the influence of altitude and the nature of the soil are the causes of the considerable contrasts found there -- contrasts more marked than in any other part of the world. The picture ranges from the great equatorial rain forest to the park-like savannahs with their scattered trees, to wholly grassy savannahs, deciduous forests, thorny scrubs and finally to the desert steppes. These are only the principal types of vegetation in the hot countries; to them must be added, among others, the quaint mangrove forests of the muddy coasts, the misty moss-grown mountain forests -- fantastic enough to be thought survivors of another age and especially the alpine meadows of the high equatorial summits where the vegetation takes on the most singular forms.

One might expect these strongly contrasted types of vegetation to be arranged with . . .

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