Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

the south of the Mei-ling pass, supply the large rafts of fir which are floated down with the stream. These are formed of smaller rafts united together by twisted osiers, and support the wooden dwellings of those who guide them along by means of long bamboo poles. The Nânmo, a description of cedar which resists insects and time, appears to be exclusively used for imperial dwellings and temples. It was an article of impeachment against the minister of Kien-loong, who was put to death by the son and successor of that monarch, principally on account of his enormous wealth, that he had presumed to use this wood in the construction of his private palace. The Tszelán, also called Mo-wâng, or “ king of woods,” is much valued as a material of furniture, and somewhat resembles what we denominate rosewood. A common tree in the south is the yâng-shoo, or bastard banyan, being a variety of the ficus religiosa.

The same neighbourhood produces the dryandra cordata, from the seeds of which the Chinese extract a varnish for boats and coarser implements of use. Being insoluble in water, it is found very useful as a coating for tubs and basins, besides covering the paper umbrellas of the country, large quantities of which are exported to India. The finer varnish, however, is obtained from the

Tsič-shoo, or lacker-shrub, a species of rhus, from which the varnish distils like gum. It is said by the Chinese to be unwholesome to the manufacturers in a liquid state, and these poisonous qualities, which it possesses in common with many vegetable varnishes, are guarded against with great caution by the persons who collect it. They are said to work with masks over their faces, and with hands covered. The lackered manufactures of the Chinese are well known; and though the varnish is commonly used with a jet black or with red, it is capable of taking all colours.

The Croton sebiferum, from which the Chinese obtain their tallow, has been already noticed ; and it has been observed that the use of vegetable substances was probably thus forced on them by the want of a sufficient number of the larger animals in their general economy. “ The seed of the croton,” as Staunton remarks, “in its external appearance, bears some resemblance to the berries of the ivy. As soon as it is ripe the capsule opens and divides into two, or more frequently three divisions, and, falling off, discovers as many kernels, each attached by a separate foot-stalk, and covered with a substance of a snowy whiteness, contrasting beautifully with the leaves of the tree, which in this season (autumn) are of a tint between a purple and scarlet.” Another useful tree is the mulberry, most commonly used in the feeding of silkworms, though the same species differs in some degree from that of Europe in its growth. The leaves are smaller, of a lighter green, and much thinner. The fruit is produced, when required, in great quantities, but it is small, sweet, and insipid. The principal cultivation of the young tree for feeding silkworms is near Soo-chow in Keang-nân, not far from the sea, and in one of the finest climates of the world. Between that city and Hâng-chow, Mr. Barrow observed “plantations of the mulberry-tree were extended on both sides of the canal, and into the country beyond the reach of sight. They appeared to be of two distinct species: the one the common thulberry, Morus nigra ; and the other having much smaller leaves, smooth and heart-shaped, and bearing a white berry about the size of the field-strawberry.”

That gigantic grass, or reed, the bamboo, is so well known in many other countries, that it needs scarcely to be noticed here, except to remark the variety of uses to which it has been put by the Chinese. It is employed

in building scaffolding and sheds of all kinds; and the frame-work of their matted houses, for theatrical exhibitions, is run up with bamboos in a few hours. Some of the numerous varieties of this plant, particularly a black sort, serve as the materials of ornamental furniture, Longitudinal strips of the outer part form towing-ropes for boats ; and of the small splinters baskets of all kinds are made. The inner portions, beaten into a pulp, form paper ; and the young tender shoots, being the germs of the real stem of the plant, rising out of the ground like asparagus, are used for food in the same way as that vegetable, by boiling or stewing; or they occasionally make sweetmeats. The large tubes serve as pipes, when the divisions at the joints have been removed ; and for every purpose wherein strength combined with lightness is required, the hollow cylindrical shape, as in the feathers of birds, is the best adapted. The Chinese agriculturist would be entirely at a loss in numberless cases without the assistance of the bamboo, with which he constructs the fences of his enclosures, and many of the instruments of his husbandry. The siliceous concretion called Tabasheer, sometimes found in the interior of the joints, forms an item in their materia medica.*

The plant from which the pithy substance vulgarly called “rice-paper" is prepared was for many years a mystery in Europe. At length Mr. Reeves sent a specimen, supposed to be the plant, to the Horticultural Society, but it died shortly after; and it was not until the lapse of some years that Sir W. Hooker was able to designate the real plant as the Aralia papyrifera. This has been proved to be identical with the specimen first transmitted by Mr. Reeves; and since Mr. Fortune sent home

* The bamboo-stem blossoms but once, and then dies, like other grasses.

seeds in abundance it has become well known as a plant of handsome foliage. A number of useful plants are, as might be expected, common to both India and China, among which may be named the cotton-shrub and indigoplant; the first of which provides the clothing of the mass of the people, and the last supplies the usual dye for it. Near the flat road between Peking and the Great Wall, Sir George Staunton observed, in the alluvial soil, a species of polygonum cultivated, and was informed that its leaves, macerated and prepared like those of the indigo, yielded a blue dye. This might be tried with advantage in other climates which are too cold for the growth of indigo.

A brief notice only can be taken of the remaining useful plants. The smilax, or China-root of commerce, commonly known as a sudorific, is used by Chinese doctors for a variety of complaints, and may be seen growing near Canton. That valuable medicine, rhubarb, grows to the northward, in the cold and mountainous province of Shensy; the colour is originally whitish, and it assumes its red appearance in drying. Curcuma, or turmeric, is used sometimes as one ingredient in colouring black tea green to deceive foreigners; and the root likewise forms an article of export from Canton. Ginger is commonly cultivated all through the interior, and sold green in the shops as a vegetable. A fine oil is extracted from the kernels of apricots to the north ; and this is exactly the case among the inhabitants of Tartary, close to the Himmaleh range bordering on Bengal. The Chinese cassia, an inferior cinnamon, is grown in the province of Kuâng-sy, and largely exported in European ships. A species of seaweed, or fucus, found on the sea-beach in the neighbourhood of Macao, is used as a jelly. It is first steeped in fresh water, and hung up to dry ; being then boiled in water, it acquires, on cooling, the consistence and appearance of a jelly, and is used with various fruits to form conserves. The tobacco plant seems to be grown nearly everywhere, but has different degrees of strength, varying probably according to soil and climate. To the north it is of a pale colour, and sold in the leaf, which is reduced to a coarse powder by the purchaser. To the south it is said to owe its occasional reddish colour to being steeped in a solution of opium. It is cut into time shreds for use, by means of a plane, applied to the edges of a quantity of leaves strongly compressed. The cultivation of the poppy was forbidden in China altogether.

Some notice must be taken of the most remarkable fruits and flowers of China. Among the former there are three distinct species of the orange, as different as one sort of fruit can be from another of the same genus. The first is the China orange of Europe ; the second is of a pale yellow colour, but very sweet, and with a highly aromatic rind, being the commonest and cheapest sort in the country;* the third, and perhaps best sort, has a deep crimson rind when ripe, quite detached from the fruit, the lobes of which are almost loose, with a hollow space in the centre of them. The whole has a fiattish shape, sometimes four or five inches in diameter, and the loose skin, when broken, opens like a puff-ball, disclosing the juicy lobes surrounded with a kind of net-work of fibres. This has obtained at Canton the name of "mandarin-orange,” which has been converted by botanists into citrus nobilis. The Chinese have besides several diminutive species of the genus citrus ; one of which, called Kum-kat, makes a good sweetmeat when preserved whole. Small red limes are common, but they are not equal to

* Incorrectly called in England the mandarin orange, a term which properly belongs to the next, or third sort.

« ZurückWeiter »