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Alexander von Humboldt: „Remarks on the natural Family of the Grasses“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <> [abgerufen am 11.12.2023].

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Titel Remarks on the natural Family of the Grasses
Jahr 1818
Ort London; New York City, New York
in: The Journal of Science and the Arts 5:9 (5. Januar 1818), S. 44–52.
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Auszeichnung: Kursivierung, Kapitälchen; Fußnoten mit Asterisken; Schmuck: Initialen.
Textnummer Druckausgabe: III.55
Dateiname: 1818-Remarks_on_the-1-neu
Seitenanzahl: 9
Zeichenanzahl: 17902

Weitere Fassungen
Remarks on the natural Family of the Grasses (London; New York City, New York, 1818, Englisch)
Ueber die natürliche Familie der Gräser (Jena, 1818, Deutsch)

Remarks on the natural Family of the Grasses.From the Latin of Alexander Baron Von Humboldt. Paris, 1817.

I HAVE, in a former part of this work, classed the Orders Gramineæ (Grasses,) Cyperaceœ (Club-rushes,) and Junceœ (Rushes,) in one natural family, under the denomination of Glumaceœ (the plants with a chaffy flower,) and shall nowproceed to a summary notice of the species, in regard to num-ber, configuration, and geographical distribution. We mayform a conception of the richness of America in plants of thisnature, and of the smallness of the proportion of those whichhad come to the knowledge of the botanists of Europe, whenwe find, that of 343 species, observed by M. Bonpland andmyself in the course of our travels, scarcely a fifth or sixthpart had been recorded. In casting up the Glumaceœ, enu-merated in Persoon’s Synopsis Plantarum, those found by Mr.Brown in New Holland and Van Diemen’s Island, and thenew ones published by myself and fellow-traveller, we findthat we are now acquainted with about 1200 Gramineæ, 900 Cyperaceœ, and 100 Junceœ, forming a total of 2200 Glumaceœ. |45|But, although this may appear a considerable number, andone that has, of late, received very extensive additions, itturns out, in fact, to be a proof of the negligence of botanistsin respect to these three orders. It has been already shown,that these three orders form one-tenth part of the Phænoga-mous vegetation of the earth; so that, in the 30,000 Mono-cotyledonous and Dicotyledonous species, which have beenrecorded, we ought to have met with, at least, 3000 Gluma-ceœ, if they had received from travellers an equal share ofattention, with that which has been bestowed upon Compositeœ and Leguminosœ. All over the world the Glumaceœ are found to increase theirnumber in a wonderful proportion, either as you recede fromthe line, towards the poles, or as you ascend the mountainfrom the level of the sea. But then this augmentation ofnumber takes place in a far smaller ratio, from the line to thetemperate zone, than that in which it is found to take placefrom the latitudes of France and Germany, towards the polarcircle. In Lapland, for instance, there are three times more Glumaceœ than Compositœ; while, in the temperate parts ofEurope, the families are nearly equal. On the other hand, inNorth America, from the 32d to the 45th degree of latitude,the Compositœ are already found to exceed the Glumaceœ by afourth: a proportion which becomes still greater in the tro-pical regions of that continent. I have purposely taken the Glumaceœ and Compositœ for points of comparison, as beingthe two families which, in every part of the world, comprisethe largest portion of vegetable species, and display thegreatest variety of configuration. Next, in point of numbers,to the Glumaceœ and Compositœ, as far as I am able to judge,are the Caryophylleœ, Amentaceœ, and Ericinœ, in the frozenzone; the Leguminosœ, Cruciferœ, and Labiatœ, in the temper-ate zone; the Leguminosœ, Rubiaceœ, and Malvaceœ, in thetorrid zone. In considering, separately, the three natural orders whichcompose the family of the Glumaceœ, we shall find, that therespective relations of the Gramineæ, Cyperaceœ, and Junceœ, |46| under the line, are, to each other, nearly as 25.7.1; in thetemperate latitudes of the old world, as 7.5.1; under thepolar circle, as 2\( \frac{2}{5} \). 2\( \frac{3}{5} \). 1. So that it is only in Lapland thatthe Cyperaceœ are equal, in number of species, to the Gramineæ; but through the temperate zone to the tro-pics, the quantity of Cyperaceœ and Junceœ diminishes, ina far greater proportion, in the northern hemisphere, thanthat of the Gramineæ: insomuch that the Junceœ disappearalmost entirely in the torrid zone. The Cyperaceœ, on theother hand, seem better qualified to support every degree ofclimate; and it is specially among them that we find theplants which are common to both the new and the old conti-nents, such as Kyllingia monocephala, Cyperus monostachyus, Chætospora aurea, and other species, which we have enu-merated elsewhere. So New Holland and South Americaproduce, in common, Scirpus triqueter, Scirpus capitatus, and Fuirena umbellata; Europe and Australasia, Scirpus fluitans, Scirpus supinus, Scirpus setaceus, Scirpus lacustris, Scirpus triqueter, Schœnus mariscus, Carex cœpitosa, Carex Pseudo-Cyperus, Juncus maritimus, and Juncus effusus. In generalthe countries which lie within the tropic of Capricorn appearto abound in the Cyperaceæ; for, of the 456 Glumaceæ ofNew Holland, described by Mr. Brown, 214 are ranked in the Gramineæ, and 200 in the Cyperaceœ; which proportion, if itbe admitted as the true one of the relative distribution ofthese plants, is widely different from that which is exemplifiedin the tropic of Cancer. As to what I have to offer in regard to the secondary groupsor tribes, into which the Glumaceœ have been divided accord-ing to natural affinity, I shall make use of an extract from thewritings of Mr. Kunth: “Some of the tribes of the Gramineæ are represented by numerous species in the tropical regions,while in Europe they have not a single species, or at least,such only as are very rare: for instance, the Paniceœ, Stipaceœ,Chlorideœ, Saccharinœ, Orizeœ, Olyreœ, and Bambusaceœ. Europedoes not produce a single species of Paspalum, only five speciesof the Stipaceœ, very few of the Saccharinœ, but one of the |47| Oryzeœ, (Leersia oryzoides,) and not one of the Chlorideœ,Olyreœ, and Bambusaceœ. On the other hand, the Agrostideœ,Avenaceœ, Arundinaceœ, and Bromeœ, are peculiar to our tem-perate latitudes. In a like manner the Hordeaceœ, (an orderwhich comprehends the principal part of our corn-plants,)seem specially adapted to the warmer regions of Europe andto Asia, while the alpine grasses of both the new and old con-tinents belong principally to the Agrostideœ, Avenaceœ, and Bromeœ. The genus Cyperus, is almost entirely tropical; forof the 150 species, which we know at present, scarcely 20 be-long to Europe and the northern part of America. There isnot a Mariscus, nor a Kyllingia in all Europe; nor is thereany species of the true Cyperaceœ, (those with two ranked im-bricated glumes,) in the whole European continent. The Scirpeœ seemed to be dispersed indiscriminately over everypart of the globe, and of all the monocotyledonous plants, arethose among which we meet with the greatest number of instan-ces of species, which are common both to the new and old con-tinents.” In regard to Bamboos, M. Bonpland and myself had thegood fortune to meet with them in bloom twice, once on thebanks of the Cassiquiare, (a branch of the Oronoco,) and againnear the plantation of El Muerto, in the province of Popayan,between Bugus and Quilichao. For though these tree-likecanes cover the marshy lands of the new world to a great ex-tent, and often attain the height of 50 or 60 feet, yet theyvery seldom flower there. Neither Mutis, who had exploredso many Guadales, (as the marshes covered with Bamboos arecalled by the Creoles,) nor our friend Tafalla, who had accom-panied Ruiz and Pavon in their well-known botanical expedi-tion through Peru, had either of them ever been able to pro-cure the fruit of the flower of a Bamboo. On the other hand,in the East-Indies these gigantic grasses are known to flowerin such abundance, that according to Dr. Buchanan, the seedmixed with honey, is a common article of food in the Mysorecountry. The plant is there believed to bear fruit as soon asit has attained the age of 15 years, and to die immediatelyafterward. It is distinguished by the natives of those partsinto two sorts, one with a solid cane, called Chittu, and |48|which grows in dry places, and the other with a hollow cane,called Doda, which comes quicker to maturity, and grows inwatery places. Having procured some canes of a Bamboo (Bambusa Gua-duœ) at Guaduas, in New Granada, we saw at once how defi-ciently and incorrectly the genus had been characterized in allour botanical works, and made it our first concern to take thedescription of the plant on the spot where it grew, and attendedin particular to the deeply three-parted style, and the threescales which surround the parts of fructification, and were thendenominated by us its triphyllous nectary. Loureiro is almostthe only author who has described the style correctly in theAsiatic species, (for example in Bambusa verticellata.) The Bamboo is not so general in the wet lands of SouthAmerica as has been usually thought. They are rather scarce,both in the Caraccas and New Andalusia, (if we except thevalleys that lie between Cumanacoa and the town of San Fer-nando,) and the marshy woods of Guayana, that line thebanks of the Cassiaquiare and Atabasso. There are hardly anyother on the shores of the Apure which runs through theprovince of Varinas, or on those of the Guainia, or Rio Negro.In all the parts of America which were visited by Bonplandand myself, we only found them common in those placeswhich lay exposed to the setting sun. They abound princi-pally in New Granada, where they constitute vast forests, andgrow both in the sultry lowlands, between Turbaco, and Ma-hates, as well as in the highland valleys, where the climate ismore temperate; for instance, between the towns of Guaduasand Villeta, in Santa Fè de Bogotà; on the western declivi-ties of the Quindu Andès, near Buenavista and Carthagena; onthe bank of the Cauca (between Bugas and Quilichao, in Popay-an;) and, lastly, at the back of the volcanic mountain, Rucu-Pichincha, near the city of Quito; where a wide marshy level,covered with a close rank vegetation, extends through the pro-vince of Esmeralda, to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. We found the Bambusa Guaduæ from on a level with thesea, up to the height of 860 fathoms; and what struck uswas, that the highland plants of this species always contained |49| more water than those on the plains, although both grew insoils of equal degrees of humidity. In the highest stations(as from 600 to 900 fathoms) we only found them dispersedabout in small bushes; but, in the level country, even as highup as 400 fathoms, they formed extensive forests. In generalthe plants which belong to the Bamboo tribe, may be reckonedamong the gregarious plants (plantœ sociatœ.) The Nastus* of the Isle of Bourbon, according to Bory St. Vincent, is atrue subalpine grass, and never descends into the plainslower than to an elevation of 600 fathoms above the sea. The water which is found secreted in the hollow of theAmerican Bamboos has a somewhat brackish taste, but isnot unpalatable. It is said by the natives to have an injuriouseffect upon the urinary passages. I could never detect anysecretion from the American Bamboos, that gave me any idea of
* The genera Bambusa and Nastus, which most botanists of the pre-sent day have blended together, are to be distinguished from eachother by the following characteristics:—In Bambusa the long subcylin-drical ears comprise a great number of bipaleaceous (double-chaffed)flowers, of which the lower only are male ones. Each of these bipalea-ceous flowers is enclosed by a calyx of two glumes, (husks.) The mannerof the inflorescence, and the form of the chaffs are nearly the sameas in the Poæ, from which, however, the Bambusæ are sufficientlydistinguishable by an arborescent haulm, by having six stamens, adeeply trifid style, and three scales that surround the parts offructification. In the genus Nastus, on the other hand, the ear isoblong, compressed, and comprises a fixed number of chaffs, whichoverlay each other in two rows, nearly as in the Cyperaceœ. Of theseglumes, only the two upper ones enclose a flower like that of Bambusa, viz. one with a trifid style, six stamens, and three nectaries. Judgingfrom analogy, the two lower glumes may stand for the calyx in Bam-busa, the others may be looked upon as neutral flowers with only onevalve. The species which belong to Bambusa are, arundinacea etstricta Roxb. verticillata Willd. latifolia et Guadœ, Bonpl. and anunpublished one of the Isle of Bourbon. To the genus Nastus belong Calumet des hauts de Bourbon, and a Madagascar, species ofwhich the specimen is preserved in the Herbarium of M. Du PetitThouars. Bory St. Vincent has described the style and nectaries of Nastus correctly, but has blended the genus with Bambusa.
|50|the sweetness of honey; but I met with the true Tabasheer or Tabaxir in the kingdom of Quito, and it differed but very slightlyfrom that of the East Indies. I brought home a specimen ofit, which was analyzed by the celebrated Vauquelin. It iscalled by the Creoles manteca de Guaduas, (Guaduas butter,)and contains 0,70 of siliceous earth, and 0,30 of potash, lime,and water.
I cannot account for the Tabasheer, which is a white substance,and friable like starch, having been compared to honey by thosewho have treated on the subject of the sugar of the ancients.I could perceive no sweet taste in the Quito Tabasheer, not evenwhen it was in the state of a mucilage, and before it was har-dened by drying: and strongly suspect that none of the arbo-rescent canes in all America contain any sweet liquid whatever.As to the Tabasheer, before it coagulates into its wonted stonyhardness, it is a viscid, white, and milky substance. Kept forfive months, it exhales a strongly fetid animal smell. The sameproperty was observed by Dr. Patrick Russell, the orientaltraveller, in what he terms the salt of the Asiatic Bamboo, whileGarcias del Huerto, who resided for a long time at Goa, inquality of physician to the viceroy, is the only author whospeaks of a sweet juice from the Bamboo. The ancientsseem to have been led to confound true sugar with Tabasheer inthe first place, from both being the produce of a cane, and inthe second from the Sanscrit word sharkara, which at this day(like the Persian shaker, and the Hindustanée schukur) is usedfor our sugar, not properly meaning something which issweet, but something that is lapideous and granulated, as welearn from Boppius, on the authority of Amarasinha. It isprobable that the word scharkara originally meant only Taba-sheer, (saccar mombu,) but was subsequently transferred fromsimilitude of appearance to our sugar from the smaller cane(ikschut, kandekschu, kanda.) The word Bamboo is derivedfrom mombu; and from kanda we get candy, (sugar-candy.) Intabasheer we trace the Persian word scher, which meansmilk, in Sanscrit kschiram. |51| Pliny, as has been ingeniously demonstrated by Salmasius, inopposition to Scaliger, clearly describes tabasheer of the Bam-boo under the name of sugar, when he speaks of it as “a honeyformed in canes, white like gum, crumbling between the teeth,found in lumps about the size of a filbert, and only used medi-cinally.” Yet it is manifest from the verses of Varro, quotedby Isidorus, from passages of Theophrastus, Lucan, Solinus,and especially Strabo, on the authority of Eratosthenes, thatthe ancients had derived some notion of our sugar from theEast Indies, and affirmed that it was obtained from canes with-out the assistance of the bee. But then they believed that aliquid of the sweetness of honey was expressed from the rootsof the large kind of canes, confounding the root with the haulmand the humble sugar cane (Saccharum officinale) with theBamboo, “a joint of which, when split asunder, they describedas large enough to form a navigable bark.” Others amongthem, as Seneca, Dioscorides, and Alexander Aphrodisæus, be-lieved true sugar to be the morning dews of the canes, collect-ed on the foliage of the plant. It is certain that the sugar-caneis indigenous in the neighbourhood of Almangar, in the EastIndies, on the banks of the Euphrates, and at Siraf; but I sus-pect that in that part of Asia which was frequented by theGreeks, the plant was only expressed for the purpose of pro-curing a beverage for immediate use, and that the juice nevercould have been exported, owing to its tendency to ferment. Sothat I conclude, that hard sugar was unknown to the ancients,* and that when they speak of a solid sugar, they mean tabasheeror scharkara of Bamboo. It may be hardly thought necessary that we should mention inthis place, that before America was discovered by the Spaniards,
* The art of making sugar from the cane was not mentioned by anywriters until the fifth century, and as the learned Sprangell has firstshown, Moses Chorenensis, in describing the beauties of the provinceof Chorasan, mentions the valley of Gundi-Saporem “as place where theprecious sugar was made.” I have proved in another place, that themanufacture of sugar was of the highest antiquity in China.
|52| the inhabitants of that continent and the adjacent islands,were entirely unacquainted either with the sugar canes, or withany of our corn plants, (which last are indigenous of the countrybetween the Kur and the Terek, in Persia and Armenia,) orwith rice. The Spanish writers on the subject of America,give the name of small-rice (Oryza parva,) to the Chenopodium Quinoa, which is common in Santa Fè de Bogotá, and in thekingdom of Quito, in the same way as the Anglo-Americans didthat of Canada rice to a species of Zizania. Turkey corn,(Zea Mays,) like many of the plants which have been in ge-neral cultivation from remote periods, is not found growing wildin any part of America. We have to lament that travellers havenot made us correctly acquainted with the characters of the plantsmentioned cursorily by Molina in his history of Chili, under thenames of Secale Magu and Hordeum Tuca, of which the Araucanosformerly made a bread called coque. We know from Cortes thatthe Agave and Turkey corn afforded the Americans a honey inde-pendently of the bee, and that he saw it in market at Tenochlitl.