Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

the white, and the long. The first two grow upon the same plant, which is a climber, and produces pretty bunches of bright berries, resembling those of our holly in size and colour, but arranged in close spikes, about an inch and a half long. These red berries, when gathered and dried, turn black, and the thin fleshy external part becomes wrinkled. They are then what we call pepper-corns and black pepper.

In order to procure white pepper, these peppercorns are soaked and put into rough bags ; they are then violently shaken backward and forward, until the black wrinkled surface which has been softened by the soaking is rubbed off. The smooth white seed which remains is then dried and sold as white pepper. Long pepper

is

very different in appearance, and is produced by another species of plant. It is white in colour, and composed of little sticks consisting of a number of small seeds packed very close together. Being expensive, it is not much used. The peppers originally came from India, but, like many other valuable plants, they have been carried by the industry of man to many parts of the world where the climate is favourable. We, however, get it chiefly from India. Cayenne pepper is not furnished by a species of pepper plant, but is made by grinding the large red pod-like berries of the Capsicum, which are extremely hot to the taste. It is made in the East and West Indies, and in South America, and is highly prized as an aid to digestion.

Many other things are used to give flavour to our food, such for example as Turmeric-root, which is, however, chiefly used in dyeing. Mustard and other stimulants find a place at our tables, but these do not come strictly under the head of spices. In addition to their agreeable flavour, spices have usually an equally pleasant smell, and are, consequently, often used in perfumery.

IV. THE PLANTS WHICH FURNISH US WITH CLOTHING AND

CORDAGE.

If we travel into various countries we shall notice some in which the crops are very different from those of our own land. Fields of golden corn we shall generally find, but we shall see it sometimes varied by the slender flax, which grows only about two feet high, and, when in bloom, makes the surface of the land look as sweetly blue as the sky above. In other places, again, the tall gloomy-looking hemp-plant, with its dark green but graceful foliage and sombre flowers, grows high enough to hide the labourers who till it. In more sunny climes the fields look like seas of gold and silver with the yellow flowers and snow-white seed-down of the cotton-plant ; while, in other lands, the traveller gladly flies for shelter from the tropical sun to the beautiful groves of the fibre-producing plantain, or to plantations of the cocoa-nut palm. In the East Indies, again, he cannot fail to be struck with the vast extent occupied by the coarse, tall, weedy Juteplant. Many equally novel and curious crops would meet our eyes in various parts of the world ; but those which we have mentioned produce the chief materials from which we make our clothing and our cordage.

1. Flax.—The plant which we have first mentioned, the flax, is grown in Great Britain, especially in Ireland, but also, to a large extent, in France, Holland, Germany, Italy, Egypt, and India. It has always been of great importance to the human race. The stalk is long and slender, branching at the top, and bearing several beautiful light blue flowers, about the size of a large buttercup. These are succeeded by little round pods of seed, each about as large as a garden-pea, and containing several of the little flat brown seeds called linseed, from which we extract oil. The stalk is not more than half as thick as a wheaten straw, but very strong, because of the tough fibres which run through it from bottom to top. These fibres, when separated from the pith which is mixed with them, and the skin which covers them, are the flax from which linen is made. In order to obtain them, the plants have to be pulled up just after they have done flowering, and dried in the sun. Small bundles of them are then placed in the shallow part of a river or pond, stones or pieces of wood being placed to prevent them floating away. At other times they are simply exposed to the night-dew. The moisture which they thus imbibe quickly causes the soft skin which covers the fibres to decay.1

After this process is completed, the bundles are spread out to dry, and when dried, the whole stalk can be easily rubbed to a powder, with the exception of the fibres, which are not impaired by the process. The bundles are accordingly beaten with a heavy wooden implement, or scutched, as it is called ; and to remove the skin and pith broken up by this process, they are next heckled, or drawn through a peculiar kind of iron comb. The fibres which remain after these two operations are raw flax, and are fine enough for making coarse linen cloths ; but they require to be heckled over and over again through much finer combs, to render them suitable for the manufacturing of fine linen, lawn, or lace.

1 This process is called retting (water-retting or dew-retting, according to the process adopted), the word retting being a corruption of rotting.

2. Hemp.—The Hemp plant goes through a similar process, but is much coarser, and grows to a height of more than six feet. Great quantities are produced in Russia and Poland, and also, though not to the same extent, in Prussia, Germany, Austria, Italy, India, and the United States of America. It would be hard to say what we should do without this very useful plant, for, from the fibres of its stem, after they have been separated and cleaned by processes similar to those described in the case of flax, we make cloth for the sails of our ships, and ropes for their rigging ; and although many substitutes have been proposed for it, none have been found to answer so well. In addition to sail-cloth and cordage, finer cloths and string of all kinds are made from it. Even when hempen ropes are worn out, they do not cease to be useful ; for if they have been used for ships’-rigging, and soaked through with the tar which has been rubbed over them as a preservative, they may be untwisted, and the tarry hemp then forms what is called oakum, ,-a most useful material to the shipcarpenter, who stuffs it tightly in between the planks of ships to prevent leakage. If the ropes have not been soaked with tar, they are used for making brown paper. Coarse white paper is made from the bleached or whitened sail-cloth. The finest kinds of paper, however, are made of linen rags, and this is another important and highly interesting use of the flax-plant.

It is impossible to feel too grateful to the “Giver of all good things,” for enabling man to discover that from two such humble plants, he can obtain the means of making fine linen to clothe himself with ; thread for sewing his garments ; lace for decorating rich dresses ; sails to give wings to his ships and carry them to and fro across the widest seas, ropes for rigging his ships, and last, but not least, paper upon which he can write or print his thoughts, and spread them abroad for the benefit and instruction of his fellow-men.

3. Cotton.—The Cotton plant, as a means of obtaining clothing for the human race, is even more important than either flax or hemp : it is exceedingly handsome, somewhat larger than a goose berry-bush, bearing fine large flowers, generally yellow, and not unlike those of our garden Hollyhock. The plants are placed in the ground in rows, and carefully tended until they flower ; the seeds being produced in pods about as large as a pigeon's egg. Each of these seeds is about the size of a small pea, of a dark brown colour, and covered all over with fine white hairs, sometimes more than an inch in length. They are packed so closely in the pod that they are not visible when it first opens at the season of its maturity. Gradually, however, the hairs begin to unfold and push their way out, until, like the down of the thistle, they are caught up by the wind and scattered abroad. The cultivator, however, interposes before their dispersion, and gathering them, sends them to mills, where, by means of machinery, the hairs (or cotton-wool) are separated from the seed, which is kept for sowing again, or for the manufacture of oil, and of oil-cake for cattle.

The cotton plant is cultivated with greatest success and most extensively in the United States and in India. Our greatest imports are received from those two countries, but we also obtain supplies from South America, the West Indies, Egypt, and Turkey. It is packed into bales containing about 400 lbs. each ; and the quantity required by our manufacturers for making calicoes, cotton cloths, sewing-thread, lace, wadding, &c., is so enormous, that we import altogether, about 10 millions of hundredweights, or 1120 millions of pounds. Now when we consider that a quarter of a pound is a good crop for a single plant, and that we probably do not receive half of what is produced, it will give us some slight idea of the wonderful extent to which this plant is cultivated. No less interesting is it to reflect upon its value in furnishing employment; for not only does it occupy people in sowing the seed, tending the crop, gathering the wool, and preparing it for the market ; but millions of persons are employed in spinning, weaving, and dyeing it ; in making it up into garments and other useful articles, and in selling it in various ways. There are first the growers and dressers, then the packers and shippers ; the sailors employed in bringing it from various countries ; those employed in unloading the ships ; the merchants who receive it ; the brokers who sell it ; the spinners and weavers who manufacture it ; the dyers who dye it ; the pressers and packers who prepare the printed cloths for the markets ; those who sell them to the shops ; and those who make them into the various articles of clothing. Thus

man.

these fine silky white hairs with which the Creator, in His wisdom and beneficence, has clothed the brown shell of the cotton seed, are, in consequence of their adaptability to supply human necessities, the means of giving occupation to millions of our fellow-creatures.

4. Jute; Manilla Hemp; Cocoa.-In India, there is a plant which, though only a few years since an almost unregarded weed, is now cultivated with great care and profit. It is a tall-growing plant, throwing up its green stems to a height of twelve or fifteen feet ; and by treating it in a manner somewhat similar to the hemp and flax, a fibre is obtained, which, though not so strong and durable as that of these two plants, is yet very useful to

It is called Jute, and is used for making coarse bagging, in which cotton, sugar, and various other commercial products are packed for shipment. The sacking-cloth made of it is called Gunny, and all the sugar, cotton, oil-seeds, dye-stuffs, rice, and other heavy products of India are sent to us in gunny-bags or bales. Great quantities of it also are imported into Britain to be used as the ground-work of cheap carpets and rugs; also for making sacking and other cheap materials. When wet, however, it quickly rots, and hence it cannot stand much exposure.

Again we find in almost all hot countries a species of plantain—a beautiful tree, about thirty feet high, without branches, but having a tuft of very large leaves at the top. These leaves have stalks as thick as a man's arm, and several feet in length, and when retted and beaten, they yield a fibre called Manilla Hemp, which is exceedingly strong, and answers admirably for making large ropes, though too coarse to be woven into cloths.

Within the last few years, too, the outer husk of the cocoa-nut has been made to yield a fibre, which the natives of India and Ceylon prepare and spin into yarn. This is woven into cloth for matting, or made into large ropes for ships : it is called by its native name, Coir, and is now extensively used in this country for ropes, door-mats, floor-matting, brushes, and stuffing for cushions.

We have now given some account of the vegetable food of man, and of the principal materials with which the vegetable kingdom furnishes him for making Clothing and Cordage ; and although little has been said of them, the slightest reflection will show us how many blessings we derive from a knowledge of the properties and uses of the various products of the soil. None of the plants we have spoken about are attractive in appearance,

« PredošláPokračovať »