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T H E
A MERICAN NATURALIST.
Vol. III.-AUGUST, 1869.-No. 6.
RAMBLES IN FLORIDA.
BY R. E. C. STEARNS.
FLORIDA, the "Land of Flowers," the enchanted ground wherein it has been said Ponce de Leon sought for the "fountain of perpetual youth,” is not far away; the fountain, quite likely, is as remote as ever, but the land which it was said to bless with its everflowing and rejuvenating waters, can be reached after a journey of a few days from New York, by steamship if the traveller is not unpleasantly affected by a sea-voyage, or, if the apprehension of " rough weather off Hatteras” should make a different route preferable, then by rail to Charleston, thence by steamer over waters generally smooth to Fernandina, stopping on the way at Savannah just long enough to look about and obtain a general idea of the place.
Fernandina, situated on Amelia Island, is the principal town upon the east coast of Florida, and of importance, being the eastern terminus of a line of railway which connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Gulf of Mexico. Its population is not far from fifteen hundred. At first sight it is not prepossessing, but a walk about the place reveals many buildings of pleasing architecture hidden among the trees.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1869, by the PEABODY ACADEMY OF BCIENCE, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts. AMER. NATURALIST, VOL. III. 36
Within a small enclosure not far from the landing, "the
forefather of the hamlet sleeps.” Upon a marble stone may be seen the name of
IN THE SIXTY-SEVENTH YEAR OF HIS AGE.
Señor Fernandez, it is presumed, never found the fabled fountain, or, drinking of its waters they were powerless to avert the inevitable doom of man. The morning was pleasant; the sun shone brightly; it lighted up the cross and gave roundness to the skull and bones that are carved above his
From an oak near by the Spanish moss hung drooping midway to the ground, casting a filmy shadow, and hiding a choir of mocking-birds,* who filled the air with music.
Leaving the grave of Fernandez and following the streets, a careful search in the loose sand of which they are composed will disclose fragments of pottery of the size of a penny, perhaps a part of the debris of some aboriginal tribe once camped hereabout, the souvenirs of a race, of whose history how little is known !t Fartheron is an ancient mound of large size, nearly three hundred yards in circumference. Undisturbed ten years ago its surface was as the builders left it, but its slopes and summit were so changed, through the military purposes for which it was used during the recent civil war, that its original proportions are destroyed, and its former outline obliterated.
* Mimus polyglottus is quite common here; many persons are not aware that this bird has a song of its own, which is very musical and sweet; the popular idea seems to be that its notes are exclusively imitative. In and around Fernandina may frequently be seen, at this season at least (January), the beautiful Ground Dove (Chamcepelia passerina Swainson), of which some specimens were obtained,
f“At the landing of Fernandina, on Amelia Island, the summit of the bluff is cor. ered with a layer of artificially deposited shells, extending about two hundred yards upon the bay, and one-fourth of a mile inland, varying in depth from one to four feet. The shells are in many places so rotten as to fall to pieces at the touch, some showing fractures made at the edges as if in opening, while others have obviously been subjected to the action of fire.” (D. G. Brinton, M. D., in Smithsonian Report, 1806.
About a mile from the town towards the ocean is the lighthouse, built upon somewhat elevated ground, forming with the adjacent buildings and moss-festooned oaks, a bit of highly picturesque and pleasing scenery.
Between the lighthouse and the road to the beach, not far distant, is another mound in the centre of an ancient camping ground, the latter covered with bleaching shells, the remnants of unrecorded clam-bakes and oyster-feasts. This mound is much smaller than the first, only about one hundred yards in circumference and about fifteen feet in height; it was covered with trees and shrubs,* the largest of the former being perhaps nine inches in diameter; their roots penetrating the loose material of which the mound is composed, and in their ramifications wound and twisted among the skeletons of unknown men whose decayed bones crumbled at a touch. Stone implements were found, and in the surrounding field fragments of earthen-ware less perishable than the hands that made them.
From here to the ocean the path lies through a low and, in some places, dense growth of Saw-palmetto, † interspersed with one or more species of Cactus. The leaf-stalks of the former have sharp points along the edges, hence the name; and the prickly Cactaceæ may be considered the porcupines and hedgehogs of the vegetable kingdom. Though painful to the touch and dangerous to the apparel they should not be denounced; many of the Cacti, as well as of the Palmaceve, to which family the Saw-palmetto belongs, bear delicious fruit, and some species of Cacti are the feeding parks of the insect,from which the celebrated scarlet dyestuff, known as cochineal, is derived.
* Xanthoxylum Carolinianum Lam., or Prickly Ash, also called "toothache tree,” is common here. It is said to possess valuable medicinal qualities; a piece of the bark put in the mouth and chewed produces a stinging sensation, causing the tongue to feel as the hand feels after grasping a nettle.
† Chamærops serrulata,
1 Coccus cacti. The cochineal of commerce resembles dried berries more than bugs, the C. cacti of which it is made are gathered alive, scalded, and then dried. It is estimated that every pound of cochineal contains 70 000 of these insects, and from half to three-quarters of a million of pounds are annually sent to Europe.
Without enlarging upon the merits of the Palms and Cacti, which would require a volume, we will consider the species we have encountered as unworthy representatives of noble families, and proceed upon our way.
It is hard work for either man or beast toiling through shifting sands, but pressing on we soon achieve the summit of the mimic mountain range, which the wind and sea always pile up on the landward side of the shore. Descending the slope we are face to face with old ocean, whose majesty, whether in storm or calm, is ever impressive; the sea is smooth, the surf beats gently on the beach. a while to admire the glories of sky and water; to ponder upon the mysteries of life and form that dwell within the broad blue bosom of the deep; to peer into the hazy beauty of the atmosphere which hangs like a curtain at the remote horizon, implying hidden and greater beauty beyond; to note the distant sails of coming or departing ships; or watch the gulls riding upon the ripples like tiny shallops at anchor; to recall how in the north the wintry winds nipped us on New Year's day, only a week or two ago, and how bland and genial are the breezes here; to behold at our feet as we follow the more recent drift-rows, the rejected treasures which the sea has cast aside, forms different from any that we have elsewhere found, and each curious in its way.
There are but few sea-weeds (algo) on the beach, and not many species of shells; of some of the species, however, many individuals can be obtained. Here are numerous specimens of the Fan Mussels (Pinna). What is written of the lilies of the field, "they toil not, neither do they spin," does not apply to them; for these submarine weavers spin a byssus, or beard, by which they attach themselves to the bottom of the sea : the byssus serves as a mooring cable, and its fibres are tubular, like human hair. When fresh and flexible, gloves and stockings can be woven from it, and at Tarento it is manufactured into articles of wear "According to Vérany the byssus is a successful remedy
for the earache, but he does not say in what manner it is applied."* Pinna rudis, an English species, is sometimes eaten, and Henry and Arthur Adams also mention that some species are used for food. f
A dead fish, half eaten by the birds, is not an attractive object; it is in an unsavory state, but doubtless its scales would, under a microscope, astonish us with many lines of beauty. The butterflies, so unlike the fishes in form and habits, also have minute scales, hence the metallic lustre and brilliancy of their coloring; impalpable to the naked eye, their tiny scales resemble the pollen of flowers. Columbus "gave a new world to Castile and Leon;" but think of the world of enchantment, of the precious treasures that the microscope has opened to all.
A thin slice cut from a spine of the Sea-urchin (Echinus) that we have just picked up, if magnified, would furnish a partial insight to the wonders of its plan of structure.
We find the oblong pouch-like egg-cases of a species of Skate (Raia) quite common. The texture and color of these pouches are such, that a person not knowing would sooner suppose that in some way they rather belonged to the seaweeds, perhaps the pod of a species of Alga, than pertaining to the fishes. If we were strolling along the shores of California or Europe we should meet with the same queer forms. In England the people call them "pixy-purses,” "fairy-purses,” etc. A species of Dog-fish (Scyllium) makes a similar purse-like egg-case, with long strings at the cor
The Skate-fishes are eaten in England, and appear in the stalls of the Italian fish-market in San Francisco, the Californian species may generally be found, but they are eaten only by the foreign population. The common English Skate sometimes attains the weight of two hundred pounds; it is used by the fishermen for bait.
+ Two species of Pinna may be found on the beach of Amelia Island: P. Carolinensis Hanley, and P, squamosissima Phil.; they are quite common, particularly the former. I do not think they were eaten by the aborigines, as none of the shells, or even frag. ments, were found in any of the heaps or mounds.