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On Bio-Geology
by [?]

As for the Northern flora, the question whence it came is puzzling enough. It seems difficult to conceive how any plants could have survived when Scotland was an archipelago in the same ice-covered condition as Greenland is now; and we have no proof that there existed after the glacial epoch any northern continent from which the plants and animals could have come back to us. The species of plants and animals common to Britain, Scandinavia, and North America, must have spread in pre-glacial times when a continent joining them did exist.

But some light has been thrown on this question by an article, as charming as it is able, on “The Physics of the Arctic Ice,” by Dr. Brown of Campster. You will find it in the “Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society” for February, 1870. He shows there that even in Greenland peaks and crags are left free enough from ice to support a vegetation of between three hundred or four hundred species of flowering plants; and, therefore, he well says, we must be careful to avoid concluding that the plant and animal life on the dreary shores or mountain-tops of the old glacial Scotland was poor. The same would hold good of our mountains; and, if so, we may look with respect, even awe, on the Alpine plants of Wales, Scotland, and the Lake mountains, as organisms, stunted it may be, and even degraded by their long battle with the elements, but venerable from their age, historic from their endurance. Relics of an older temperate world, they have lived through thousands of centuries of frost and fog, to sun themselves in a temperate climate once more. I can never pick one of them without a tinge of shame; and to exterminate one of them is to destroy, for the mere pleasure of collecting, the last of a family which God has taken the trouble to preserve for thousands of centuries.

I trust that these hints–for I can call them nothing more–will at least awaken any young naturalist who has hitherto only collected natural objects, to study the really important and interesting question–How did these things get here?

Now hence arise questions which may puzzle the mind of a Hampshire naturalist. You have in this neighbourhood, as you well know, two, or rather three, soils, each carrying its peculiar vegetation. First, you have the clay lying on the chalk, and carrying vast woodlands, seemingly primeval. Next, you have the chalk, with its peculiar, delicate, and often fragrant crop of lime-loving plants; and next, you have the poor sands and clays of the New Forest basin, saturated with iron, and therefore carrying a moorland or peat- loving vegetation, in many respects quite different from the others. And this moorland soil, and this vegetation, with a few singular exceptions, repeats itself, as I daresay you know, in the north of the county, in the Bagshot basin, as it is called–the moors of Aldershot, Hartford Bridge, and Windsor Forest.

Now what a variety of interesting questions are opened up by these simple facts. How did these three floras get each to its present place? Where did each come from? How did it get past or through the other, till each set of plants, after long internecine competition, settled itself down in the sheet of land most congenial to it? And when did each come hither? Which is the oldest? Will any one tell me whether the healthy floras of the moors, or the thymy flora of the chalk downs, were the earlier inhabitants of these isles? To these questions I cannot get any answer; and they cannot be answered without, first–a very careful study of the range of each species of plant on the continent of Europe; and next, without careful study of those stupendous changes in the shape of this island which have taken place at a very late geological epoch. The composition of the flora of our moorlands is as yet to me an utter puzzle. We have Lycopodiums–three species–enormously ancient forms which have survived the age of ice: but did they crawl downward hither from the northern mountains or upward hither from the Pyrenees? We have the beautiful bog asphodel again–an enormously ancient form; for it is, strange to say, common to North America and to Northern Europe, but does not enter Asia–almost an unique instance. It must, surely, have come from the north; and points–as do many species of plants and animals–to the time when North Europe and North America were joined. We have, sparingly, in North Hampshire, though, strangely, not on the Bagshot moors, the Common or Northern Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris); and also, in the south, the New Forest part of the county, the delicate little Pinguicula lusitanica, the only species now found in Devon and Cornwall, marking the New Forest as the extreme eastern limit of the Atlantic flora. We have again the heaths, which, as I have just said, are found neither in America nor in Asia, and must, I believe, have come from some south-western land long since submerged beneath the sea. But more, we have in the New Forest two plants which are members of the South Europe, or properly, the Atlantic flora; which must have come from the south and south-east; and which are found in no other spots in these islands. I mean the lovely Gladiolus, which grows abundantly under the ferns near Lyndhurst, certainly wild, but it does not approach England elsewhere nearer than the Loire and the Rhine; and next, that delicate orchid, the Spiranthes aestivalis, which is known only in a bog near Lyndhurst and in the Channel Islands, while on the Continent it extends from Southern Europe all through France. Now, what do these two plants mark? They give us a point in botany, though not in time, to determine when the south of England was parted from the opposite shores of France; and whenever that was, it was just after the Gladiolus and Spiranthes got hither. Two little colonies of these lovely flowers arrived just before their retreat was cut off. They found the country already occupied with other plants; and, not being reinforced by fresh colonists from the south, have not been able to spread farther north than Lyndhurst. Thus, in the New Forest, and, I may say in the Bagshot moors, you find plants which you do not expect, and do not find plants which you do expect; and you are, or ought to be, puzzled, and I hope also interested, and stirred up to find out more.