Obrazy na stronie
[ocr errors]

apology for intro

promenade, along

being fully explored. Vegetable productions of equal, perhaps superior
value with that of the celebrated cotton or tobaco plants, may yet lurk
in the obscure recesses of our forests, or even of our fields, waiting only
the kindly hand of the cultivator, and the aid of the ingenious and en-,
terprising manufacturer, to usher them into notice and general useful.
ness. Considering it the duty of every citizen, at all times, more parti-
cularly at the present extraordinary crisis, to contribute his mite to
promote our national independence, I shall make no

some account of a plant which grows in great
ducing, in this place,
abundance in many parts of the country, as well as in the neighbour-
hood of this city; and of pointing out some of the useful purposes to
which it may be applied.

Those who amuse themselves with a ramble, or
the charming banks of the Schuylkill and Delaware, may liave obser-
ved a plant, rising in a single stem to the height of three or four feet,
whose sinooth oval leaves, when broken, exude a white milky juice in
considerable quantities; it bears bunches of blossoms of a dingy purple
colour, which are succeeded by pods, containing numerous seeds, and
a white glistening silky substance usually called wild cotton, or Virgi-
nia silk. This plant belongs to a gerus called by botanists Asclepias,
from Æsculapius the god of medicine; and is the Asclepias syriaca of
Linnæus, or Syrian Swallow-Wort. The root is perennial, and will last
from ten to twenty years. In the month of April it throws out, like
asparagus and hops, a great number of shoots; the principal stem is
about as thick as a man's finger, straight, round, and smooth, and be.
set with oval leaves of considerable size, covered on the upper side
with dark green, and on the lower side with whitish down. The plant
begins to flower about the beginning of June, and continues till the be-
ginning of August; there are often from twelve to sixteen flowers on
one stem, each of which forms a bunch, containing from thirty to forty
single flowers. Each single flower adheres to the bunch by a long thin
stalk, and has a sweetish odour. Each bunch of flowers is succeeded by
three, four, and sometimes ten long, and rough pods, which inclose
several round, yellowish-brown, flat, and thin seeds, wrapped up in a
beautiful white shining kind of silk. The seeds are winged, a form
which nature has given with great variety to many others, in order
that they may conveyed with more ease, and to a greater distance, by

the wind.

s.csilk, which covers the seeds in the pods, is the principal part

of use. The pods gradually acquire maturity from August to the begin ning of October; during which period those who cultivate the plant must watch with great care for the period of their bursting, in order to collect the silks, lest it should be carried away by the wind, or spoil


ed by the rain. The pods, when collected, should be spread out on a net, or rack, to the height of about a foot, in an airy place, to dry.

The silk, which is of a shining white colour, from an inch to an inch and a half in length, and exceedingly elastic, is then taken out, and being freed from the seeds, is then hung up in thin bags in the sun, that it may become perfectly dry; and at the same time it is often softened with the hand, or by being beat. This vegetable silk may now be used, without any farther preparation, instead of feathers and horse hair, for beads, cushions, coverlets to beds, bolsters and mattresses. From eight to nine pounds of it, which occupy the space of from five to six cubic feet, will be sufficient for a bed, coverlet, and two pillows; such beds, therefore, are exceedingly convenient for travelling. It is not advisable, however, to use the silk in common for beds, instead of feathers, as it is too soft and warm. It requires a little preparation for quilts and counterpanes, and is lighter and warmer than those of common silk. For spinning, however, notwithstanding its fineness, which approaches near to that of common silk, it is not fit, when taken alone, as it is almost too short, and, therefore, must be used with an addition of flax, wool, or common silk; but particularly of cotton. One third of this silk, with two thirds of cotton, forins a very good mixture for gloves, stockings, and caps. Other mixtures may be used for different kinds of stuffs; but it has been observed, that the cloth is much stronger when the vegetable silk is employed for the woof, rather than for the warp. Many colours have been applied to such cloth with great success; but as each substance requires a peculiar mode of treatment, more experiments on this subject are necessary; a mixture of one third vegetable silk, and two thirds of rabbits’ down, forms hats exceedingly light and soft to the touch; which have a great resemblance to beaver hats, and are much cheaper.

As soon as the pods have been collected, the stems which contain a fibrous part capable of being spun, must be cut before they become dry, or suffer from the night frost. They must then be immersed for some days, in water, like flax or hemp, and then dried, by being spread out on the grass. Care, however, must be taken by experiments, to ascertain the proper length of time, as too much, or too little, would be prejudicial. In the last case, the flaxy part is brittie; and in the former, it loses its strength. After it has been watered it is beaten and heckled. A mixture of the threads spun from the flax of these stems with the vegetable silk and cotton, produces a kind of cloth very pro per for furniture. It has been, however, employed chiefly, with and without an addition of rags, for inaking all kinds of writing and packing papers, which sometimes is similar to the Chinese paper, and sometimes exceeds in strength the usual paper made from rags.



Both the inner white skin, and the external green husk of the capsules, which contain the seeds, might be employed for manufacturing the finer sorts of this silk paper; and, that as little as possible of this plant should remain useless, Nature has provided in the sweet juice of its flowers, excellent nourishment for bees. According to a late German writer, this plant, in the above respect, the lime tree excepted, is superior to all other vegetable productions.

The great utility of this plant has been known in Europe little more than forty years. A manufactory of articles from it has been establishcd at Paris since 1760; and it has long been employed at Lausanne with advantage for making candle-wick; but no one has shown more zeal in regard to the cultivation and preparation of this article than Mr. Schneider of Leignitz, who has recommended it in two different pamphlets. In regard of the application of it to paper-making, Mr. Schmid of Lunenburg has made a variety of experiments, and it is much to be wished that others would imitate his example.

This plant is propagated two ways, either by the seed, or by slips. In the month of March, after the land has been well dug, the seeds are sown thin, and singly, in furrows of the depth of an inch, and ca vered with earth, which is thrown over them to the depth of half an inch; they are secured also from the night frost by moss, or a little light dung. In from four to six weeks the young plants begin to appear. The first year they produce flowers; but do not come to full maturity till the third. In the third year they are transplanted. But this method is more laborious and ought not to be recommended, but in particular cases; such as when the roots have degenerated, or when they are transplanted to different climates. The object will be sooner acconplished by slips from the roots. As the plant throws out around it long roots with new eyes, these must be lopped off from the stock, either in Autumn, when the milky juice in the plant has dried up, or in the Spring, before it again flows; and are to be cut into pieces of from four to six inches in length; but care must be taken that they have a sufficient number of eyes. A fresh incision must be made in the root before and behind, and they are then to be planted in the ground to the depth of four or five inches, in an oblique position, with the eyes, or buds, upright. Those planted in Autumn will produce seeds the next Summer; and those planted in Spring will bear the second Summer.

The ground, before it is planted, must be dug up to a good deptli, and well dunged. It must also be well weeded, and kept exceedingly clean. After the crop has been collected, the stems must be cut close to the ground, and the plants which have died, must be replaced by young ones. Towards Winter they must be covered with

[ocr errors]

a little dung, which ought to be spread in the Spring. A sufficient space, also, must be left between the plants. They ought to be planted in rows, and at the distance of one foot and a half, or rather two feet, from each other. Of the stems that shoot up, only the best (perHlaps about one half) should be left standing, the rest, as soon as the flowers appear, should be cut and placed in sand or carth, to dry up the milky juice that flows from them. Even of the prime plants it will be proper to suffer only four or five of the lowest branches of flowers to come to maturity. By following these cautions the silk obtained will be of superior quality. The increase is very great. In the year 1785 Mr. Schneider began with six plants; and in 1793 had a plantation which contained 50,000. The first crop produced 8, the second 355, and the third 600 pounds of silk. If the leaves, after the crop has been collected, be thrown together in heaps to rot, they form an excellent manure for future use. In regard to the preparation of silk, little need be said. It may easily be conceived, that it will be of advantage to separate that which is long from the shorter part, in order that the former may be employed in spinning. The shorter kinds may be used for beds, and for hat making

The experiments that have been already made with this plant gave the following results:

Froin the interior white rind of the capsule, mixed with one third of rags, a writing paper was obtained pretty white, of a good quality; and similar to the silk paper of the Chinese,

From the external part of the capsules a greenish coloured paper; which, when sized, was stronger than paper made of rags: it was almost as close in its texture as parchment; and even when unsized did not suffer the ink 10 penetrate through it. This kind was exceedingly proper for wrapping paper.

From the stems, a paper was obtained so like in every thing to paper made of rags, that the difference could scarcely be distinguished.

Such are some of the qualities of this excellent plant. As the present month is the proper season for collecting it, and as sufficient quantities of it for fair experiment, can casily be procured for the bare expense of gathering it; why may not this be done in the different manufactures of cloth, hat, and paper making? If unsuccessful, the experiments would be little loss. If, on the contrary, they were crowned with success, as there is every reason for believing, the gain, in a national point of view, would be of great importand




The writers of periodical essays frequently confess themselves very much at a loss for a subject. This is a little surprising to those who consider the essential and unlimited variety of human thought, and even those who prescribe to themselves a task of this kind, while they are often sensible of this difficulty, cannot but wonder that it should ever prove to be such. Even when they narrow their view, from the consideration of subjects in general, to that of subjects proper for them to discuss, the variety is still inexhaustible.

To a hasty view, indeed, it appears far otherwise, and to some it would seem impossible to write five hundred distinct essays on popular subjects. This impossibility exists not to those who think more deeply, and any one may be convinced that it is not impossible by reading the Spectator, in which variety is certainly sufficiently sustained, though it consists of more than six hundred essays.

Among these, a score or two might, perhaps, be selected, in which the writer is mightily puzzled for a theme, and, to fill up the due number of pages, is compelled to resort to very awkward shifts. Sometimes he ekes out his paper by a trite and prolix quotation from some well known poet; sometimes he inserts the fragment of a sermon; and sometimes a scrap from some popular writer of history or metaplıysics: and winds up all by saying, in plain terms, that the quotation was made to fill up a blank, and that, having now drawn out his essay to the due length, he will lay down the pen.

Such meagre effusions, however, compose a very small part of that noted work, and prove, not that the arsenal is empty, but that he, appointed to the search, is struck with a temporary blindness. He has been taken, perhaps unaware : his mind is ruffled by some domestic incident. His head is disturbed by his last night's supper, or he is placed at a distance from books; perhaps the

pic he had previously intended for this paper eludes his recollection at present, and since he cannot find what he wants, he stumbles on in some degree at hazard, and seizes without choice, or deliberation what first comes to hand.

In all these emergencies, there is one resource, which some people, especially in writing letters, employ with great dexterity.

Instead of turning their eyes inward, they look around them, and begin with describing their actual situation at the moment of writing. scene too trite or too humble for description. The merit of the painting, whether the pen or the pencil be the implement, seems to rest wholly on the artist. Where his ingenuity is great, the praise and admiration is greater, as the scene is more trite or more familiar.

There is no

« PoprzedniaDalej »