10 MARCH 1906, Page 26



Notes on the Life History of the British Flowering Plants. By the Right Hon. Lord Avebury, P.C. (Macmillan and Co. 15s.) —Lord Avebury has given the name of "Notes" to his new botanic work, which is appropriate, though the title very inade- quately describes the real nature of the book. The task which Lord Avebury has set himself is to illustrate, from the form and life-history of British plants, the devices which plants have evolved in the struggle for existence to secure the perpetuation of their kind. The evolution of species by natural selection in the animal and vegetable world is now so universally recognised and completely accepted that we are apt to overlook many of the numberless problems which still await solution. There is a reason for everything in Nature, and it is this that science makes it a business to explain. Why have some plants, like grasses, round stems, and others, like sedges, triangular stems ? How comes it that one grass (a Chinese species of bamboo) has a quadrangular': stem ? Why do plants, like the Labiatse, with square stems have opposite leaves ? For every different form of leaf, or corolla, or stamen, or seed there are undoubtedly reasons. Lord Avebury thinks that no part of botany is more interesting than the manner in which plants adapt themselves to circumstances, and this, in a general way, is the sub ject-matter of hi book. There are several British Floras which enable us to determine and name the British plants. But having done that they stop, and profess to do no more. There are other works on systematic or morphological botany which treat their subjects with scientific exactness, but offer no explanation of the facts which they establish. Lord Avebury, as he tells us in his preface, endeavours to supplement these works. He dwells upon the researches of Darwin, Spreng,e1, Mailer, Hildebrand, Delpino, and others which are not accessible in popular form. It must not, however, be imagined that Lord Avebury's book is suited for the general reader who may chance to be an amateur of wild flowers, or for those who have no knowledge of botany. It is necessary to be well grounded in technical terms, though there is a glossary at the beginning of the book. It is also needful to be familiar with the Latin names of the British plants, without which, indeed, no study of botany, deserving of attention except by young children, is practicable. The plan of Lord Avebury's work, after a general introduction in which he touches on the great variability of forms and the mutability of species, which the old botanists regarded as fixed and unchangeable, follows Bentham's "Handbook." He passes through the flowering plants, and devotes sometimes a page or two, sometimes only a line or two, to each species. The informa- tion deals with the life-history of the plant, draws attention to peculiarities of form, and offers explanations which account for these. It is sometimes not easy to discover on what principle or with what object certain facts lave been selected in the case of certain species. A number of woodcuts add much to the value of the book and serve to elucidate the text. We welcome another instance of Lord Avebury's versatility and industry in the worlds of economics, anthropology, and biology.