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William Bartram on flora in Florida

William Bartram, son of a noted botanist, combined scientific observation with personal enthusiasm in the first American book said to have had considerable influence on authors -- such as Wordsworth and Shelley -- elsewhere. Here is a Florida passage from his widely translated ``Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida'' (1791). Having gratified my curiosity at this general breeding place and nursery of crocodiles, I continued my voyage up the river without being greatly disturbed by them. In my way I observed islets or floating fields of the bright green Pistia, decorated with other amphibious plants, as Senecio Jacobea, Perficaria amphibia, Coreopsis bidens, Hydrocotile fluitans, and many others of less note.

The swamps on the banks and islands of the river are generally three or four feet above the surface of the water, and very level; the timber large and growing thinly, more so than what is observed to be in the swamps below Lake George. The black rich earth is covered with moderately tall and very succulent tender grass, which when chewed is sweet and agreeable to the taste, somewhat like young sugar cane. It is a jointed decumbent grass, sending out radiculae at the joints into the earth, and so spreads itself by creeping over its surface.

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The large timber trees which possess the low lands are Acer rubrum, Ac. negundo, Ac. glaucum. Ulmus sylvatica, Fraxinus excelsior, Frax. aquatica, Ulmus suberifer, Gleditsia monosperma, Gledit. triacanthus, Diospyros Virginica, Nyssa aquatica, Nyssa sylvatica, Juglans cinerea, Quercus dentata, Quercus phillos, Hopea tinctoria, Corypha palma, Morus rubra, and many more. The palm grows on the edges of the banks, where they are raised higher than the adjacent level ground by the accumulation of sand, river-shells, etc. I passed along several miles by those rich swamps; the channels of the river which encircle the several fertile islands I had passed, now uniting, formed one deep channel near three hundred yards over. The banks of the river on each side began to rise and present shelly bluffs, adorned by beautiful orange groves, laurels, and live oaks. And now appeared in sight a tree that claimed my whole attention: it was the Carica papaya, both male and female, which were in flower; and the latter both in flower and fruit, some of which were ripe, as large and of the form of a pear, and of a most charming appearance.

This admirable tree is certainly the most beautiful of any vegetable production I know of; the towering laurel magnolia and exalted palm indeed exceed it in grandeur and magnificence, but not in elegance, delicacy, and gracefulness. It rises erect, with a perfectly straight tapering stem, to the height of fifteen or twenty feet, which is smooth and polished, of a bright ash color resembling leaf silver, curiously inscribed with the footsteps of the fallen leaves. . . .

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