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to that of the coal period is that of warm, temperate regions in the southern hemisphere. It is not properly a tropical flora, nor is it the flora of a cold region, but rather indicative of a moist and equable climate. Still,
we must bear in mind that we may often be mistaken in reasoning as to the temperature required by extinct species of plants, differing from those now in existence. Further, we must not assume that the climatal conditions of the northern hemisphere were in the coal period at all similar to those which now prevail. As Sir Charles Lyell has shown, a less amount of land in the higher latitudes would greatly modify climates, and there is every reason to believe that in the coal period there was less land than now. Further, it has been shown by Tyndall that a very small additional amount of carbonic acid in the atmosphere would, by obstructing the radiation of heat from the earth, produce almost the effect of a glass roof or conservatory, extending over the whole world. Again, there is much in the structure of the leaves of the coal-plants, as well as in the vast amount of carbon which they accumulated in the form of coal, and the characteristics of the animal life of the period, to indicate, on independent grounds, that the carboniferous atmosphere differed from that of the present world in this way, or in the presence of more carbonic acid—a substance now existing in the very minute proportion of one thousandth of the wholea quantity adapted to the present requirements of vegetable and animal life, but probably not to those of the coal period.
Thus, if we inquire as to any analogous distribution of plants in the modern world, we find this only in the warmer insular climates of the southern hemisphere, where ferns, lycopods, and pines appear under forms somewhat akin to those of the Carboniferous, but mixed with other types, some of which are modern, others allied to those of the next succeeding geological ages of the Mesozoic and Tertiary; and under these periods it will be more convenient to make comparisons.
The readers of recent English popular works on geology will have observed the statement reiterated that a large proportion of the material of the great beds of bituminous coal is composed of the spore-cases of lycopodiaceous plants—a statement quite contrary to that resulting from my microscopical examinations of the coal of more than eighty coal-beds in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, as stated in “Acadian Geology" (page 463), and more fully in my memoir of 1858 on the “Structures in Coal," * and that of 1866, on the “ Conditions of Accumulation of Coal.” | The reason of this mistake is, that an eminent English naturalist, happening to find in certain specimens of English coal a great quantity of remains of spores and spore-cases, though even in his specimens they constitute only a small portion of the mass, and being apparently unacquainted with what others had done in this field, wrote a popular article for the “ Contemporary Review,” in which he extended an isolated and
*“Journal of the Geological Society," vol. xv.
| Ibid., vol. xxii.
exceptional fact to all coals, and placed this supposed origin of coal in a light so brilliant and attractive that he has been followed by many recent writers. The fact is, as stated in “ Acadian Geology,” that trunks of Sigillario and similar trees constitute a great part of the denser portion of the coal, and that the cortical tissues of these rather than the wood remain as coal. But cortical or epidermal tissues in general, whether those of spore-cases or other parts of plants, are those which from their resistance to water-soakage and to decay, and from their highly carbonaceous character, are best suited to the production of coal. In point of fact, spore-cases, though often abundantly present, constitute only an infinitesimal part of the matter of the great coal-beds. In an article in “ The American Journal of Science,” which appeared shortly after that above referred to, I endeavoured to correct this error, though apparently without effect in so far as the majority of British geological writers are concerned. From this article I have taken with little change the following passages, as it is of importance in theoretical geology that such mistakes, involving as they do the whole theory of coal accumulation, should not continue to pass current. The early part of the paper is occupied with facts as to the occurrence of spores and spore-cases as partial ingredients in coal. Its conclusions are as follows:
It is not improbable that sporangites, or bodies resembling them, may be found in most coals; but it is most likely that their occurrence is accidental rather than essential to coal accumulation, and that they are more likely to have been abundant in shales and cannel coals, deposited in ponds or in shallow waters in the vicinity of lycopodiaceous forests, than in the swampy or peaty deposits which constitute the ordinary coals. It is to be observed, however, that the conspicuous appearance which these bodies, and also the strips and fragments of epidermal tissue, which resemble them in texture, present in slices of coal, may incline an observer, not having large experience in the examination of coals, to overrate their importance; and this I think has been done by most microscopists, especially those who have confined their attention to slices prepared by the lapidary. One must also bear in mind the danger arising from mistaking concretionary accumulations of bituminous matter for sporangia. In sections of the bituminous shales accompanying the Devonian coal above mentioned, there are many rounded yellow spots, which on examination prove to be the spaces in the epidermis of Psilophyton through which the vessels passing to the leaves were emitted. To these considerations I would add the following, condensed from the paper above referred to (p. 139), in which the whole question of the origin of coal is fully discussed : *
1. The mineral charcoal or mother coal' is obviously woody tissue and fibres of bark, the structure of the varieties of which, and the plants to which it probably belongs, I have discussed in the paper above mentioned.
2. The coarser layers of coal show under the microscope a confused mass of fragments of vegetable matter belonging to various descriptions of plants, and including, but not usually in large quantities, sporangites.
3. The more brilliant layers of the coal are seen, when separated by thin laminæ of clay, to have on their surfaces the markings of Sigillariæ and other trees, of which they evidently represent flattened specimens, or rather the bark of such specimens. Under the microscope, when their structures are preserved, these layers show cortical tissues more abundantly than any others.
4. Some thin layers of coal consist mainly of flattened layers of leaves of Cordaites or Pychnophyllum.
5. The Stigmaria underclays and the stumps of
* See also “Acadian Geology,” 2d ed., pp. 138, 461, 493.
Sigillaria in the coal-roofs equally testify to the accumulation of coal by the growth of successive forests, more especially of Sigillariæ. There is, on the other hand, no necessary connection of sporangite-beds with Stigmarian soils. Such beds are more likely to be accumulated in . water, and consequently to constitute bituminous shales and cannels.
6. Lepidodendron and its allies, to which the sporecases in question appear to belong, are evidently much less important to coal accumulation than Sigillaria, which cannot be affirmed to have produced spore-cases similar to those in question, even though the observation of Goldenberg as to their fruit can be relied on; the accuracy of which, however, I am inclined to doubt.
On the whole, then, while giving due credit to those who have advocated the spore-theory of coal, for directing attention to this curious and no doubt important constituent of mineral fuel, and admitting that I may possibly have given too little attention to it, I must maintain that sporangite-beds are exceptional among coals, and that cortical and woody matters are the most abundant ingredients in all the ordinary kinds; and to this I cannot think that the coals of England constitute an exception.
It is to be observed, in conclusion, that the sporecases of plants, in their indestructibility and richly carbonaceous character, only partake of qualities common to most suberous and epidermal matters, as I have explained in the publications already referred to. Such epidermal and cortical substances are extremely rich in carbon and hydrogen, in this resembling bituminous coal. They are also very little liable to decay, and they resist more than other vegetable matters aqueous infiltration properties which have caused them to remain unchanged, and to continue free from mineral additions more than other vegetable tissues. These qualities are well seen in the bark of our American white birch. It is no wonder that