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Record number: WCP4905

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Alfred Russel Wallace
[not recorded]

Record created:
03 December 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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  • manuscript (1)

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Notes in Wallace's hand entitled "Aspects of Nature" with sections on the "Malay Peninsula" and the "N.W. Coast of Borneo".

Handwritten by author in English.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP6/1/4
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




Aspects of Nature

1. Malay Peninsula

Narrow flat-bottomed winding vallies[sic] , with undulating banks & abrupt small hills. Endless forests. Openings marking Malay villages with Cocoa nuts. Gomuti palms & Arecas with other fruit tree[s]. In forests palms comparatively scarce. Pandani also but a few long leaved stemless species are abundant & characteristic & serve for making their <Cadjani?> in roofing[,] mats for boats[,] temporary houses[,] carts &c. Small climbing pandani also occur. Ferns & orchids are scarce except in the mountains. In Singapore tall unbranched pandani with grassy tufts of leaves are a more characteristic feature in the swamps, and a species of Bombaceae which spreads out its arms quite horizontally at intervals on the stem has a most singular appearance. Along the sides of the roads a common but beautiful species of fern ( [blank space] ) grows in luxuriance covering banks & hedges and climbing up to a considerable height over other trees, while in the interior among the ancient jungles smally tree ferns may often be seen raising their feathery crowns by the roadside. Waste land[,] neglected plantations &c have a very miserable appearance owing to the poorness of the soil. They are covered with a brown sedgy vegetation & stunted shrubs of the a universal purple flowered Melastonia, the commonest plant in the whole country from Penang to Borneo.

Old fruit trees near Malacca very beautiful. Lovely shady roads & palms around the Town, infinitely surpass to any thing to be seen in the uncultivated districts.


N[orth] W[est] Coast of Borneo

Coast swampy flat with isolated abrupt hills often very high. Here the characteristic features are the vast tracts of Nipa palms[,] their huge globular fruits borne near the ground form among the leaves & their rhizoma or ground stem winding about like a huge serpent. All along the sandy beaches Casuarinae are a most striking feature as well as numerous species of branched Pandani, rivalling palms in their [word deleted] appearance. The Pandani in fact are here as varied and interesting as the palms - - some species have huge leaves <scored> like 15 feet long & growing in a regular spiral like the screw of some huge machine, around the summit of a thick straight stem. It is strange to stand beneath one of these & look up at the strange mathematical regularity of this vegetable screw. Others are weak and half climbing scrambling about trees & brushwood while others regularly climb up forest trees.

Farther in the interior the country is generally flat but covered with slight undulations & ridges of gravel & clay seldom rising more than 50 feet above the general level. Abrupt hills of porphyry & other <new> precipitations of limestone rise here & there to the height of one[,] two or three thousand feet. On these hills are magnificent timber trees & the Dyak villages are marked by a dense mass of Cocoa Areca nuts & other fruit trees. In every part of the Country ferns & orchids seem far <more> abundant than in Malacca & Singapore. Of the former many curious species with their pale green undivided fronds grow on the banks of mountain streams & have all the aspect of exogenous foliage. On the mountains many pretty climbing species are found. Orchids are most abundant, the greater part however having inconspicuous flowers. Dead & decaying trees [[3]] near the sea are often covered by them. Others grow from the branches of mangroves, while on the mountains the overhanging edges of precipices almost always bear a profusion. In the lofty jungle some of the highest trees have their topmost branches nearly covered with these, while there are other terrestrial species growing among grass and low herbage.

The palms generally have an aspect little different from those of S[outh] America. The Arecas have all the appearance of Euterpes while Arenga much resembles <Maximiliana> [illeg]. Some however have an aspect peculiarly their own such as the Caryotas with their larger leaves & triangular toothed panicles, & the little Licualas with their square fan shaped leaves and square topped leaflets, while the genus Calancus though somewhat resembling [ blank space ] is so excessively abundant & of so many different species as to [MS blotted] form a distinctive [word deleted] feature of the Eastern when compared with the Western forests.

In the general gloom of the forests themselves & the absence of colour (which I believe to be with my friend Mr Spruce to be rather a character of tropical than temperate regions) there is little to distinguish them from those of the Amazon. Trees which bear their flowers upon their stems alone are very characteristic of this region & some among them are very striking objects. An Amonaceous tree is particularly remarkable, its tall slender trunk being at times thickly covered with [word deleted] bunches of large flowers of the most vivid orange, extending often 30 ~ 40 feet in height for which distance the stem is completely hidden by them. The fruit that succeeds [word deleted] [[4]] as remarkable as the flowers are beautiful. Each carpel is borne on a long stalk and as they are very numerous they have the appearance of a large bunch of fruit produced from a single flower the calyx of which remains at the base. Besides this the only handsome flowers are the Orchids of the genus Coelogyne & the elegant Vanda Lowii of which I found but one fine specimen with 20 ~ 30 flower <spikes> each 6 feet in length.

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