One species of the water lily, the Nymphaea rubra, with small red flowers, and of great beauty, is common in the ponds near Jaffna and in the Wanny; and I found in the fosse, near the fort of Moeletivoe, the beautiful blue lotus, N. stellata, with lilac petals, approaching to purple in the centre, which had not previously been supposed to be a native of the island.
Another very interesting aquatic plant, which was discovered by Dr. Gardner in the tanks north of Trincomalie, is the Desmanthus natans, with highly sensitive leaves floating on the surface of the water. It is borne aloft by masses of a spongy cellular substance, which occur at intervals along its stem and branches, but the roots never touch the bottom, absorbing nourishment whilst floating at liberty, and only found in contact with the ground after the subsidence of water in the tanks.
[Footnote 1: A species of Utricularia, with yellow flowers (U. stellaris), is a common water-plant in the still lakes near the fort of Colombo, where an opportunity is afforded of observing the extraordinary provision of nature for its reproduction. There are small appendages attached to the roots, which become distended with air, and thus carry the plant aloft to the surface, during the cool season. Here it floats till the operation of flowering is over, when the vesicles burst, and by its own weight it returns to the bottom of the lake to ripen its seeds and deposit them in the soil; after which the air vessels again fill, and again it re-ascends to undergo the same process of fecundation.]
With the exception of the Mammalia and the Birds, the fauna of Ceylon has, up to the present, failed to receive that systematic attention to which its richness and variety so amply entitle it. The Singhalese themselves, habitually indolent and singularly unobservant of nature in her operations, are at the same time restrained from the study of natural history by tenets of their religion which forbid the taking of life under any circumstances. From the nature of their avocations, the majority of the European residents engaged in planting and commerce, are discouraged from gratifying this taste; and it is to be regretted that the civil servants of the government, whose position and duties would have afforded them influence and extended opportunity for successful investigation, have never seen the importance of encouraging such studies.
The first effective impulse to the cultivation of natural science in Ceylon, was communicated by Dr. Davy when connected with the medical staff of the army from 1816 to 1820, and his example stimulated some of the assistant surgeons of Her Majesty’s forces to make collections in illustration of the productions of the colony. Of the late Dr. Kinnis was one of the most energetic and successful. He was seconded by Dr. Templeton of the Royal Artillery, who engaged assiduously in the investigation of various orders, and commenced an interchange of specimens with Mr. Blyth, the distinguished naturalist and curator of the Calcutta Museum.