But fortunately for us, perfect pieces of plants have been preserved even in the coal-bed itself. Do you remember our learning in Lecture IV, that water with lime in it petrifies things, that is, leaves carbonate of lime to fill up grain by grain the fibres of an animal or plant as the living matter decays, and so keeps an exact representation of the object?
Now, it so happens that in a coal-bed at South Ouram, near Halifax, as well as in some other places, carbonate of lime trickled in before the plants were turned into coal, and made some round nodules in the plant-bed, which look like cannon-balls. Afterwards, when all the rest of the bed was turned into coal, these round balls remained crystallized, and by cutting thin transparent slices across the nodule we can distinctly see the leaves and stems and curious little round bodies which make up the coal. Several such sections may be seen at the British Museum, and when we compare these fragments of plants with those which we find above and below the coal-bed, we find that they agree, thus proving that coal is made of plants, and of those plants whose roots grew in the clay floor, while their heads reached up far above where the roof now is.
The next question is, what kind of plants were these? Have we anything like them living in the world now? You might perhaps think that it would be impossible to decide this question from mere petrified pieces of plants. But many men have spent their whole lives in deciphering all the fragments that could be found, and though the section given in Fig. 49 may look to you quite incomprehensible, yet a botanist can reed it as we read a book. For example, at S and L, where stems are cut across, he can learn exactly how they were build up inside, and compare them with the stems of living plants, while the fruits cc and the little round spores lying near them, tell him their history as well as if he had gathered them from the tree. In this way we have learnt to know very fairly what the plants of the coal were like, and you will be surprised when I tell you that the huge trees of the coal-forests, of which we sometimes find trunks in the coal-mines from ten to fifty feet long, are only represented on the earth now by small insignificant plants, scarcely ever more than two feet, and often not many inches high.
Have you ever seen the little club moss or Lycopodium which grows all over England, but chiefly in the north, on heaths and mountains? At the end of each of its branches it bears a cone made of scaly leaves; and fixed to the inside of each of these leaves is a case called a sporangium, full of little spores or moss-seeds, as we may call them, though they are not exactly like true seeds. In one of these club-mosses called Selaginella, the cases near the bottom of the cone contain large spores, while those near the top contain a powdery dust. These spores are full of resin, and they are collected on the Continent for making artificial lightning in the theatres, because they flare when lighted.