Page:History of botany (Sachs; Garnsey).djvu/515

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

CHAP, ii.] of Plants. Scncbier. 495

cause why plants at certain times vitiate the surrounding air, a cause which neither Priestley nor Scheele had suspected. He had discovered, he says, in the summer of 1779, that all vegetables incessantly give out carbonic acid gas, but that the green leaves and shoots only exhale oxygen in sun-light or clear day-light. It appears therefore that Ingen-Houss not only dis- covered the assimilation of carbon and the true respiration of plants, but also kept the conditions and the meaning of the two phenomena distinct from one another. Accordingly he had a clear idea of the great distinction between the nutri- tion of germinating plants and of older green ones, the in- dependence of the one, the dependence of the other, on light ; and that he considered the carbon dioxide of the atmosphere to be the main if not the only source of the carbon in the plant, is shown by his remark on a foolish assertion of Hassen- fratz that the carbon is taken from the earth by the roots ; he replied that it was scarcely conceivable that a large tree should in that case find its food for hundreds of years in the same spot. There was a certain boldness in these utterances of Ingen-Houss, and a considerable confidence in his own con- victions, for at that time the absolute amount of carbon dioxide in the air had not been 'ascertained, and the small quantity of it in proportion to the other constituents of air would certainly have deterred some persons from seeing in it the supply of the huge masses of carbon which plants accumulate in their structures.

Before Ingen-Houss in the work last mentioned explained the results of his observations of 1779 in accordance with the new chemical views, and laid the foundations of the doctrine of nutrition in plants, JEAN SENEBiER 1 , of Geneva, made pro-

1 Jean Sencbier, horn at Geneva in 1742, was the son of a tradesman, and aftcri765 pastorof the Evangelical Church. On his return from a visit to Paris he published his ' Moral Tales,' and at the suggestion of his friend Bonnet competedfor a prizeoffered at Haarlem for an essay on the Art of Observation. He was awarded the second place in this competition. In 1769 he became