Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/299

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285
SPONTANEOUS MOVEMENTS IN PLANTS.


"How Crops Grow."[1] "The cereals are able to dispose of silica by giving it a place in the cuticular cells; the leguminous crops, on the other hand, cannot remove it from their juices; the latter remain saturated, and thus further diffusion of silica from without becomes impossible except as room is made by a new growth. It is in this way that we have a rational and adequate explanation of the selective power of the plant." The "rational and adequate explanation" seems to me, on the contrary, to be merely a restatement of this selective power of the tissues in other terms. Because the tissues want the silica, is no explanation of how they get it.

The curious and interesting movements of climbing plants have been investigated by Palm, Mohl, and Asa Gray, and form the subject of one of the most charming of Mr. Darwin's works. It is well known that climbing plants, such as the hop, honeysuckle, or major convolvulus, always twine round the stem or other object which supports them in one direction, that is, always either from right to left or from left to right; but few, probably, have reflected, and fewer still attempted to observe, by what process the end of the growing shoot contrives to change its position from one side to the other of the stem. If the extremity of a living stem, say of convolvulus, growing perfectly free, and in a normal position, is observed, it is seen to hang over from its support in a horizontal direction; and this horizontal portion is found, if observed at intervals of some hours, to point in different directions. The end of the growing shoot has, in fact, the property of revolving in a large circle, round the support, always, with the same species, in the. same direction, either with the sun or opposed to the sun. The rate of revolution varies with different plants, and with the same plant at different periods of its growth; it is much quicker in warmer than in cooler weather. With the hop, Darwin found it to vary from two and a half hours to nine hours. The object of the climbing power of plants is no doubt to reach the light, and to expose a large surface of leaves to its action and to that of the free air; but the mode by which this power of motion is gained is by no means clear. The late eminent physiologist Mohl supposed that it was caused by a dull kind of irritability in the stem, which caused it to bend toward the support when in contact with it. Mr. Darwin has, however, carefully tested this theory experimentally, and always with negative results. He rubbed many shoots, much harder than was necessary to excite movement in any tendril, or in any foot-stalk, of a leaf-climber, but without result. This view seems also entirely negatived by the fact that not only do the stems of climbing plants revolve when they are not in contact with any support, but even more freely, under such circumstances, than

  1. "How Crops Grow:" A Treatise on the Chemical Compositions, Structure, and Life, of the Plant, for Agricultural Students. By S. W. Johnson. Revised and adapted for English Use, by A. H. Church and W. T. T. Dyer. London: Macmillan & Co., 1869 pp. 345.