Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/536

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532
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ON THE PERCEPTION OF THE FORCE OF GRAVITY BY PLANTS.
By FRANCIS DARWIN, F.R.S., Fellow of Christ College.

PRESIDENT OF THE BOTANICAL SECTION OF THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION.

WHEN I had the honor of addressing this association at Cardiff as president of the mother section from which ours has sprung by fission—I spoke of the mechanism of the curvatures commonly known as tropisms. To-day I propose to summarize the evidence—still far from complete—which may help us to form a conception of the mechanism of the stimulus which calls forth one of these movements—namely, geotropism. I have said that the evidence is incomplete, and perhaps I owe you an apology for devoting the time of this section to an unsolved problem. But the making of theories is the romance of research; and I may say, in the words of Diana of the Crossways, who indeed spoke of romance, 'The young who avoid that region escape the title of fool at the cost of a celestial crown.' I am prepared for the risk in the hope that in not avoiding the region of hypothesis I shall at least be able to interest my hearers.

The modern idea of the behavior of plants to their environment has been the growth of the last twenty-five years; though, as Pfeffer has shown, it was clearly stated in 1824 by Dutrochet, who conceived the movements of plants to be 'spontaneous'—i. e., to be executed at the suggestion of changes in the environment, not as the direct and necessary result of such changes. I have been in the habit of expressing the same thought in other words, using the idea of a guide or signal, by the interpretation of which plants are able to make their way successfully through the difficulties of their surroundings. In the existence of the force of gravity we have one of the most striking features of the environment, and in the sensitiveness to gravity which exists in plants we have one of the most widespread cases of a plant reading a signal and directing its growth in relation to its perception. I use the word perception not of course to imply consciousness, but as a convenient form of expression for a form of irritability. It is as though the plant discovered from its sensitiveness to gravity the line of the earth's radius, and then chose a line of growth bearing a certain relation to the vertical line so discovered, either parallel to it or across it at various angles. This, the reaction or reply to the stimulus, is, in my judgment, an adaptive act forced on the species by the struggle for life. This point of view, which, as I regret to think, is not very fash-