Many plants cause the death of insects, for instance the sticky buds of the horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), without thereby receiving, as far as we can perceive, any advantage; but it was soon evident that Drosera was [page 3] excellently adapted for the special purpose of catching insects, so that the subject seemed well worthy of investigation.
The results have proved highly remarkable; the more important ones being--firstly, the extraordinary
FIG. 1.* (Drosera rotundifolia.) Leaf viewed from above; enlarged four times.
sensitiveness of the glands to slight pressure and to minute doses of certain nitrogenous fluids, as shown by the movements of the so-called hairs or tentacles;
* The drawings of Drosera and Dionaea, given in this work, were made for me by my son George Darwin; those of Aldrovanda, and of the several species of Utricularia, by my son Francis. They have been excellently reproduced on wood by Mr. Cooper, 188 Strand. [page 4]
secondly, the power possessed by the leaves of rendering soluble or digesting nitrogenous substances, and of afterwards absorbing them; thirdly, the changes which take place within the cells of the tentacles, when the glands are excited in various ways.
It is necessary, in the first place, to describe briefly the plant. It bears from two or three to five or six leaves, generally extended more or less horizontally, but sometimes standing vertically upwards. The shape and general appearance of a leaf is shown, as seen from above, in fig. 1, and as seen laterally, in fig. 2. The leaves are commonly a little broader than long,
FIG. 2. (Drosera rotundifolia.) Old leaf viewed laterally; enlarged about five times.
but this was not the case in the one here figured. The whole upper surface is covered with gland-bearing filaments, or tentacles, as I shall call them, from their manner of acting. The glands were counted on thirty-one leaves, but many of these were of unusually large size, and the average number was 192; the greatest number being 260, and the least 130. The glands are each surrounded by large drops of extremely viscid secretion, which, glittering in the sun, have given rise to the plant's poetical name of the sun-dew.
[The tentacles on the central part of the leaf or disc are short and stand upright, and their pedicels are green. Towards the margin they become longer and longer and more inclined [page 5] outwards, with their pedicels of a purple colour. Those on the extreme margin project in the same plane with the leaf, or more commonly (see fig. 2) are considerably reflexed. A few tentacles spring from the base of the footstalk or petiole, and these are the longest of all, being sometimes nearly 1/4 of an inch in length. On a leaf bearing altogether 252 tentacles, the short ones on the disc, having green pedicels, were in number to the longer submarginal and marginal tentacles, having purple pedicels, as nine to sixteen.
A tentacle consists of a thin, straight, hair-like pedicel, carrying a gland on the summit. The pedicel is somewhat flattened, and is formed of several rows of elongated cells, filled with purple fluid or granular matter.* There is, however, a narrow zone close beneath the glands of the longer tentacles, and a broader zone near their bases, of a green tint. Spiral vessels, accompanied by simple vascular tissue, branch off from the vascular bundles in the blade of the leaf, and run up all the tentacles into the glands.
Several eminent physiologists have discussed the homological nature of these appendages or tentacles, that is, whether they ought to be considered as hairs (trichomes) or prolongations of the leaf. Nitschke has shown that they include all the elements proper to the blade of a leaf; and the fact of their including vascular tissue was formerly thought to prove that they were prolongations of the leaf, but it is now known that vessels sometimes enter true hairs. The power of movement which they possess is a strong argument against their being viewed as hairs.