If young and active leaves are selected, inorganic particles not larger than the head of a small pin, placed on the central glands, sometimes cause the [page 22] outer tentacles to bend inwards. But this follows much more surely and quickly, if the object contains nitrogenous matter which can be dissolved by the secretion. On one occasion I observed the following unusual circumstance. Small bits of raw meat (which acts more energetically than any other substance), of paper, dried moss, and of the quill of a pen were placed on several leaves, and they were all embraced equally well in about 2 hrs. On other occasions the above-named substances, or more commonly particles of glass, coal-cinder (taken from the fire), stone, gold-leaf, dried grass, cork, blotting-paper, cotton-wool, and hair rolled up into little balls, were used, and these substances, though they were sometimes well embraced, often caused no movement whatever in the outer tentacles, or an extremely slight and slow movement. Yet these same leaves were proved to be in an active condition, as they were excited to move by substances yielding soluble nitrogenous matter, such as bits of raw or roast meat, the yolk or white of boiled eggs, fragments of insects of all orders, spiders, &c. I will give only two instances. Minute flies were placed on the discs of several leaves, and on others balls of paper, bits of moss and quill of about the same size as the flies, and the latter were well embraced in a few hours; whereas after 25 hrs. only a very few tentacles were inflected over the other objects. The bits of paper, moss, and quill were then removed from these leaves, and bits of raw meat placed on them; and now all the tentacles were soon energetically inflected.

Again, particles of coal-cinder (weighing rather more than the flies used in the last experiment) were placed on the centres of three leaves: after an interval of 19 hrs. one of the particles was tolerably well embraced; [page 23] a second by a very few tentacles; and a third by none. I then removed the particles from the two latter leaves, and put on them recently killed flies. These were fairly well embraced in 7 1/2 hrs. and thoroughly after 20 1/2 hrs.; the tentacles remaining inflected for many subsequent days. On the other hand, the one leaf which had in the course of 19 hrs. embraced the bit of cinder moderately well, and to which no fly was given, after an additional 33 hrs. (i.e. in 52 hrs. from the time when the cinder was put on) was completely re-expanded and ready to act again.

From these and numerous other experiments not worth giving, it is certain that inorganic substances, or such organic substances as are not attacked by the secretion, act much less quickly and efficiently than organic substances yielding soluble matter which is absorbed. Moreover, I have met with very few exceptions to the rule, and these exceptions apparently depended on the leaf having been too recently in action, that the tentacles remain clasped for a much longer time over organic bodies of the nature just specified than over those which are not acted on by the secretion, or over inorganic objects.*

* Owing to the extraordinary belief held by M. Ziegler ('Comptes rendus,' May 1872, p. 122), that albuminous substances, if held for a moment between the fingers, acquire the property of making the tentacles of Drosera contract, whereas, if not thus held, they have no such power, I tried some experiments with great care, but the results did not confirm this belief. Red-hot cinders were taken out of the fire, and bits of glass, cotton-thread, blotting paper and thin slices of cork were immersed in boiling water; and particles were then placed (every instrument with which they were touched having been previously immersed in boiling water) on the glands of several leaves, and they acted in exactly the same manner as other particles, which had been purposely handled for some time. Bits of a boiled egg, cut with a knife which had been washed in boiling water, also acted like any other animal substance.

Insectivorous Plants Page 13

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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