We here see clearly that such bodies as particles of cinder or little balls of paper, after being carried by the tentacles to the central glands, act very differently from fragments of flies, in causing the movement of the surrounding tentacles.

I made, without carefully recording the times of movement, many similar trials with other substances, such as splinters of white and blue glass, particles of cork, minute bits of gold-leaf, &c.; and the proportional number of cases varied much in which the tentacles reached the centre, or moved only slightly, or not at all. One evening, particles of glass and cork, rather larger than those usually employed, were placed on about a dozen glands, and next morning, after 13 hrs., every single tentacle had carried its little load to the centre; but the unusually large size of the particles will account for this result. In another case 6/7 of the particles of cinder, glass, and thread, placed on separate glands, were carried towards, or actually to, the centre; in another case 7/9, in another 7/12, and in the last case only 7/26 were thus carried inwards, the small proportion being here due, at least in part, to the leaves being rather old and inactive. Occasionally a gland, with its light load, could be seen through a strong lens to move an extremely short distance and then stop; this was especially apt to occur when excessively minute particles, much less than those of which the measurements will be immediately given, were placed on glands; so that we here have nearly the limit of any action.

I was so much surprised at the smallness of the particles which caused the tentacles to become greatly inflected that it seemed worth while carefully to ascertain how minute a particle would plainly act. [page 27] Accordingly measured lengths of a narrow strip of blotting paper, of fine cotton-thread, and of a woman's hair, were carefully weighed for me by Mr. Trenham Reeks, in an excellent balance, in the laboratory in Jermyn Street. Short bits of the paper, thread, and hair were then cut off and measured by a micrometer, so that their weights could be easily calculated. The bits were placed on the viscid secretion surrounding the glands of the exterior tentacles, with the precautions already stated, and I am certain that the gland itself was never touched; nor indeed would a single touch have produced any effect. A bit of the blotting-paper, weighing 1/465 of a grain, was placed so as to rest on three glands together, and all three tentacles slowly curved inwards; each gland, therefore, supposing the weight to be distributed equally, could have been pressed on by only 1/1395 of a grain, or .0464 of a milligramme. Five nearly equal bits of cotton-thread were tried, and all acted. The shortest of these was 1/50 of an inch in length, and weighed 1/8197 of a grain. The tentacle in this case was considerably inflected in 1 hr. 30 m., and the bit of thread was carried to the centre of the leaf in 1 hr. 40 m. Again, two particles of the thinner end of a woman's hair, one of these being 18/1000 of an inch in length, and weighing 1/35714 of a grain, the other 19/1000 of an inch in length, and weighing of course a little more, were placed on two glands on opposite sides of the same leaf, and these two tentacles were inflected halfway towards the centre in 1 hr. 10 m.; all the many other tentacles round the same leaf remaining motionless. The appearance of this one leaf showed in an unequivocal manner that these minute particles sufficed to cause the tentacles to bend. Altogether, ten such particles of hair were placed on ten glands on several leaves, and seven of them caused [page 28] the tentacles to move in a conspicuous manner. The smallest particle which was tried, and which acted plainly, was only 8/1000 of an inch (.203 millimetre) in length, and weighed the 1/78740 of a grain, or .000822 milligramme. In these several cases, not only was the inflection of the tentacles conspicuous, but the purple fluid within their cells became aggregated into little masses of protoplasm, in the manner to be described in the next chapter; and the aggregation was so plain that I could, by this clue alone, have readily picked out under the microscope all the tentacles which had carried their light loads towards the centre, from the hundreds of other tentacles on the same leaves which had not thus acted.

Insectivorous Plants Page 15

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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