That the contents of the cells of the glands, and afterwards those of the pedicels, are affected in a plainly visible manner by the pressure of minute particles, we shall have abundant evidence when we treat of the aggregation of protoplasm. But the case is much more remarkable than as yet stated; for the particles are supported by the viscid and dense secretion; nevertheless, even smaller ones than those of which the measurements have been given, when brought by an insensibly slow movement, through the means above specified, into contact with the surface of a gland, act on it, and the tentacle bends. The pressure exerted by the particle of hair, weighing only 1/78740 of a grain and supported by a dense fluid, must have been inconceivably slight. We may conjecture that it could hardly have equalled the millionth of a grain; and we shall hereafter see that far less than the millionth of a grain of phosphate of ammonia in solution, when absorbed by a gland, acts on it and induces movement. A bit of hair, 1/50 of an inch in length, and therefore much larger than those used in the above experiments, was not perceived when placed on my tongue; and it is extremely doubtful whether any nerve in the human body, even if in an inflamed condition, would be in any way affected by such a particle supported in a dense fluid, and slowly brought into contact with the nerve. Yet the cells of the glands of Drosera are thus excited to transmit a motor impulse to a distant point, inducing movement. It appears to me that hardly any more remarkable fact than this has been observed in the vegetable kingdom. [page 34]

The Inflection of the Exterior Tentacles, when their Glands are excited by Repeated Touches.

We have already seen that, if the central glands are excited by being gently brushed, they transmit a motor impulse to the exterior tentacles, causing them to bend; and we have now to consider the effects which follow from the glands of the exterior tentacles being themselves touched. On several occasions, a large number of glands were touched only once with a needle or fine brush, hard enough to bend the whole flexible tentacle; and though this must have caused a thousand-fold greater pressure than the weight of the above described particles, not a tentacle moved. On another occasion forty-five glands on eleven leaves were touched once, twice, or even thrice, with a needle or stiff bristle. This was done as quickly as possible, but with force sufficient to bend the tentacles; yet only six of them became inflected,--three plainly, and three in a slight degree. In order to ascertain whether these tentacles which were not affected were in an efficient state, bits of meat were placed on ten of them, and they all soon became greatly incurved. On the other hand, when a large number of glands were struck four, five, or six times with the same force as before, a needle or sharp splinter of glass being used, a much larger proportion of tentacles became inflected; but the result was so uncertain as to seem capricious. For instance, I struck in the above manner three glands, which happened to be extremely sensitive, and all three were inflected almost as quickly, as if bits of meat had been placed on them. On another occasion I gave a single for- [page 35] cible touch to a considerable number of glands, and not one moved; but these same glands, after an interval of some hours, being touched four or five times with a needle, several of the tentacles soon became inflected.

The fact of a single touch or even of two or three touches not causing inflection must be of some service to the plant; as during stormy weather, the glands cannot fail to be occasionally touched by the tall blades of grass, or by other plants growing near; and it would be a great evil if the tentacles were thus brought into action, for the act of re-expansion takes a considerable time, and until the tentacles are re-expanded they cannot catch prey. On the other hand, extreme sensitiveness to slight pressure is of the highest service to the plant; for, as we have seen, if the delicate feet of a minute struggling insect press ever so lightly on the surfaces of two or three glands, the tentacles bearing these glands soon curl inwards and carry the insect with them to the centre, causing, after a time, all the circumferential tentacles to embrace it.

Insectivorous Plants Page 18

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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