A large plant was dug up, washed so as to remove the earth, left for some time to drain, and then placed in the evening on a dry glass-plate, covered with a bell-glass, and by next morning it had secreted a large pool of water. The plate was wiped dry, and in the course of the succeeding 7 or 8 hours another little pool was secreted, and after 16 additional hours several large drops. A smaller plant was washed and placed in a large jar, which was left inclined for an hour, by which time no more water drained off. The jar was then placed upright and closed: after 23 hours two drachms of water were collected from the bottom, and a little more after 25 additional hours. The flower-stems were now cut off, for they do not secrete, and the subterranean part of the plant was found to weigh 106.8 grams (1611 grains), and the water secreted during the 48 hours weighed 11.9 grams (183 grains),--that is, one-ninth of the whole weight of the plant, excluding the flower-stems. We should remember that plants in a state of nature would probably secrete in 48 hours much more than the above large amount, for their roots would continue all the time absorbing sap from the plant on which they were parasitic. [page 86]

stem of the parasitic and leafless Monotropa hypopitys. With Helleborus niger, the flower-stems, which rise up independently of the leaves, likewise break through the ground as arches. This is also the case with the greatly elongated flower-stems, as well as with the petioles of Epimedium pinnatum. So it is with the petioles of Ranunculus ficaria, when they have to break through the ground, but when they arise from the summit of the bulb above ground, they are from the first quite straight; and this is a fact which deserves notice. The rachis of the bracken fern (Pteris aquilina), and of some, probably many, other ferns, likewise rises above ground under the form of an arch. No doubt other analogous instances could be found by careful search. In all ordinary cases of bulbs, rhizomes, [page 87] root-stocks, etc., buried beneath the ground, the surface is broken by a cone formed by the young imbricated leaves, the combined growth of which gives them force sufficient for the purpose.

With germinating monocotyledonous seeds, of which, however, we did not observe a large number, the plumules, for instance, those of Asparagus and Canna, are straight whilst breaking through the ground. With the Gramineae, the sheath-like cotyledons are likewise straight; they, however, terminate in a sharp crest, which is white and somewhat indurated; and this structure obviously facilitates their emergence from the soil: the first true leaves escape from the sheath through a slit beneath the chisel-like apex and at right angles to it. In the case of the onion (Allium cepa) we again meet with an arch; the leaf-like cotyledon being abruptly bowed, when it breaks through the ground, with the apex still enclosed within the seed-coats. The crown of the arch, as previously described, is developed into a white conical protuberance, which we may safely believe to be a special adaptation for this office.

The fact of so many organs of different kinds--hypocotyls and epicotyls, the petioles of some cotyledons and of some first leaves, the cotyledons of the onion, the rachis of some ferns, and some flower-stems--being all arched whilst they break through the ground, shows how just are Dr. Haberlandt's* remarks on the importance of the arch to seedling plants. He attributes its chief importance to the upper, young, and more tender parts of the hypocotyl

* 'Die Schutzeinrichtungen in der Entwickelung der Keimpflanze,' 1877. We have learned much from this interesting essay, though our observations lead us to differ on some points from the author. [page 88]

or epicotyl, being thus saved from abrasion and pressure whilst breaking through the ground. But we think that some importance may be attributed to the increased force gained by the hypocotyl, epicotyl, or other organ by being at first arched; for both legs of the arch increase in length, and both have points of resistance as long as the tip remains enclosed within the seed-coats; and thus the crown of the arch is pushed up through the earth with twice as much force as that which a straight hypocotyl, etc., could exert.

The Power of Movement in Plants Page 43

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book