I may mention, in relation to the above and following experiments, that according to Schiff certain forms of albumen

* Watts' 'Dictionary of Chemistry,' vol. iii., p. 568.

'Leons sur la Phys. de la Digestion,' tom. i, p. 379; tom. ii. pp. 154, 166, on legumin. [page 83]

exist which are not coagulated by boiling water, but are converted into soluble peptones.

On three occasions chopped cabbage-leaves* were boiled in distilled water for 1 hr. or for 1 1/4 hr.; and by decanting the decoction after it had been allowed to rest, a pale dirty green fluid was obtained. The usual-sized drops were placed on thirteen leaves. Their tentacles and blades were inflected after 4 hrs. to a quite extraordinary degree. Next day the protoplasm within the cells of the tentacles was found aggregated in the most strongly marked manner. I also touched the viscid secretion round the glands of several tentacles with minute drops of the decoction on the head of a small pin, and they became well inflected in a few minutes. The fluid proving so powerful, one part was diluted with three of water, and drops were placed on the discs of five leaves; and these next morning were so much acted on that their blades were completely doubled over. We thus see that a decoction of cabbage-leaves is nearly or quite as potent as an infusion of raw meat.

About the same quantity of chopped cabbage-leaves and of distilled water, as in the last experiment, were kept in a vessel for 20 hrs. in a hot closet, but not heated to near the boiling-point. Drops of this infusion were placed on four leaves. One of these, after 23 hrs., was much inflected; a second slightly; a third had only the submarginal tentacles inflected; and the fourth was not at all affected. The power of this infusion is therefore very much less than that of the decoction; and it is clear that the immersion of cabbage-leaves for an hour in water at the boiling temperature is much more efficient in extracting matter which excites Drosera than immersion during many hours in warm water. Perhaps the contents of the cells are protected (as Schiff remarks with respect to legumin) by the walls being formed of cellulose, and that until these are ruptured by boiling-water, but little of the contained albuminous matter is dissolved. We know from the strong odour of cooked cabbage-leaves that boiling water produces some chemical change in them, and that they are thus rendered far more digestible and nutritious to man. It is therefore an interesting

* The leaves of young plants, before the heart is formed, such as were used by me, contain 2.1 per cent. of albuminous matter, and the outer leaves of mature plants 1.6 per cent. Watts' 'Dictionary of Chemistry,' vol. i. p. 653. [page 84]

fact that water at this temperature extracts matter from them which excites Drosera to an extraordinary degree.

Grasses contain far less nitrogenous matter than do peas or cabbages. The leaves and stalks of three common kinds were chopped and boiled for some time in distilled water. Drops of this decoction (after having stood for 24 hrs.) were placed on six leaves, and acted in a rather peculiar manner, of which other instances will be given in the seventh chapter on the salts of ammonia. After 2 hrs. 30 m. four of the leaves had their blades greatly inflected, but not their exterior tentacles; and so it was with all six leaves after 24 hrs. Two days afterwards the blades, as well as the few submarginal tentacles which had been inflected, all re-expanded; and much of the fluid on their discs was by this time absorbed. It appears that the decoction strongly excites the glands on the disc, causing the blade to be quickly and greatly inflected; but that the stimulus, differently from what occurs in ordinary cases, does not spread, or only in a feeble degree, to the exterior tentacles.

I may here add that one part of the extract of belladonna (procured from a druggist) was dissolved in 437 of water, and drops were placed on six leaves. Next day all six were somewhat inflected, and after 48 hrs.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book