As soon, however, as the upper end has freed itself, all the work has to be done by the basal leg. In the case of the epicotyl of the common bean, the basal leg (the apex having freed itself from the seed-coats) grew upwards with a force sufficient to lift a thin plate of zinc, loaded with 12 ounces. Two more ounces were added, and the 14 ounces were lifted up to a very little height, and then the epicotyl yielded and bent to one side.

With respect to the primary cause of the arching process, we long thought in the case of many seedlings that this might be attributed to the manner in which the hypocotyl or epicotyl was packed and curved within the seed-coats; and that the arched shape thus acquired was merely retained until the parts in question reached the surface of the ground. But it is doubtful whether this is the whole of the truth in any case. For instance, with the common bean, the epicotyl or plumule is bowed into an arch whilst breaking through the seed-coats, as shown in Fig. 59 (p. 92). The plumule first protrudes as a solid knob (e in A), which after twenty-four hours' growth is seen (e in B) to be the crown of an arch. Nevertheless, with several beans which germinated in damp air, and had otherwise been treated in an unnatural manner, little [page 89] plumules were developed in the axils of the petioles of both cotyledons, and these were as perfectly arched as the normal plumule; yet they had not been subjected to any confinement or pressure, for the seed-coats were completely ruptured, and they grew in the open air. This proves that the plumule has an innate or spontaneous tendency to arch itself.

In some other cases the hypocotyl or epicotyl protrudes from the seed at first only slightly bowed; but the bowing afterwards increases independently of any constraint. The arch is thus made narrow, with the two legs, which are sometimes much elongated, parallel and close together, and thus it becomes well fitted for breaking through the ground.

With many kinds of plants, the radicle, whilst still enclosed within the seed and likewise after its first protrusion, lies in a straight line with the future hypocotyl and with the longitudinal axis of the cotyledons. This is the case with Cucurbita ovifera: nevertheless, in whatever position the seeds were buried, the hypocotyl always came up arched in one particular direction. Seeds were planted in friable peat at a depth of about an inch in a vertical position, with the end from which the radicle protrudes downwards. Therefore all the parts occupied the same relative positions which they would ultimately hold after the seedlings had risen clear above the surface. Notwithstanding this fact, the hypocotyl arched itself; and as the arch grew upwards through the peat, the buried seeds were turned either upside down, or were laid horizontally, being afterwards dragged above the ground. Ultimately the hypocotyl straightened itself in the usual manner; and now after all these movements the several parts occupied the same position relatively to one another and to the centre of the earth, which they [page 90] had done when the seeds were first buried. But it may be argued in this and other such cases that, as the hypocotyl grows up through the soil, the seed will almost certainly be tilted to one side; and then from the resistance which it must offer during its further elevation, the upper part of the hypocotyl will be doubled down and thus become arched. This view seems the more probable, because with Ranunculus ficaria only the petioles of the leaves which forced a passage through the earth were arched; and not those which arose from the summits of the bulbs above the ground. Nevertheless, this explanation does not apply to the Cucurbita, for when germinating seeds were suspended in damp air in various positions by pins passing through the cotyledons, fixed to the inside of the lids of jars, in which case the hypocotyls were not subjected to any friction or constraint, yet the upper part became spontaneously arched.

Charles Darwin

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