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- Insectivorous Plants - 5/80 -

the insect is ultimately carried by a curious sort of rolling movement to the centre of the leaf. Then, after an interval, the tentacles on all sides become inflected and bathe their prey with their secretion, in the same manner as if the insect had first alighted on the central disc. It is surprising how minute an insect suffices to cause this action: for instance, I have seen one of the smallest species of gnats (Culex), which had just settled with its excessively delicate feet on the glands of the outermost tentacles, and these were already beginning to curve inwards, though not a single gland had as yet touched the body of the insect. Had I not interfered, this minute gnat would [page 17] assuredly have been carried to the centre of the leaf and been securely clasped on all sides. We shall hereafter see what excessively small doses of certain organic fluids and saline solutions cause strongly marked inflection.

Whether insects alight on the leaves by mere chance, as a resting place, or are attracted by the odour of the secretion, I know not. I suspect from the number of insects caught by the English species of Drosera, and from what I have observed with some exotic species kept in my greenhouse, that the odour is attractive. In this latter case the leaves may be compared with a baited trap; in the former case with a trap laid in a run frequented by game, but without any bait.

That the glands possess the power of absorption, is shown by their almost instantaneously becoming dark-coloured when given a minute quantity of carbonate of ammonia; the change of colour being chiefly or exclusively due to the rapid aggregation of their contents. When certain other fluids are added, they become pale-coloured. Their power of absorption is, however, best shown by the widely different results which follow, from placing drops of various nitrogenous and non-nitrogenous fluids of the same density on the glands of the disc, or on a single marginal gland; and likewise by the very different lengths of time during which the tentacles remain inflected over objects, which yield or do not yield soluble nitrogenous matter. This same conclusion might indeed have been inferred from the structure and movements of the leaves, which are so admirably adapted for capturing insects.

The absorption of animal matter from captured insects explains how Drosera can flourish in extremely poor peaty soil,--in some cases where nothing but [page 18] sphagnum moss grows, and mosses depend altogether on the atmosphere for their nourishment. Although the leaves at a hasty glance do not appear green, owing to the purple colour of the tentacles, yet the upper and lower surfaces of the blade, the pedicels of the central tentacles, and the petioles contain chlorophyll, so that, no doubt, the plant obtains and assimilates carbonic acid from the air. Nevertheless, considering the nature of the soil where it grows, the supply of nitrogen would be extremely limited, or quite deficient, unless the plant had the power of obtaining this important element from captured insects. We can thus understand how it is that the roots are so poorly developed. These usually consist of only two or three slightly divided branches, from half to one inch in length, furnished with absorbent hairs. It appears, therefore, that the roots serve only to imbibe water; though, no doubt, they would absorb nutritious matter if present in the soil; for as we shall hereafter see, they absorb a weak solution of carbonate of ammonia. A plant of Drosera, with the edges of its leaves curled inwards, so as to form a temporary stomach, with the glands of the closely inflected tentacles pouring forth their acid secretion, which dissolves animal matter, afterwards to be absorbed, may be said to feed like an animal. But, differently from an animal, it drinks by means of its roots; and it must drink largely, so as to retain many drops of viscid fluid round the glands, sometimes as many as 260, exposed during the whole day to a glaring sun. [page 19]



Inflection of the exterior tentacles owing to the glands of the disc being excited by repeated touches, or by objects left in contact with them--Difference in the action of bodies yielding and not yielding soluble nitrogenous matter--Inflection of the exterior tentacles directly caused by objects left in contact with their glands--Periods of commencing inflection and of subsequent re-expansion--Extreme minuteness of the particles causing inflection--Action under water--Inflection of the exterior tentacles when their glands are excited by repeated touches--Falling drops of water do not cause inflection.

I WILL give in this and the following chapters some of the many experiments made, which best illustrate the manner and rate of movement of the tentacles, when excited in various ways. The glands alone in all ordinary cases are susceptible to excitement. When excited, they do not themselves move or change form, but transmit a motor impulse to the bending part of their own and adjoining tentacles, and are thus carried towards the centre of the leaf. Strictly speaking, the glands ought to be called irritable, as the term sensitive generally implies consciousness; but no one supposes that the Sensitive-plant is conscious, and as I have found the term convenient, I shall use it without scruple. I will commence with the movements of the exterior tentacles, when indirectly excited by stimulants applied to the glands of the short tentacles on the disc. The exterior tentacles may be said in this case to be indirectly excited, because their own glands are not directly acted on. The stimulus proceeding from the glands of the disc acts on the bending part of the [page 20] exterior tentacles, near their bases, and does not (as will hereafter be proved) first travel up the pedicels to the glands, to be then reflected back to the bending place. Nevertheless, some influence does travel up to the glands, causing them to secrete more copiously, and the secretion to become acid. This latter fact is, I believe, quite new in the physiology of plants; it has indeed only recently been established that in the animal kingdom an influence can be transmitted along the nerves to glands, modifying their power of secretion, independently of the state of the blood-vessels.

The Inflection of the Exterior Tentacles from the Glands of the Disc being excited by Repeated Touches, or by Objects left in Contact with them.

The central glands of a leaf were irritated with a small stiff camel-hair brush, and in 70 m. (minutes) several of the outer tentacles were inflected; in 5 hrs. (hours) all the sub-marginal tentacles were inflected; next morning after an interval of about 22 hrs. they were fully re-expanded. In all the following cases the period is reckoned from the time of first irritation. Another leaf treated in the same manner had a few tentacles inflected in 20 m.; in 4 hrs. all the submarginal and some of the extreme marginal tentacles, as well as the edge of the leaf itself, were inflected; in 17 hrs. they had recovered their proper, expanded position. I then put a dead fly in the centre of the last-mentioned leaf, and next morning it was closely clasped; five days afterwards the leaf re-expanded, and the tentacles, with their glands surrounded by secretion, were ready to act again.

Particles of meat, dead flies, bits of paper, wood, dried moss, sponge, cinders, glass, &c., were repeatedly [page 21] placed on leaves, and these objects were well embraced in various periods from one hr. to as long as 24 hrs., and set free again, with the leaf fully re-expanded, in from one or two, to seven or even ten days, according to the nature of the object. On a leaf which had naturally caught two flies, and therefore had already closed and reopened either once or more probably twice, I put a fresh fly: in 7 hrs. it was moderately, and in 21 hrs. thoroughly well, clasped, with the edges of the leaf inflected. In two days and a half the leaf had nearly re-expanded; as the exciting object was an insect, this unusually short period of inflection was, no doubt, due to the leaf having recently been in action. Allowing this same leaf to rest for only a single day, I put on another fly, and it again closed, but now very slowly; nevertheless, in less than two days it succeeded in thoroughly clasping the fly.

When a small object is placed on the glands of the disc, on one side of a leaf, as near as possible to its circumference, the tentacles on this side are first affected, those on the opposite side much later, or, as often occurred, not at all. This was repeatedly proved by trials with bits of meat; but I will here give only the case of a minute fly, naturally caught and still alive, which I found adhering by its delicate feet to the glands on the extreme left side of the central disc. The marginal tentacles on this side closed inwards and killed the fly, and after a time the edge of the leaf on this side also became inflected, and thus remained for several days, whilst neither the tentacles nor the edge on the opposite side were in the least affected.

If young and active leaves are selected, inorganic particles not larger than the head of a small pin, placed on the central glands, sometimes cause the [page 22] outer tentacles to bend inwards. But this follows much more surely and quickly, if the object contains nitrogenous matter which can be dissolved by the secretion. On one occasion I observed the following unusual circumstance. Small bits of raw meat (which acts more energetically than any other substance), of paper, dried moss, and of the quill of a pen were placed on several leaves, and they were all embraced equally well in about 2 hrs. On other occasions the above-named substances, or more commonly particles of glass, coal-cinder (taken from the fire), stone, gold-leaf, dried grass, cork, blotting-paper, cotton-wool, and hair rolled up into little balls, were used, and these substances, though they were sometimes well embraced, often caused no movement whatever in the outer tentacles, or an extremely slight and slow movement. Yet these same leaves were proved to be in an active condition, as they were excited to move by substances yielding soluble nitrogenous matter, such as bits of raw or roast meat, the yolk or white of boiled eggs, fragments of insects of all orders, spiders, &c. I will give only two instances. Minute flies were placed on the discs of several leaves, and on others balls of paper, bits of moss and quill of about the same size as the flies, and the latter were well embraced in a few hours; whereas after 25 hrs. only a very few tentacles were inflected over the other objects. The bits of paper, moss, and quill were then removed from these leaves, and bits of raw meat placed on them; and now all the tentacles were soon energetically inflected.

Again, particles of coal-cinder (weighing rather more than the flies used in the last experiment) were placed on the centres of three leaves: after an interval of 19 hrs. one of the particles was tolerably well embraced; [page 23] a second by a very few tentacles; and a third by none. I then removed the particles from the two latter leaves, and put on them recently killed flies. These were fairly well embraced in 7 1/2 hrs. and thoroughly after 20 1/2 hrs.; the tentacles remaining inflected for many subsequent days. On the other hand, the one leaf which had in the course of 19 hrs. embraced the bit of cinder moderately well, and to which no fly was given, after an additional 33 hrs. (i.e. in 52 hrs. from the time when the cinder was put on) was completely re-expanded and ready to act again.

From these and numerous other experiments not worth giving, it is certain that inorganic substances, or such organic substances as are not attacked by the secretion, act much less quickly and efficiently than organic substances yielding soluble matter which is absorbed. Moreover, I have met with very few exceptions to the rule, and these

Insectivorous Plants - 5/80

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