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- The Power of Movement in Plants - 90/98 -


could not distinguish. The degree of their curvature within a given time towards a lateral light did not correspond at all strictly with the amount of light which they received; the light not being at any time in excess. They continued for nearly half an hour to bend towards a lateral light, after it had been extinguished. They bend with remarkable precision towards it, and this depends on the illumination of one whole side, or on the obscuration of the whole opposite side. The difference in the amount of light which plants at any time receive in comparison with what they have shortly before received, seems in all cases to be the chief exciting cause of those movements which are influenced by light. Thus seedlings brought out of darkness bend towards a dim lateral light, sooner than others which had previously been exposed to daylight. We have seen several analogous cases with the nyctitropic movements of leaves. A striking instance was observed in the case of the periodic movements of the cotyledons of a Cassia; in the morning a pot was placed in an obscure part of a room, and all the cotyledons rose up closed; another pot had stood in the sunlight, and [page 566] the cotyledons of course remained expanded; both pots were now placed close together in the middle of the room, and the cotyledons which had been exposed to the sun, immediately began to close, while the others opened; so that the cotyledons in the two pots moved in exactly opposite directions whilst exposed to the same degree of light.

We found that if seedlings, kept in a dark place, were laterally illuminated by a small wax taper for only two or three minutes at intervals of about three-quarters of an hour, they all became bowed to the point where the taper had been held. We felt much surprised at this fact, and until we had read Wiesner's observations, we attributed it to the after-effects of the light; but he has shown that the same degree of curvature in a plant may be induced in the course of an hour by several interrupted illuminations lasting altogether for 20 m., as by a continuous illumination of 60 m. We believe that this case, as well as our own, may be explained by the excitement from light being due not so much to its actual amount, as to the difference in amount from that previously received; and in our case there were repeated alternations from complete darkness to light. In this, and in several of the above specified respects, light seems to act on the tissues of plants, almost in the same manner as it does on the nervous system of animals. There is a much more striking analogy of the same kind, in the sensitiveness to light being localised in the tips of the cotyledons of Phalaris and Avena, and in the upper part of the hypocotyls of Brassica and Beta; and in the transmission of some influence from these upper to the lower parts, causing the latter to bend towards the light. This influence is also trans- [page 567] mitted beneath the soil to a depth where no light enters. It follows from this localisation, that the lower parts of the cotyledons of Phalaris, etc., which normally become more bent towards a lateral light than the upper parts, may be brightly illuminated during many hours, and will not bend in the least, if all light be excluded from the tip. It is an interesting experiment to place caps over the tips of the cotyledons of Phalaris, and to allow a very little light to enter through minute orifices on one side of the caps, for the lower part of the cotyledons will then bend to this side, and not to the side which has been brightly illuminated during the whole time. In the case of the radicles of Sinapis alba, sensitiveness to light also resides in the tip, which, when laterally illuminated, causes the adjoining part of the root to bend apheliotropically.

Gravitation excites plants to bend away from the centre of the earth, or towards it, or to place themselves in a transverse position with respect to it. Although it is impossible to modify in any direct manner the attraction of gravity, yet its influence could be moderated indirectly, in the several ways described in the tenth chapter; and under such circumstances the same kind of evidence as that given in the chapter on Heliotropism, showed in the plainest manner that apogeotropic and geotropic, and probably diageotropic movements, are all modified forms of circumnutation.

Different parts of the same plant and different species are affected by gravitation in widely different degrees and manners. Some plants and organs exhibit hardly a trace of its action. Young seedlings which, as we know, circumnutate rapidly, are eminently sensitive; and we have seen the hypocotyl of Beta bending [page 568] upwards through 109o in 3 h. 8 m. The after-effects of apogeotropism last for above half an hour; and horizontally-laid hypocotyls are sometimes thus carried temporarily beyond an upright position. The benefits derived from geotropism, apogeotropism, and diageotropism, are generally so manifest that they need not be specified. With the flower-peduncles of Oxalis, epinasty causes them to bend down, so that the ripening pods may be protected by the calyx from the rain. Afterwards they are carried upwards by apogeotropism in combination with hyponasty, and are thus enabled to scatter their seeds over a wider space. The capsules and flower-heads of some plants are bowed downwards through geotropism, and they then bury themselves in the earth for the protection and slow maturation of the seeds. This burying process is much facilitated by the rocking movement due to circumnutation.

In the case of the radicles of several, probably of all seedling plants, sensitiveness to gravitation is confined to the tip, which transmits an influence to the adjoining upper part, causing it to bend towards the centre of the earth. That there is transmission of this kind was proved in an interesting manner when horizontally extended radicles of the bean were exposed to the attraction of gravity for 1 or 1 ½ h., and their tips were then amputated. Within this time no trace of curvature was exhibited, and the radicles were now placed pointing vertically downwards; but an influence had already been transmitted from the tip to the adjoining part, for it soon became bent to one side, in the same manner as would have occurred had the radicle remained horizontal and been still acted on by geotropism. Radicles thus treated continued to grow out horizontally for two or three days, until a new tip was [page 569] re-formed; and this was then acted on by geotropism, and the radicle became curved perpendicularly downwards.

It has now been shown that the following important classes of movement all arise from modified circumnutation, which is omnipresent whilst growth lasts, and after growth has ceased, whenever pulvini are present. These classes of movement consist of those due to epinasty and hyponasty,--those proper to climbing plants, commonly called revolving nutation,--the nyctitropic or sleep movements of leaves and cotyledons,--and the two immense classes of movement excited by light and gravitation. When we speak of modified circumnutation we mean that light, or the alternations of light and darkness, gravitation, slight pressure or other irritants, and certain innate or constitutional states of the plant, do not directly cause the movement; they merely lead to a temporary increase or diminution of those spontaneous changes in the turgescence of the cells which are already in progress. In what manner, light, gravitation, etc., act on the cells is not known; and we will here only remark that, if any stimulus affected the cells in such a manner as to cause some slight tendency in the affected part to bend in a beneficial manner, this tendency might easily be increased through the preservation of the more sensitive individuals. But if such bending were injurious, the tendency would be eliminated unless it was overpoweringly strong; for we know how commonly all characters in all organisms vary. Nor can we see any reason to doubt, that after the complete elimination of a tendency to bend in some one direction under a certain stimulus, the power to bend in a directly [page 570] opposite direction might gradually be acquired through natural selection.*

Although so many movements have arisen through modified circumnutation, there are others which appear to have had a quite independent origin; but they do not form such large and important classes. When a leaf of a Mimosa is touched it suddenly assumes the same position as when asleep, but Brucke has shown that this movement results from a different state of turgescence in the cells from that which occurs during sleep; and as sleep-movements are certainly due to modified circumnutation, those from a touch can hardly be thus due. The back of a leaf of Drosera rotundifolia was cemented to the summit of a stick driven into the ground, so that it could not move in the least, and a tentacle was observed during many hours under the microscope; but it exhibited no circumnutating movement, yet after being momentarily touched with a bit of raw meat, its basal part began to curve in 23 seconds. This curving movement therefore could not have resulted from modified circumnutation. But when a small object, such as a fragment of a bristle, was placed on one side of the tip of a radicle, which we know is continually circumnutating, the induced curvature was so similar to the movement caused by geotropism, that we can hardly doubt that it is due to modified circumnutation. A flower of a Mahonia was cemented to a stick, and the stamens exhibited no signs of circumnutation under the microscope, yet when they were lightly touched they suddenly moved towards the pistil. Lastly, the curling of the extremity of a tendril when

* See the remarks in Frank's 'Die wagerechte Richtung von Pflanzentheilen' (1870, pp. 90, 91, etc.), on natural selection in connection with geotropism, heliotropism, etc. [page 571]

touched seems to be independent of its revolving or circumnutating movement. This is best shown by the part which is the most sensitive to contact, circumnutating much less than the lower parts, or apparently not at all.*

Although in these cases we have no reason to believe that the movement depends on modified circumnutation, as with the several classes of movement described in this volume, yet the difference between the two sets of cases may not be so great as it at first appears. In the one set, an irritant causes an increase or diminution in the turgescence of the cells, which are already in a state of change; whilst in the other set, the irritant first starts a similar change in their state of turgescence. Why a touch, slight pressure or any other irritant, such as electricity, heat, or the absorption of animal matter, should modify the turgescence of the affected cells in such a manner as to cause movement, we do not know. But a touch acts in this manner so often, and on such widely distinct plants, that the tendency seems to be a very general one; and if beneficial, it might be increased to any extent. In other cases, a touch produces a very different effect, as with Nitella, in which the protoplasm may be seen to recede from the walls of the cell; in Lactuca, in which a milky fluid exudes; and in the tendrils of certain Vitaceae, Cucurbitaceae, and Bignoniaceae, in which slight pressure causes a cellular outgrowth.

Finally it is impossible not to be struck with the resemblance between the foregoing movements of plants and many of the actions performed unconsciously by the lower animals.** With plants an

* For the evidence on this head, see the 'Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants,' 1875, pp. 173, 174.

** Sachs remarks to nearly the same effect: "Dass sich die le- [[page 572]] bende Pflanzensubstanz derart innerlich differenzirt, dass einzelne Theile mit specifischen Energien ausgerüstet sind, ähnlich, wie die verschiedenen Sinnesnerven des Thiere" ('Arbeiten des Bot. Inst. in Würzburg,' Bd. ii. 1879, p. 282). [page 572]

astonishingly small stimulus suffices; and even with allied plants one may be highly sensitive to the slightest continued pressure, and another highly sensitive to a slight momentary touch. The habit of moving at certain periods is inherited both by plants and animals; and several other points


The Power of Movement in Plants - 90/98

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