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In this 1875 publication, Darwin details the multitude of experiments he conducted, along with many friends, colleagues, and his sons, on carnivorous plants with a special focus on the feeding mechanisms and the adaptations that enabled the plants to survive. This study of feeding flies to plants includes illustrations from Darwin and his sons.
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DROSERA ROTUNDIFOLIA, OR THE COMMON SUN-DEW.
Number of insects captured--Description of the leaves and their appendages or tentacles-- Preliminary sketch of the action of the various parts, and of the manner in which insects are captured--Duration of the inflection of the tentacles--Nature of the secretion--Manner in which insects are carried to the centre of the leaf--Evidence that the glands have the power of absorption--Small size of the roots.
During the summer of 1860, I was surprised by finding how large a number of insects were caught by the leaves of the common sun-dew (Drosera rotundifolia) on a heath in Sussex. I had heard that insects were thus caught, but knew nothing further on the subject.* I
* As Dr. Nitschke has given ('Bot. Zeitung,' 1860, p. 229) the bibliography of Drosera, I need not here go into details. Most of the notices published before 1860 are brief and unimportant. The oldest paper seems to have been one of the most valuable, namely, by Dr. Roth, in 1782. There is also an interesting though short account of the habits of Drosera by Dr. Milde, in the 'Bot. Zeitung,' 1852, p. 540. In 1855, in the 'Annales des Sc. nat. bot.' tom. iii. pp. 297 and 304, MM. Groenland and Trcul each published papers, with figures, on the structure of the leaves; but M. Trcul went so far as to doubt whether they possessed any power of movement. Dr. Nitschke's papers in the 'Bot. Zeitung' for 1860 and 1861 are by far the most important ones which have been published, both on the habits and structure of this plant; and I shall frequently have occasion to quote from them. His discussions on several points, for instance on the transmission of an excitement from one part of the leaf to another, are excellent. On December 11, 1862, Mr. J. Scott read a paper before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, [[page 2]] which was published in the 'Gardeners' Chronicle,' 1863, p. 30. Mr. Scott shows that gentle irritation of the hairs, as well as insects placed on the disc of the leaf, cause the hairs to bend inwards. Mr. A.W. Bennett also gave another interesting account of the movements of the leaves before the British Association for 1873. In this same year Dr. Warming published an essay, in which he describes the structure of the so-called hairs, entitled, "Sur la Diffrence entre les Trichomes," &c., extracted from the proceedings of the Soc. d'Hist. Nat. de Copenhague. I shall also have occasion hereafter to refer to a paper by Mrs. Treat, of New Jersey, on some American species of Drosera. Dr. Burdon Sanderson delivered a lecture on Dionaea, before the Royal Institution published in 'Nature,' June 14, 1874, in which a short account of my observations on the power of true digestion possessed by Drosera and Dionaea first appeared. Prof. Asa Gray has done good service by calling attention to Drosera, and to other plants having similar habits, in 'The Nation' (1874, pp. 261 and 232), and in other publications. Dr. Hooker, also, in his important address on Carnivorous Plants (Brit. Assoc., Belfast, 1874), has given a history of the subject. [page 2]
gathered by chance a dozen plants, bearing fifty-six fully expanded leaves, and on thirty-one of these dead insects or remnants of them adhered; and, no doubt, many more would have been caught afterwards by these same leaves, and still more by those as yet not expanded. On one plant all six leaves had caught their prey; and on several plants very many leaves had caught more than a single insect. On one large leaf I found the remains of thirteen distinct insects. Flies (Diptera) are captured much oftener than other insects. The largest kind which I have seen caught was a small butterfly (Caenonympha pamphilus); but the Rev. H.M. Wilkinson informs me that he found a large living dragon-fly with its body firmly held by two leaves. As this plant is extremely common in some districts, the number of insects thus annually slaughtered must be prodigious. Many plants cause the death of insects, for instance the sticky buds of the horse-chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), without thereby receiving, as far as we can perceive, any advantage; but it was soon evident that Drosera was [page 3] excellently adapted for the special purpose of catching insects, so that the subject seemed well worthy of investigation.
The results have proved highly remarkable; the more important ones being--firstly, the extraordinary
FIG. 1.* (Drosera rotundifolia.) Leaf viewed from above; enlarged four times.
sensitiveness of the glands to slight pressure and to minute doses of certain nitrogenous fluids, as shown by the movements of the so-called hairs or tentacles;
* The drawings of Drosera and Dionaea, given in this work, were made for me by my son George Darwin; those of Aldrovanda, and of the several species of Utricularia, by my son Francis. They have been excellently reproduced on wood by Mr. Cooper, 188 Strand. [page 4]
secondly, the power possessed by the leaves of rendering soluble or digesting nitrogenous substances, and of afterwards absorbing them; thirdly, the changes which take place within the cells of the tentacles, when the glands are excited in various ways.
It is necessary, in the first place, to describe briefly the plant. It bears from two or three to five or six leaves, generally extended more or less horizontally, but sometimes standing vertically upwards. The shape and general appearance of a leaf is shown, as seen from above, in fig. 1, and as seen laterally, in fig. 2. The leaves are commonly a little broader than long,
FIG. 2. (Drosera rotundifolia.) Old leaf viewed laterally; enlarged about five times.
but this was not the case in the one here figured. The whole upper surface is covered with gland-bearing filaments, or tentacles, as I shall call them, from their manner of acting. The glands were counted on thirty-one leaves, but many of these were of unusually large size, and the average number was 192; the greatest number being 260, and the least 130. The glands are each surrounded by large drops of extremely viscid secretion, which, glittering in the sun, have given rise to the plant's poetical name of the sun-dew.
[The tentacles on the central part of the leaf or disc are short and stand upright, and their pedicels are green. Towards the margin they become longer and longer and more inclined [page 5] outwards, with their pedicels of a purple colour. Those on the extreme margin project in the same plane with the leaf, or more commonly (see fig. 2) are considerably reflexed. A few tentacles spring from the base of the footstalk or petiole, and these are the longest of all, being sometimes nearly 1/4 of an inch in length. On a leaf bearing altogether 252 tentacles, the short ones on the disc, having green pedicels, were in number to the longer submarginal and marginal tentacles, having purple pedicels, as nine to sixteen.
A tentacle consists of a thin, straight, hair-like pedicel, carrying a gland on the summit. The pedicel is somewhat flattened, and is formed of several rows of elongated cells, filled with purple fluid or granular matter.* There is, however, a narrow zone close beneath the glands of the longer tentacles, and a broader zone near their bases, of a green tint. Spiral vessels, accompanied by simple vascular tissue, branch off from the vascular bundles in the blade of the leaf, and run up all the tentacles into the glands.
Several eminent physiologists have discussed the homological nature of these appendages or tentacles, that is, whether they ought to be considered as hairs (trichomes) or prolongations of the leaf. Nitschke has shown that they include all the elements proper to the blade of a leaf; and the fact of their including vascular tissue was formerly thought to prove that they were prolongations of the leaf, but it is now known that vessels sometimes enter true hairs. The power of movement which they possess is a strong argument against their being viewed as hairs. The conclusion which seems to me the most probable will be given in Chap. XV., namely that they existed primordially as glandular hairs, or mere epidermic formations, and that their upper part should still be so considered; but that their lower
* According to Nitschke ('Bot. Zeitung,' 1861, p. 224) the purple fluid results from the metamorphosis of chlorophyll. Mr. Sorby examined the colouring matter with the spectroscope, and informs me that it consists of the commonest species of erythrophyll, "which is often met with in leaves with low vitality, and in parts, like the petioles, which carry on leaf-functions in a very imperfect manner. All that can be said, therefore, is that the hairs (or tentacles) are coloured like parts of a leaf which do not fulfil their proper office."
Dr. Nitschke has discussed this subject in 'Bot. Zeitung,' 1861, p. 241 &c. See also Dr. Warming ('Sur la Diffrence entre les Trichomes' &c., 1873), who gives references to various publications. See also Groenland and Trcul 'Annal. des Sc. nat. bot.' (4th series), tom. iii. 1855, pp. 297 and 303. [page 6]
part, which alone is capable of movement, consists of a prolongation of the leaf; the spiral vessels being extended from this to the uppermost part. We shall hereafter see that the terminal tentacles of the divided leaves of Roridula are still in an intermediate condition.
The glands, with the exception of those borne by the extreme
FIG. 3. (Drosera rotundifolia.) Longitudinal section of a gland; greatly magnified. From Dr. Warming.
marginal tentacles, are oval, and of nearly uniform size, viz. about 4/500 of an inch in length. Their structure is remarkable, and their functions complex, for they secrete, absorb, and are acted on by various stimulants. They consist of an outer layer of small polygonal cells, containing purple granular matter or fluid, and with the walls thicker than those of the pedicels. [page 7] Within this layer of cells there is an inner one of differently shaped ones, likewise filled with purple fluid, but of a slightly different tint, and differently affected by chloride of gold. These two layers are sometimes well seen when a gland has been crushed or boiled in caustic potash. According to Dr. Warming, there is still another layer of much more elongated cells, as shown in the accompanying section (fig. 3) copied from his work; but these cells were not seen by Nitschke, nor by me. In the centre there is a group of elongated, cylindrical cells of unequal lengths, bluntly pointed at their upper ends, truncated or rounded at their lower ends, closely pressed together, and remarkable from being surrounded by a spiral line, which can be separated as a distinct fibre.
These latter cells are filled with limpid fluid, which after long immersion in alcohol deposits much brown matter. I presume that they are actually connected with the spiral vessels which run up the tentacles, for on several occasions the latter were seen to divide into two or three excessively thin branches, which could be traced close up to the spiriferous cells. Their development has been described by Dr. Warming. Cells of the same kind have been observed in other plants, as I hear from Dr. Hooker, and were seen by me in the margins of the leaves of Pinguicula. Whatever their function may be, they are not necessary for the secretion of a digestive fluid, or for absorption, or for the communication of a motor impulse to other parts of the leaf, as we may infer from the structure of the glands in some other genera of the Droseraceae.
The extreme marginal tentacles differ slightly from the others. Their bases are broader, and besides their own vessels, they receive a fine branch from those which enter the tentacles on each side. Their glands are much elongated, and lie embedded on the upper surface of the pedicel, instead of standing at the apex. In other respects they do not differ essentially from the oval ones, and in one specimen I found every possible transition between the two states. In another specimen there were no long-headed glands. These marginal tentacles lose their irritability earlier than the others; and when a stimulus is applied to the centre of the leaf, they are excited into action after the others. When cut-off leaves are immersed in water, they alone often become inflected.
The purple fluid or granular matter which fills the cells of the glands differs to a certain extent from that within the cells of the pedicels. For when a leaf is placed in hot water or in certain acids, the glands become quite white and opaque, whereas [page 8] the cells of the pedicels are rendered of a bright red, with the exception of those close beneath the glands. These latter cells lose their pale red tint; and the green matter which they, as well as the basal cells, contain, becomes of a brighter green. The petioles bear many multicellular hairs, some of which near the blade are surmounted, according to Nitschke, by a few rounded cells, which appear to be rudimentary glands. Both surfaces of the leaf, the pedicels of the tentacles, especially the lower sides of the outer ones, and the petioles, are studded with minute papillae (hairs or trichomes), having a conical basis, and bearing on their summits two, and occasionally three or even four, rounded cells, containing much protoplasm. These papillae are generally colourless, but sometimes include a little purple fluid. They vary in development, and graduate, as Nitschke* states, and as I repeatedly observed, into the long multicellular hairs. The latter, as well as the papillae, are probably rudiments of formerly existing tentacles.
I may here add, in order not to recur to the papillae, that they do not secrete, but are easily permeated by various fluids: thus when living or dead leaves are immersed in a solution of one part of chloride of gold, or of nitrate of silver, to 437 of water, they are quickly blackened, and the discoloration soon spreads to the surrounding tissue. The long multicellular hairs are not so quickly affected. After a leaf had been left in a weak infusion of raw meat for 10 hours, the cells of the papillae had evidently absorbed animal matter, for instead of limpid fluid they now contained small aggregated masses of protoplasm, which slowly and incessantly changed their forms. A similar result followed from an immersion of only 15 minutes in a solution of one part of carbonate of ammonia to 218 of water, and the adjoining cells of the tentacles, on which the papillae were seated, now likewise contained aggregated masses of protoplasm. We may therefore conclude that when a leaf has closely clasped a captured insect in the manner immediately to be described, the papillae, which project from the upper surface of the leaf and of the tentacles, probably absorb some of the animal matter dissolved in the secretion; but this cannot be the case with the papillae on the backs of the leaves or on the petioles.]
* Nitschke has elaborately described and figured these papillae, 'Bot. Zeitung,' 1861, pp. 234, 253, 254. [page 9]
Preliminary Sketch of the Action of the several Parts, and of the Manner in which Insects are Captured.
If a small organic or inorganic object be placed on the glands in the centre of a leaf, these transmit a motor impulse to the marginal tentacles. The nearer ones are first affected and slowly bend towards the centre, and then those farther off, until at last all become closely inflected over the object. This takes place in from one hour to four or five or more hours. The difference in the time required depends on many circumstances; namely on the size of the object and on its nature, that is, whether it contains soluble matter of the proper kind; on the vigour and age of the leaf; whether it has lately been in action; and, according to Nitschke,* on the temperature of the day, as likewise seemed to me to be the case. A living insect is a more efficient object than a dead one, as in struggling it presses against the glands of many tentacles. An insect, such as a fly, with thin integuments, through which animal matter in solution can readily pass into the surrounding dense secretion, is more efficient in causing prolonged inflection than an insect with a thick coat, such as a beetle. The inflection of the tentacles takes place indifferently in the light and darkness; and the plant is not subject to any nocturnal movement of so-called sleep.
If the glands on the disc are repeatedly touched or brushed, although no object is left on them, the marginal tentacles curve inwards. So again, if drops of various fluids, for instance of saliva or of a solution of any salt of ammonia, are placed on the central glands, the same result quickly follows, sometimes in under half an hour.
* 'Bot. Zeitung,' 1860, p. 246. [page 10]
The tentacles in the act of inflection sweep through a wide space; thus a marginal tentacle, extended in the same plane with the blade, moves through an angle of 180o; and I have seen the much reflected tentacles of a leaf which stood upright move through an angle of not less than 270o. The bending part is almost confined to a short space near the base; but a rather larger portion of the elongated exterior tentacles
FIG. 4. (Drosera rotundifolia.) Leaf (enlarged) with all the tentacles closely inflected, from immersion in a solution of phosphate of ammonia (one part to 87,500 of water.)
FIG. 5. (Drosera rotundifolia.) Leaf (enlarged) with the tentacles on one side inflected over a bit of meat placed on the disc.
becomes slightly incurved; the distal half in all cases remaining straight. The short tentacles in the centre of the disc when directly excited, do not become inflected; but they are capable of inflection if excited by a motor impulse received from other glands at a distance. Thus, if a leaf is immersed in an infusion of raw meat, or in a weak solution of ammonia (if the [page 11] solution is at all strong, the leaf is paralysed), all the exterior tentacles bend inwards (see fig. 4), excepting those near the centre, which remain upright; but these bend towards any exciting object placed on one side of the disc, as shown in fig. 5. The glands in fig. 4 may be seen to form a dark ring round the centre; and this follows from the exterior tentacles increasing in length in due proportion, as they stand nearer to the circumference.
The kind of inflection which the tentacles undergo is best shown when the gland of one of the long exterior
FIG. 6. (Drosera rotundifolia.) Diagram showing one of the exterior tentacles closely inflected; the two adjoining ones in their ordinary position.)
tentacles is in any way excited; for the surrounding ones remain unaffected. In the accompanying outline (fig. 6) we see one tentacle, on which a particle of meat had been placed, thus bent towards the centre of the leaf, with two others retaining their original position. A gland may be excited by being simply touched three or four times, or by prolonged contact with organic or inorganic objects, and various fluids. I have distinctly seen, through a lens, a tentacle beginning to bend in ten seconds, after an object had been [page 12] placed on its gland; and I have often seen strongly pronounced inflection in under one minute. It is surprising how minute a particle of any substance, such as a bit of thread or hair or splinter of glass, if placed in actual contact with the surface of a gland, suffices to cause the tentacle to bend. If the object, which has been carried by this movement to the centre, be not very small, or if it contains soluble nitrogenous matter, it acts on the central glands; and these transmit a motor impulse to the exterior tentacles, causing them to bend inwards.
Not only the tentacles, but the blade of the leaf often, but by no means always, becomes much incurved, when any strongly exciting substance or fluid is placed on the disc. Drops of milk and of a solution of nitrate of ammonia or soda are particularly apt to produce this effect. The blade is thus converted into a little cup. The manner in which it bends varies greatly. Sometimes the apex alone, sometimes one side, and sometimes both sides, become incurved. For instance, I placed bits of hard-boiled egg on three leaves; one had the apex bent towards the base; the second had both distal margins much incurved, so that it became almost triangular in outline, and this perhaps is the commonest case; whilst the third blade was not at all affected, though the tentacles were as closely inflected as in the two previous cases. The whole blade also generally rises or bends upwards, and thus forms a smaller angle with the footstalk than it did before. This appears at first sight a distinct kind of movement, but it results from the incurvation of that part of the margin which is attached to the footstalk, causing the blade, as a whole, to curve or move upwards.
The length of time during which the tentacles as [page 13] well as the blade remain inflected over an object placed on the disc, depends on various circumstances; namely on the vigour and age of the leaf, and, according to Dr. Nitschke, on the temperature, for during cold weather when the leaves are inactive, they re-expand at an earlier period than when the weather is warm. But the nature of the object is by far the most important circumstance; I have repeatedly found that the tentacles remain clasped for a much longer average time over objects which yield soluble nitrogenous matter than over those, whether organic or inorganic, which yield no such matter. After a period varying from one to seven days, the tentacles and blade re-expand, and are then ready to act again. I have seen the same leaf inflected three successive times over insects placed on the disc; and it would probably have acted a greater number of times.
The secretion from the glands is extremely viscid, so that it can be drawn out into long threads. It appears colourless, but stains little balls of paper pale pink. An object of any kind placed on a gland always causes it, as I believe, to secrete more freely; but the mere presence of the object renders this difficult to ascertain. In some cases, however, the effect was strongly marked, as when particles of sugar were added; but the result in this case is probably due merely to exosmose. Particles of carbonate and phosphate of ammonia and of some other salts, for instance sulphate of zinc, likewise increase the secretion. Immersion in a solution of one part of chloride of gold, or of some other salts, to 437 of water, excites the glands to largely increased secretion; on the other hand, tartrate of antimony produces no such effect. Immersion in many acids (of the strength of one part to 437 of water) likewise causes a wonderful amount of [page 14] secretion, so that when the leaves are lifted out, long ropes of extremely viscid fluid hang from them. Some acids, on the other hand, do not act in this manner. Increased secretion is not necessarily dependent on the inflection of the tentacle, for particles of sugar and of sulphate of zinc cause no movement.
It is a much more remarkable fact that when an object, such as a bit of meat or an insect, is placed on the disc of a leaf, as soon as the surrounding tentacles become considerably inflected, their glands pour forth an increased amount of secretion. I ascertained this by selecting leaves with equal-sized drops on the two sides, and by placing bits of meat on one side of the disc; and as soon as the tentacles on this side became much inflected, but before the glands touched the meat, the drops of secretion became larger. This was repeatedly observed, but a record was kept of only thirteen cases, in nine of which increased secretion was plainly observed; the four failures being due either to the leaves being rather torpid, or to the bits of meat being too small to cause much inflection. We must therefore conclude that the central glands, when strongly excited, transmit some influence to the glands of the circumferential tentacles, causing them to secrete more copiously.
It is a still more important fact (as we shall see more fully when we treat of the digestive power of the secretion) that when the tentacles become inflected, owing to the central glands having been stimulated mechanically, or by contact with animal matter, the secretion not only increases in quantity, but changes its nature and becomes acid; and this occurs before the glands have touched the object on the centre of the leaf. This acid is of a different nature from that contained in the tissue of the leaves. As long as the [page 15] tentacles remain closely inflected, the glands continue to secrete, and the secretion is acid; so that, if neutralised by carbonate of soda, it again becomes acid after a few hours. I have observed the same leaf with the tentacles closely inflected over rather indigestible substances, such as chemically prepared casein, pouring forth acid secretion for eight successive days, and over bits of bone for ten successive days.
The secretion seems to possess, like the gastric juice of the higher animals, some antiseptic power. During very warm weather I placed close together two equal-sized bits of raw meat, one on a leaf of the Drosera, and the other surrounded by wet moss. They were thus left for 48 hrs., and then examined. The bit on the moss swarmed with infusoria, and was so much decayed that the transverse striae on the muscular fibres could no longer be clearly distinguished; whilst the bit on the leaf, which was bathed by the secretion, was free from infusoria, and its striae were perfectly distinct in the central and undissolved portion. In like manner small cubes of albumen and cheese placed on wet moss became threaded with filaments of mould, and had their surfaces slightly discoloured and disintegrated; whilst those on the leaves of Drosera remained clean, the albumen being changed into transparent fluid.
As soon as tentacles, which have remained closely inflected during several days over an object, begin to re-expand, their glands secrete less freely, or cease to secrete, and are left dry. In this state they are covered with a film of whitish, semi-fibrous matter, which was held in solution by the secretion. The drying of the glands during the act of re-expansion is of some little service to the plant; for I have often observed that objects adhering to the leaves [page 16] could then be blown away by a breath of air; the leaves being thus left unencumbered and free for future action. Nevertheless, it often happens that all the glands do not become completely dry; and in this case delicate objects, such as fragile insects, are sometimes torn by the re-expansion of the tentacles into fragments, which remain scattered all over the leaf. After the re-expansion is complete, the glands quickly begin to re-secrete, and as soon as full-sized drops are formed, the tentacles are ready to clasp a new object.
When an insect alights on the central disc, it is instantly entangled by the viscid secretion, and the surrounding tentacles after a time begin to bend, and ultimately clasp it on all sides. Insects are generally killed, according to Dr. Nitschke, in about a quarter of an hour, owing to their tracheae being closed by the secretion. If an insect adheres to only a few of the glands of the exterior tentacles, these soon become inflected and carry their prey to the tentacles next succeeding them inwards; these then bend inwards, and so onwards; until 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]
THE MOVEMENTS OF THE TENTACLES FROM THE CONTACT OF SOLID BODIES.
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 exceptions apparently depended on the leaf having been too recently in action, that the tentacles remain clasped for a much longer time over organic bodies of the nature just specified than over those which are not acted on by the secretion, or over inorganic objects.*
* Owing to the extraordinary belief held by M. Ziegler ('Comptes rendus,' May 1872, p. 122), that albuminous substances, if held for a moment between the fingers, acquire the property of making the tentacles of Drosera contract, whereas, if not thus held, they have no such power, I tried some experiments with great care, but the results did not confirm this belief. Red-hot cinders were taken out of the fire, and bits of glass, cotton-thread, blotting paper and thin slices of cork were immersed in boiling water; and particles were then placed (every instrument with which they were touched having been previously immersed in boiling water) on the glands of several leaves, and they acted in exactly the same manner as other particles, which had been purposely handled for some time. Bits of a boiled egg, cut with a knife which had been washed in boiling water, also acted like any other animal substance. I breathed on some leaves for above a minute, and repeated the act two or three times, with my mouth close to [[page 24]] them, but this produced no effect. I may here add, as showing that the leaves are not acted on by the odour of nitrogenous substances, that pieces of raw meat stuck on needles were fixed as close as possible, without actual contact, to several leaves, but produced no effect whatever. On the other hand, as we shall hereafter see, the vapours of certain volatile substances and fluids, such as of carbonate of ammonia, chloroform, certain essential oils, &c., cause inflection. M. Ziegler makes still more extraordinary statements with respect to the power of animal substances, which have been left close to, but not in contact with, sulphate of quinine. The action of salts of quinine will be described in a future chapter. Since the appearance of the paper above referred to, M. Ziegler has published a book on the same subject, entitled 'Atonicit et Zoicit,' 1874.) [page 24]
The Inflection of the Exterior Tentacles as directly caused by Objects left in Contact with their Glands.
I made a vast number of trials by placing, by means of a fine needle moistened with distilled water, and with the aid of a lens, particles of various substances on the viscid secretion surrounding the glands of the outer tentacles. I experimented on both the oval and long-headed glands. When a particle is thus placed on a single gland, the movement of the tentacle is particularly well seen in contrast with the stationary condition of the surrounding tentacles. (See previous fig. 6.) In four cases small particles of raw meat caused the tentacles to be greatly inflected in between 5 and 6 m. Another tentacle similarly treated, and observed with special care, distinctly, though slightly, changed its position in 10 s. (seconds); and this is the quickest movement seen by me. In 2 m. 30 s. it had moved through an angle of about 45o. The movement as seen through a lens resembled that of the hand of a large clock. In 5 m. it had moved through 90o, and when I looked again after 10 m., the particle had reached the centre of the leaf; so that the whole movement was completed in less [page 25] than 17 m. 30 s. In the course of some hours this minute bit of meat, from having been brought into contact with some of the glands of the central disc, acted centrifugally on the outer tentacles, which all became closely inflected. Fragments of flies were placed on the glands of four of the outer tentacles, extended in the same plane with that of the blade, and three of these fragments were carried in 35 m. through an angle of 180o to the centre. The fragment on the fourth tentacle was very minute, and it was not carried to the centre until 3 hrs. had elapsed. In three other cases minute flies or portions of larger ones were carried to the centre in 1 hr. 30 s. In these seven cases, the fragments or small flies, which had been carried by a single tentacle to the central glands, were well embraced by the other tentacles after an interval of from 4 to 10 hrs.
I also placed in the manner just described six small balls of writing-paper (rolled up by the aid of pincers, so that they were not touched by my fingers) on the glands of six exterior tentacles on distinct leaves; three of these were carried to the centre in about 1 hr., and the other three in rather more than 4 hrs.; but after 24 hrs. only two of the six balls were well embraced by the other tentacles. It is possible that the secretion may have dissolved a trace of glue or animalised matter from the balls of paper. Four particles of coal-cinder were then placed on the glands of four exterior tentacles; one of these reached the centre in 3 hrs. 40 m.; the second in 9 hrs.; the third within 24 hrs., but had moved only part of the way in 9 hrs.; whilst the fourth moved only a very short distance in 24 hrs., and never moved any farther. Of the above three bits of cinder which were ultimately carried to the centre, one alone was well embraced by [page 26] many of the other tentacles. We here see clearly that such bodies as particles of cinder or little balls of paper, after being carried by the tentacles to the central glands, act very differently from fragments of flies, in causing the movement of the surrounding tentacles.
I made, without carefully recording the times of movement, many similar trials with other substances, such as splinters of white and blue glass, particles of cork, minute bits of gold-leaf, &c.; and the proportional number of cases varied much in which the tentacles reached the centre, or moved only slightly, or not at all. One evening, particles of glass and cork, rather larger than those usually employed, were placed on about a dozen glands, and next morning, after 13 hrs., every single tentacle had carried its little load to the centre; but the unusually large size of the particles will account for this result. In another case 6/7 of the particles of cinder, glass, and thread, placed on separate glands, were carried towards, or actually to, the centre; in another case 7/9, in another 7/12, and in the last case only 7/26 were thus carried inwards, the small proportion being here due, at least in part, to the leaves being rather old and inactive. Occasionally a gland, with its light load, could be seen through a strong lens to move an extremely short distance and then stop; this was especially apt to occur when excessively minute particles, much less than those of which the measurements will be immediately given, were placed on glands; so that we here have nearly the limit of any action.
I was so much surprised at the smallness of the particles which caused the tentacles to become greatly inflected that it seemed worth while carefully to ascertain how minute a particle would plainly act. [page 27] Accordingly measured lengths of a narrow strip of blotting paper, of fine cotton-thread, and of a woman's hair, were carefully weighed for me by Mr. Trenham Reeks, in an excellent balance, in the laboratory in Jermyn Street. Short bits of the paper, thread, and hair were then cut off and measured by a micrometer, so that their weights could be easily calculated. The bits were placed on the viscid secretion surrounding the glands of the exterior tentacles, with the precautions already stated, and I am certain that the gland itself was never touched; nor indeed would a single touch have produced any effect. A bit of the blotting-paper, weighing 1/465 of a grain, was placed so as to rest on three glands together, and all three tentacles slowly curved inwards; each gland, therefore, supposing the weight to be distributed equally, could have been pressed on by only 1/1395 of a grain, or .0464 of a milligramme. Five nearly equal bits of cotton-thread were tried, and all acted. The shortest of these was 1/50 of an inch in length, and weighed 1/8197 of a grain. The tentacle in this case was considerably inflected in 1 hr. 30 m., and the bit of thread was carried to the centre of the leaf in 1 hr. 40 m. Again, two particles of the thinner end of a woman's hair, one of these being 18/1000 of an inch in length, and weighing 1/35714 of a grain, the other 19/1000 of an inch in length, and weighing of course a little more, were placed on two glands on opposite sides of the same leaf, and these two tentacles were inflected halfway towards the centre in 1 hr. 10 m.; all the many other tentacles round the same leaf remaining motionless. The appearance of this one leaf showed in an unequivocal manner that these minute particles sufficed to cause the tentacles to bend. Altogether, ten such particles of hair were placed on ten glands on several leaves, and seven of them caused [page 28] the tentacles to move in a conspicuous manner. The smallest particle which was tried, and which acted plainly, was only 8/1000 of an inch (.203 millimetre) in length, and weighed the 1/78740 of a grain, or .000822 milligramme. In these several cases, not only was the inflection of the tentacles conspicuous, but the purple fluid within their cells became aggregated into little masses of protoplasm, in the manner to be described in the next chapter; and the aggregation was so plain that I could, by this clue alone, have readily picked out under the microscope all the tentacles which had carried their light loads towards the centre, from the hundreds of other tentacles on the same leaves which had not thus acted.
My surprise was greatly excited, not only by the minuteness of the particles which caused movement, but how they could possibly act on the glands; for it must be remembered that they were laid with the greatest care on the convex surface of the secretion. At first I thought--but, as I now know, erroneously--that particles of such low specific gravity as those of cork, thread, and paper, would never come into contact with the surfaces of the glands. The particles cannot act simply by their weight being added to that of the secretion, for small drops of water, many times heavier than the particles, were repeatedly added, and never produced any effect. Nor does the disturbance of the secretion produce any effect, for long threads were drawn out by a needle, and affixed to some adjoining object, and thus left for hours; but the tentacles remained motionless.
I also carefully removed the secretion from four glands with a sharply pointed piece of blotting-paper, so that they were exposed for a time naked to the air, but this caused no movement; yet these glands were [page 29] in an efficient state, for after 24 hrs. had elapsed, they were tried with bits of meat, and all became quickly inflected. It then occurred to me that particles floating on the secretion would cast shadows on the glands, which might be sensitive to the interception of the light. Although this seemed highly improbable, as minute and thin splinters of colourless glass acted powerfully, nevertheless, after it was dark, I put on, by the aid of a single tallow candle, as quickly as possible, particles of cork and glass on the glands of a dozen tentacles, as well as some of meat on other glands, and covered them up so that not a ray of light could enter; but by the next morning, after an interval of 13 hrs., all the particles were carried to the centres of the leaves.
These negative results led me to try many more experiments, by placing particles on the surface of the drops of secretion, observing, as carefully as I could, whether they penetrated it and touched the surface of the glands. The secretion, from its weight, generally forms a thicker layer on the under than on the upper sides of the glands, whatever may be the position of the tentacles. Minute bits of dry cork, thread, blotting paper, and coal cinders were tried, such as those previously employed; and I now observed that they absorbed much more of the secretion, in the course of a few minutes, than I should have thought possible; and as they had been laid on the upper surface of the secretion, where it is thinnest, they were often drawn down, after a time, into contact with at least some one point of the gland. With respect to the minute splinters of glass and particles of hair, I observed that the secretion slowly spread itself a little over their surfaces, by which means they were likewise drawn downwards or sideways, and thus one end, or some minute [page 30] prominence, often came to touch, sooner or later, the gland.
In the foregoing and following cases, it is probable that the vibrations, to which the furniture in every room is continually liable, aids in bringing the particles into contact with the glands. But as it was sometimes difficult, owing to the refraction of the secretion, to feel sure whether the particles were in contact, I tried the following experiment. Unusually minute particles of glass, hair, and cork, were gently placed on the drops round several glands, and very few of the tentacles moved. Those which were not affected were left for about half an hour, and the particles were then disturbed or tilted up several times with a fine needle under the microscope, the glands not being touched. And now in the course of a few minutes almost all the hitherto motionless tentacles began to move; and this, no doubt, was caused by one end or some prominence of the particles having come into contact with the surface of the glands. But as the particles were unusually minute, the movement was small.
Lastly, some dark blue glass pounded into fine splinters was used, in order that the points of the particles might be better distinguished when immersed in the secretion; and thirteen such particles were placed in contact with the depending and therefore thicker part of the drops round so many glands. Five of the tentacles began moving after an interval of a few minutes, and in these cases I clearly saw that the particles touched the lower surface of the gland. A sixth tentacle moved after 1 hr. 45 m., and the particle was now in contact with the gland, which was not the case at first. So it was with the seventh tentacle, but its movement did not begin until 3 hrs. 45 m. had [page 31] elapsed. The remaining six tentacles never moved as long as they were observed; and the particles apparently never came into contact with the surfaces of the glands.
From these experiments we learn that particles not containing soluble matter, when placed on glands, often cause the tentacles to begin bending in the course of from one to five minutes; and that in such cases the particles have been from the first in contact with the surfaces of the glands. When the tentacles do not begin moving for a much longer time, namely, from half an hour to three or four hours, the particles have been slowly brought into contact with the glands, either by the secretion being absorbed by the particles or by its gradual spreading over them, together with its consequent quicker evaporation. When the tentacles do not move at all, the particles have never come into contact with the glands, or in some cases the tentacles may not have been in an active condition. In order to excite movement, it is indispensable that the particles should actually rest on the glands; for a touch once, twice, or even thrice repeated by any hard body is not sufficient to excite movement.
Another experiment, showing that extremely minute particles act on the glands when immersed in water, may here be given. A grain of sulphate of quinine was added to an ounce of water, which was not afterwards filtered; and on placing three leaves in ninety minims of this fluid, I was much surprised to find that all three leaves were greatly inflected in 15 m.; for I knew from previous trials that the solution does not act so quickly as this. It immediately occurred to me that the particles of the undissolved salt, which were so light as to float about, might have come [page 32] into contact with the glands, and caused this rapid movement. Accordingly I added to some distilled water a pinch of a quite innocent substance, namely, precipitated carbonate of lime, which consists of an impalpable powder; I shook the mixture, and thus got a fluid like thin milk. Two leaves were immersed in it, and in 6 m. almost every tentacle was much inflected. I placed one of these leaves under the microscope, and saw innumerable atoms of lime adhering to the external surface of the secretion. Some, however, had penetrated it, and were lying on the surfaces of the glands; and no doubt it was these particles which caused the tentacles to bend. When a leaf is immersed in water, the secretion instantly swells much; and I presume that it is ruptured here and there, so that little eddies of water rush in. If so, we can understand how the atoms of chalk, which rested on the surfaces of the glands, had penetrated the secretion. Anyone who has rubbed precipitated chalk between his fingers will have perceived how excessively fine the powder is. No doubt there must be a limit, beyond which a particle would be too small to act on a gland; but what this limit is, I know not. I have often seen fibres and dust, which had fallen from the air, on the glands of plants kept in my room, and these never induced any movement; but then such particles lay on the surface of the secretion and never reached the gland itself.
Finally, it is an extraordinary fact that a little bit of soft thread, 1/50 of an inch in length and weighing 1/8197 of a grain, or of a human hair, 8/1000 of an inch in length and weighing only 1/78740 of a grain (.000822 milligramme), or particles of precipitated chalk, after resting for a short time on a gland, should induce some change in its cells, exciting them [page 33] to transmit a motor impulse throughout the whole length of the pedicel, consisting of about twenty cells, to near its base, causing this part to bend, and the tentacle to sweep through an angle of above 180o. That the contents of the cells of the glands, and afterwards those of the pedicels, are affected in a plainly visible manner by the pressure of minute particles, we shall have abundant evidence when we treat of the aggregation of protoplasm. But the case is much more remarkable than as yet stated; for the particles are supported by the viscid and dense secretion; nevertheless, even smaller ones than those of which the measurements have been given, when brought by an insensibly slow movement, through the means above specified, into contact with the surface of a gland, act on it, and the tentacle bends. The pressure exerted by the particle of hair, weighing only 1/78740 of a grain and supported by a dense fluid, must have been inconceivably slight. We may conjecture that it could hardly have equalled the millionth of a grain; and we shall hereafter see that far less than the millionth of a grain of phosphate of ammonia in solution, when absorbed by a gland, acts on it and induces movement. A bit of hair, 1/50 of an inch in length, and therefore much larger than those used in the above experiments, was not perceived when placed on my tongue; and it is extremely doubtful whether any nerve in the human body, even if in an inflamed condition, would be in any way affected by such a particle supported in a dense fluid, and slowly brought into contact with the nerve. Yet the cells of the glands of Drosera are thus excited to transmit a motor impulse to a distant point, inducing movement. It appears to me that hardly any more remarkable fact than this has been observed in the vegetable kingdom. [page 34]
The Inflection of the Exterior Tentacles, when their Glands are excited by Repeated Touches.
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