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Darwinism Stated by Darwin Himself: Characteristic Passages From the Writings of Charles Darwin

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
The most widely prevalent movement is essentially of the same nature as that of the stem of a climbing plant, which bends successively to all points of the compass, so that the tip revolves. This movement has been called by Sachs “revolving nutation”; but we have found it much more convenient to use the terms circumnutation and circumnutate. As we shall have to say much about this movement, it will be useful here briefly to describe its nature. If we observe a circumnutating stem, which happens at the time to be bent, we will say toward the north, it will be found gradually to bend more and more easterly, until it faces the east; and so onward to the south, then to the west, and back again to the north. If the movement had been quite regular, the apex would have described a circle, or rather, as the stem is always growing upward, a circular spiral. But it generally describes irregular elliptical or oval figures; for the apex, after pointing in any one direction, commonly moves back to the opposite side, not, however, returning along the same line. Afterward other irregular ellipses or ovals are successively described, with their longer axes directed to different points of the compass. While describing such figures, the apex often travels in a zigzag line, or makes small subordinate loops or triangles. In the case of leaves the ellipses are generally narrow. Even the stems of seedlings before they have broken through the ground, as well as their buried radicles, circumnutate, as far as the pressure of the surrounding earth permits. In this universally present movement we have the basis or groundwork for the acquirement, according to the requirements of the plant, of the most diversified movements. The most interesting point in the natural history of climbing plants is the various kinds of movement which they display in manifest relation to their wants. The most different organs—stems, branches, flower-peduncles, petioles, mid-ribs of the leaf and leaflets, and apparently aërial roots—all possess this power. The first action of a tendril is to place itself in a proper position. For instance, the tendril of Cobæa first rises vertically up, with its branches divergent and with the terminal hooks turned outward; the young shoot at the extremity of the stem is at the same time bent to one side, so as to be out of the way. The young leaves of clematis, on the other hand, prepare for action by temporarily curving themselves downward, so as to serve as grapnels. If a twining plant or a tendril gets by any accident into an inclined position, it soon bends upward, thoughsecluded from the light. The guiding stimulus no doubt is the attraction of gravity, as Andrew Knight showed to be the case with germinating plants. If a shoot of any ordinary plant be placed in an inclined position in a glass of water in the dark, the extremity will, in a few hours, bend upward; and, if the position of the shoot be then reversed, the downward-bent shoot reverses its curvature; but if the stolon of a strawberry, which has no tendency to grow upward, be thus treated, it will curve downward in the direction of, instead of in opposition to, the force of gravity. As with the strawberry, so it is generally with the twining shoots of the Hibbertia dentata, which climbs laterally from bush to bush; for these shoots, if placed in a position inclined downward, show little and sometimes no tendency to curve upward. Climbing plants, like other plants, bend toward the light by a movement closely analogous to the incurvation which causes them to revolve, so that their revolving movement is often accelerated or retarded in traveling to or from the light. On the other hand, in a few instances tendrils bend toward the dark.