Familiar Letters on Chemistry eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 119 pages of information about Familiar Letters on Chemistry.

If we admit these facts to be established, we can no longer doubt that a deficient produce of carbon, or in other words, the barrenness of a field does not depend upon carbonic acid, because we are able to increase the produce, to a certain degree, by a supply of substances which do not contain any carbon.  The same source whence the meadow and the forest are furnished with carbon, is also open to our cultivated plants.  The great object of agriculture, therefore, is to discover the means best adapted to enable these plants to assimilate the carbon of the atmosphere which exists in it as carbonic acid.  In furnishing plants, therefore, with mineral elements, we give them the power to appropriate carbon from a source which is inexhaustible; whilst in the absence of these elements the most abundant supply of carbonic acid, or of decaying vegetable matter, would not increase the produce of a field.

With an adequate and equal supply of these essential mineral constituents in the soil, the amount of carbonic acid absorbed by a plant from the atmosphere in a given time is limited by the quantity which is brought into contact with its organs of absorption.

The withdrawal of carbonic acid from the atmosphere by the vegetable organism takes place chiefly through its leaves; this absorption requires the contact of the carbonic acid with their surface, or with the part of the plant by which it is absorbed.

The quantity of carbonic acid absorbed in a given time is in direct proportion to the surface of the leaves and the amount of carbonic acid contained in the air; that is, two plants of the same kind and the same extent of surface of absorption, in equal times and under equal conditions, absorb one and the same amount of carbon.

In an atmosphere containing a double proportion of carbonic acid, a plant absorbs, under the same condition, twice the quantity of carbon.  Boussingault observed, that the leaves of the vine, inclosed in a vessel, withdrew all the carbonic acid from a current of air which was passed through it, however great its velocity. (Dumas Lecon, p.23.) If, therefore, we supply double the quantity of carbonic acid to one plant, the extent of the surface of which is only half that of another living in ordinary atmospheric air, the former will obtain and appropriate as much carbon as the latter.  Hence results the effects of humus, and all decaying organic substances, upon vegetation.  If we suppose all the conditions for the absorption of carbonic acid present, a young plant will increase in mass, in a limited time, only in proportion to its absorbing surface; but if we create in the soil a new source of carbonic acid, by decaying vegetable substances, and the roots absorb in the same time three times as much carbonic acid from the soil as the leaves derive from the atmosphere, the plant will increase in weight fourfold.  This fourfold increase extends to the leaves, buds, stalks, &c., and in the increased

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