Darwiniana; Essays and Reviews Pertaining to Darwinism eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 379 pages of information about Darwiniana; Essays and Reviews Pertaining to Darwinism.
On the other hand, there are plants—­microscopic, indeed, but unquestionable—­which move spontaneously and freely around and among animals that are fixed and rooted.  And, to come without further parley to the matter in hand, while the majority of animals feed directly upon plants, “for ’tis their nature to,” there are plants which turn the tables and feed upon them.  Some, being parasitic upon living animals, feed insidiously and furtively; these, although really cases in point, are not so extraordinary, and, as they belong to the lower orders, they are not much regarded, except for the harm they do.  There are others, and those of the highest orders, which lure or entrap animals in ways which may well excite our special wonder—­all the more so since we are now led to conclude that they not only capture but consume their prey.

As respects the two or three most notable instances, the conclusions which have been reached are among the very recent acquisitions of physiological science.  Curiously enough, however, now that they are made out, it appears that they were in good part long ago attained, recorded, and mainly forgotten.  The earlier observations and surmises shared the common fate of discoveries made before the time, or by those who were not sagacious enough to bring out their full meaning or importance.  Vegetable morphology, dimly apprehended by Linnaeus, initiated by Casper Frederick Wolff, and again, independently in successive generations, by Goethe and by De Candolle, offers a parallel instance.  The botanists of Goethe’s day could not see any sense, advantage, or practical application, to be made of the proposition that the parts of a blossom answer to leaves; and so the study of homologies had long to wait.  Until lately it appeared to be of no consequence whatever (except, perhaps, to the insects) whether Drosera and Sarracenia caught flies or not; and even Dionaea excited only unreflecting wonder as a vegetable anomaly.  As if there were real anomalies in Nature, and some one plant possessed extraordinary powers denied to all others, and (as was supposed) of no importance to itself!

That most expert of fly-catchers, Dionaea, of which so much has been written and so little known until lately, came very near revealing its secret to Solander and Ellis a hundred years ago, and doubtless to John Bartram, our botanical pioneer, its C probable discoverer, who sent it to Europe.  Ellis, in his published letter to Linnaeus, with which the history begins, described the structure and action of the living trap correctly; noticed that the irritability which called forth the quick movement closing the trap, entirely resided in the few small bristles of its upper face; that this whole surface was studded C with glands, which probably secreted a liquid; and that the trap did not open again when an insect was captured, even upon the death of the captive, although it opened very soon when nothing was caught, or when the irritation

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