Insectivorous Plants eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 462 pages of information about Insectivorous Plants.

When a gland is strongly excited by the quantity or quality of the substance placed on it, the motor impulse travels farther than from one slightly excited; and if several glands are simultaneously excited, the impulses from all unite and spread still farther.  As soon as a gland is excited, it discharges an impulse which extends to a considerable distance; but afterwards, whilst the gland is secreting and absorbing, the impulse suffices only to keep the same tentacle [page 276] inflected; though the inflection may last for many days.

If the bending place of a tentacle receives an impulse from its own gland, the movement is always towards the centre of the leaf; and so it is with all the tentacles, when their glands are excited by immersion in a proper fluid.  The short ones in the middle part of the disc must be excepted, as these do not bend at all when thus excited.  On the other hand, when the motor impulse comes from one side of the disc, the surrounding tentacles, including the short ones in the middle of the disc, all bend with precision towards the point of excitement, wherever this may be seated.  This is in every way a remarkable phenomenon; for the leaf falsely appears as if endowed with the senses of an animal.  It is all the more remarkable, as when the motor impulse strikes the base of a tentacle obliquely with respect to its flattened surface, the contraction of the cells must be confined to one, two, or a very few rows at one end.  And different sides of the surrounding tentacles must be acted on, in order that all should bend with precision to the point of excitement.

The motor impulse, as it spreads from one or more glands across the disc, enters the bases of the surrounding tentacles, and immediately acts on the bending place.  It does not in the first place proceed up the tentacles to the glands, exciting them to reflect back an impulse to their bases.  Nevertheless, some influence is sent up to the glands, as their secretion is soon increased and rendered acid; and then the glands, being thus excited, send back some other influence (not dependent on increased secretion, nor on the inflection of the tentacles), causing the protoplasm to aggregate in cell beneath cell.  This may [page 277] be called a reflex action, though probably very different from that proceeding from the nerve-ganglion of an animal; and it is the only known case of reflex action in the vegetable kingdom.

About the mechanism of the movements and the nature of the motor impulse we know very little.  During the act of inflection fluid certainly travels from one part to another of the tentacles.  But the hypothesis which agrees best with the observed facts is that the motor impulse is allied in nature to the aggregating process; and that this causes the molecules of the cell-walls to approach each other, in the same manner as do the molecules of the protoplasm within the cells; so that the cell-walls contract.  But some strong objections may be urged against this view.  The re-expansion of the tentacles is largely due to the elasticity of their outer cells, which comes into play as soon as those on the inner side cease contracting with prepotent force; but we have reason to suspect that fluid is continually and slowly attracted into the outer cells during the act of re-expansion, thus increasing their tension.

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Insectivorous Plants from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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