It is scarcely possible that the above slight movements, due to a touch or shake, in the young and growing organs of plants, can be of any functional importance to them. But plants possess, in obedience to various stimuli, powers of movement, which are of manifest importance to them; for instance, towards and more rarely from the light,— in opposition to, and more rarely in the direction of, the attraction of gravity. When the nerves and muscles of an animal are excited by galvanism or by the absorption of strychnine, the consequent movements may be called an incidental result, for the nerves and muscles have not been rendered specially sensitive to these stimuli. So with plants it appears that, from having the power of movement in obedience to certain stimuli, they are excited in an incidental manner by a touch, or by being shaken. Hence there is no great difficulty in admitting that in the case of leaf-climbers and tendril-bearers, it is this tendency which has been taken advantage of and increased through natural selection. It is, however, probable, from reasons which I have assigned in my memoir, that this will have occurred only with plants which had already acquired the power of revolving, and had thus become twiners.
I have already endeavoured to explain how plants became twiners, namely, by the increase of a tendency to slight and irregular revolving movements, which were at first of no use to them; this movement, as well as that due to a touch or shake, being the incidental result of the power of moving, gained for other and beneficial purposes. Whether, during the gradual development of climbing plants, natural selection has been aided by the inherited effects of use, I will not pretend to decide; but we know that certain periodical movements, for instance the so-called sleep of plants, are governed by habit.
I have now considered enough, perhaps more than enough, of the cases, selected with care by a skilful naturalist, to prove that natural selection is incompetent to account for the incipient stages of useful structures; and I have shown, as I hope, that there is no great difficulty on this head. A good opportunity has thus been afforded for enlarging a little on gradations of structure, often associated with strange functions,— an important subject, which was not treated at sufficient length in the former editions of this work. I will now briefly recapitulate the foregoing cases.
With the giraffe, the continued preservation of the individuals of some extinct high-reaching ruminant, which had the longest necks, legs, &c., and could browse a little above the average height, and