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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/839

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HYACINTH-BULBS.

duties, but it certainly might be a barrier to them more formidable than unprofessional critics are likely to suppose possible. Dr. Beddoes suggested that Swift was impotent from youthful dissipation, of which there is not a tittle of evidence. May not the great and grave disease of which I have adduced such copious evidence have been the real reason why Swift did not live with the woman whom it is certain that he loved with the most tender and persistent devotion?—Brain.

 

HYACINTH-BULBS.
By Professor GRANT ALLEN.

IF we were not so familiar with the fact, we would think there were few queerer things in nature than the mode of growth followed by this sprouting hyacinth-bulb on my mantel-piece here. It is simply stuck in a glass stand filled with water, and there, with little aid from light or sunshine, it goes through its whole development like a piece of organic clock-work, as it is, running down slowly in its own appointed course. For a bulb does not grow as an ordinary plant grows, solely by means of carbon derived from the air under the influence of sun-light. What we call its growth we ought rather to call its unfolding. It contains within itself everything that is necessary for its own vital processes. Even if I were to cover it up entirely, or put it in a warm, dark room, it would sprout and unfold itself in exactly the same way as it does here in the diffused light of my study. The leaves, it is true, would be blanched and almost colorless, but the flowers would be just as brilliantly blue as these which are now scenting the whole room with their delicious fragrance. The question is, then, how can the hyacinth thus live and grow without the apparent aid of sunlight, on which all vegetation is ultimately based?

Of course, an ordinary plant, as everybody knows, derives all its energy or motive-power from the sun. The green leaf is the organ upon which the rays act. In its cells the waves of light propagated from the sun fall upon the carbonic acid which the leaves drink in from the air, and, by their disintegrating power, liberate the oxygen while setting free the carbon, to form the fuel and food-stuff of the plant. Side by side with this operation the plant performs another, by building up the carbon thus obtained into new combinations with the hydrogen obtained from its watery sap. From these two elements the chief constituents of the vegetable tissues are made up. Now, the fact that they have been freed from the oxygen with which they are generally combined gives them energy, as the physicists call it, and, when they recombine with oxygen, this energy is again given out as heat, or motion. In burning a piece of wood or a lump of coal, we