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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/836

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of plants, and particularly in the green parts. Their habitual presence does not, however, authorize the conclusion that this metal is necessary to the support and development of vegetable life. Some substances, evidently indifferent, foreign, and even injurious, if they exist abundantly in a soil, may be drawn into roots through the movement of the sap, and fix themselves in various organs. This occurs with copper in certain exceptional circumstances when the soil is saturated with its compounds, and if such a condition should be found to be repeated over a large extent of country, we might be led, by analysis alone of its vegetable productions, to the false conclusion that copper was an essential or even necessary constituent of them. But the value of the part performed by an element can not be determined by analysis alone. Direct proofs are necessary for that, methodical and comparative experiments in cultivation in mediums artificially deprived or furnished with the element the importance of which we wish to estimate. This has been done for combinations of iron, and the utility of that metal, especially to the higher plants, has been made thereby to appear.

If iron is absent from the nutritive medium the plant will wither. If we sprout seeds in a solution from which this metal has been carefully excluded, the development will follow its regular course as long as the plant is in the condition properly called that of germination, or while it does not have to draw anything from the soil. The stem rises and the first leaves are formed as usual. But all these parts will continue pale, and the green matter, the granulation of chlorophyll, will not appear. Now, if we add a small quantity of salt of iron to the ground in which the roots are planted, or a much-diluted solution is sprinkled on the leaves and the stem, the chlorotic plant will recover its health and take on its normal-coloration. Experiments of this sort make well manifest that iron is necessary to green plants, and they show, besides, the bearing of its action, and that what is most special and most characteristic in the phenomena of vegetable life may be traced exactly to the organization of that green matter. It was long thought that if iron was necessary for the formation of chlorophyll, it was because it had a part in its constitution. We know now that this is not so. The metal does nothing but accompany the chlorophyll in the granulation in which it is found.

The influence which iron exerts in the development of the lower plants, like the muscidenes, was illustrated with great precision in a study made about thirty years ago by M. Raulin, who experimented with the common mold (Aspergillus niger), to determine the coefficient of importance of all the elements that have a part in its vegetation. When the iron was removed from a medium that had been shown capable of giving a maximum crop of that mold, the plants