Articles on Darwin’s Botany

In the December 2009 issue of American Journal of Botany:

Craig W. Whippo and Roger P. Hangarter, The “sensational” power of movement in plants: A Darwinian system for studying the evolution of behavior” Am. J. Bot. 2009 96: 2115-2127.

Abstract. Darwin’s research on botany and plant physiology was a landmark attempt to integrate plant movements into a biological perspective of behavior. Since antiquity, people have sought to explain plant movements via mechanical or physiological forces, and yet they also constructed analogies between plant and animal behavior. During the Renaissance and Enlightenment, thinkers began to see that physiochemical explanations of plant movements could equally apply to animal behavior and even human thought. Darwin saw his research on plant movements as a strategic front against those who argued that his theory of evolution could not account for the acquisition of new behavioral traits. He believed that his research explained how the different forms of plant movement evolved as modified habits of circumnutation, and he presented evidence that plants might have a brain-like organ, which could have acquired various types of plant sensitivity during evolution. Upon publication of The Power of Movement in Plants, his ideas were overwhelmingly rejected by plant physiologists. Subsequently, plant biologists came to view the work as an important contribution to plant physiology and biology, but its intended contribution to the field of evolution and behavior has been largely overlooked.

Tim Wing Yam, Joseph Arditti, and Kenneth M. Cameron,“The orchids have been a splendid sport”—an alternative look at Charles Darwin’s contribution to orchid biology” Am. J. Bot. 2009 96: 2128-2154.

Abstract. Charles Darwin’s work with orchids and his thoughts about them are of great interest and not a little pride for those who are interested in these plants, but they are generally less well known than some of his other studies and ideas. Much has been published on what led to his other books and views. However, there is a paucity of information in the general literature on how Darwin’s orchid book came about. This review will describe how The Various Contrivances by Which Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects came into being and will discuss the taxonomy of the orchids he studied. It also will concentrate on some of the less well-known aspects of Darwin’s work and observations on orchids—namely, rostellum, seeds and their germination, pollination effects, and resupination—and their influence on subsequent investigators, plant physiology, and orchid science.

Also, the January 2009 issue had a few articles about Darwin’s ‘abominable mystery.’

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