Consular Reports 54(200): 143-144 (May 1897)

TREATMENT OF PLANTS WITH ETHER

Consul Kirk, of Copenhagen, under date of February 19, 1897, sends the following translation from Dannebrog of February 12, 1897:

AN INTERESTING DISCOVERY IN THE PHYSIOLOGY OF PLANTS

Mr. Johannsen, lecturer at the Agricultural High School, delivered a lecture two evenings ago on the results so far obtained by the etherizing method, which consists in developing plants earlier than is normal to them by exposing them to the influence of ether fumes. We give below the principal points of the lecture.

By exposing sleeping plants to the influence of ether and chloroform, the result is obtained that each plant, after the treatment with ether, begins to shoot; they have thus probably been awakened from their previous condition of sleep or inactivity. This sleep is due to a regular stoppage of activity, which causes the growth to cease.

It is on this cessation of activity that the ether has effect. The questions now arise, Has this discovery any practical interest for our gardeners? Can the ether dispel the condition of sleep from all plants? Can the plants, awakened before their proper time, develop in a normal manner and become useful and salable? The last question Mr. Johannsen has not yet succeeded in solving. The preceding (can the ether dispel the condition of sleep from all plants?) is, however, theoretically the most important.

Mr. Johannsen's first experiment was made with willow plants and next with bulbs and hyacinths. In the fall of 1894, he experimented with lilacs. As a result of these experiments, it was proved that the etherizing of the bulbs had no effect before the formation of the roots; the condition produced by the ether passed before the formation of the roots had advanced sufficiently to cause budding. Mr. Johannsen has also made some experiments with La Reine; the growth was considerable and the development of the bulb was, in every respect satisfactory. The experiment was commenced on November 20 and on December 19 a part of the tulips were salable. The problem was solved as regards La Reine. It would, however, be of greater interest to produce lilies of the valley. The experiment in this direction in 1895 was promising, but the results this year were very poor.

Interesting and important are the experiments with ligneous plants. Lilacs grow splendidly when placed in an air-tight compartment and exposed forty-eight hours to the effect of 500 or 600 cubic centimeters of ether, and then placed in a hothouse. Just before Christmas, the plants had developed splendidly. The etherizing of the plants will cost 4 to 5 öre (1 to 1 1/2 cents) each. The main point is to get the plants to shoot at any time before Christmas, even in September and October. Mr. Johannsen has had blooming lilacs on the 10th of September, but the plants did not develop regularly. It has, on the whole, been proved that the ether is not beneficial if applied before the middle of November.

The ether causes a derangement in the independence which should characterize each of the different stages of the plant. The development is not harmonious, owing to the too strong or too weak action of the ether. Mr. Johannsen will now try to gradually bring the plants to stand the action of the ether by giving them larger and larger doses. Experiments were made with certain seeds; for instance, the lupine grass and barley, and it was at once demonstrated that increasing doses of ether had a powerful effect. It is not so much the repetition of the ether which is the important point in the treatment, but its increasing application. The small and light doses of ether have a harmonizing and equalizing influence on the growth of germinating plants.

With these results as a guide, the experiments will be continued next year with more expensive potted plants. Mr. Johannsen received about the middle of December twelve good specimens of beech trees, and before the end of the month they were all budding and the development was satisfactory.

It can be said that some progress has undoubtedly been made, but no one can tell to what astonishing results this discovery may lead. Tulips, lilacs, etc., can be developed much earlier and have a pretty color and great durability, as the ether frees the plant of decomposable matter.

To etherize the plants, they are placed in an air-tight receptacle and exposed from twenty-four to ninety-six hours (generally forty-eight hours) to the influence of the ether. Cylindrical glasses are used for small plants, and for large plants an oil-painted box, the interior of which is lined with tin foil, 4 feet high and long and 2 1/2 feet broad. On the lid a small hole is made, which is closed with a cork and the ether is conducted through this hole. As ether is very inflammable, great care must be taken not to bring candles or matches near it. The ether is dissolved at from 15° to 20° C.