American Gardenerís Magazine, 1(5): 175-176 (1835)
ART. VI. Proliferous Character of the flower-stalk of the "Lilium Candidum."
By JOHN LEWIS RUSSELL,
Professor of Botany and Vegetable Physiology to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.
PERHAPS it is not familiarly known to many of your readers, that the flower-stalk of the White Lily (Lilium Candidum), cut immediately after the sepals have fallen, and kept in an upright position in a cool and shady situation, will evolve from the axis of its bracteal leaves distinct bulbs, capable of producing perfect plants. My attention was first attracted to this curious fact by the kindness of a friend, some three or four years since, and I have uniformly been successful in the result, whenever I have renewed the experiment. But the vital energy is not only continued and developed in the production of these hitherto adventitious bulbs, several of the capsules even, ripened sound and vigorous seed. Of course the usual impregnation is presupposed; but it is by no means a general, though not uncommon event, that the seeds of this plant should ripen when the stem continues in its usual functions, attached to the parent bulb.
Now this apparent phenomenon is a beautiful illustration of the true character of bulbs, erroneously heretofore, and for many reasons, still called bulbous-roots. It is well known to every practical gardener, that when any accident occurs to tunicated bulbs, such, for instance, as injuring their scales or living coats, by wounding with the knife, or by any forcible rupture, the bases of the scales immediately protrude sound and minute bulbs. By such means, although destructive to the parent bulb, he is enabled to increase his stock of rare plants of this family to almost any extent. Strictly and properly speaking, there is no such thing in nature as a bulbous-root. The bulbs of the Hyacinth, an Amaryllis, or a White Lily, are true and perfect plants, for they individually possess a root, stem and leaf-bud, the latter of which is fully capable of evolving leaves, flower-buds, and fruit or seed, all the essentials of the vegetable. The base of the bulb is its stem or trunk, technically called the collet or neck; the fibres are the true roots, and the tunicated or scale-like substances situated on the neck, constitute the leaf-bud. Like every other plant, when arrived to that maturity which calls forth the production of the flower, the flower bud is formed within, destined to rise the next season and expand its organs of reproduction. The functions of the expanded leaves make two annual increments to the plant; first, a new layer on the stem or collet; and second by producing fibres. As each of these leaves decay at the end of the season, the elaborated sap descends into its base, forming another scale or tunic to the bulb or leaf-bud. The leaves and flower-stalk both arising from the interior, it happens that in process of time, the exterior scales or tunics become useless, and lose their vital power. The flower-bud expands upwards simultaneously with, or shortly after the appearance of the leaves. In the white lily the latter is the case. This expansion produces a tall stalk covered with imperfect foliage, called bractes. These leaf-like organs accompany the inflorescence of most plants. When the purposes of this expanded stalk of the flower-bud are accomplished, it becomes desiccated, and the elaborated sap descending, assists in forming at its base a new flower-bud for the next season.
Although we may invariably look for the leaf-bud in the axis of every leaf, as there it must exist either in a dormant or sentient state, yet these same vital germs are to be found even in the axils of stipules, bractes, sepals, petals, stamens, and carpels: but in these latter situations they are commonly undeveloped.
Suppose we now cut away the flower-stalk, as directed in the beginning of this essay. The vital energy is still continued in the stalk, a fact by no means uncommon in many plants. The infant germ or capsule therefore continues to swell and increase: the descending and elaborated sap calls into existence these dormant and hitherto undeveloped leaf-buds which exist in the axils of the bractes: and once awakened into life, they immediately appropriate to their increase the remaining juices of their parent stock; deriving from it, and the humid atmosphere, their necessary food. Presently radicles shoot forth from their bases, as if the young plants were desirous of answering the great and important end of their adventitious existence. When the flower-stalk has ceased to give support to any one of them, it falls to the earth, to be received into its genial bosom, and destined for future increase.
Buds, it has been truly said, are individual vegetable existences. A tree is therefore a vast congeries of living beings, each individual capable of perfect development. By this great law, we take advantage of Nature in many of the branches of Horticulture. The dormant leaf-bud in the bracteal axil in this instance, has been called into life, and has become without the aid of Horticultural knowledge and experience, a separate and perfect plant, similar in every respect to its parent.
I trust, Messrs. Editors, that some of your readers will repeat this experiment, for their own satisfaction: it being, as I conceive, a curious fact in vegetable economy. Perhaps it may not be new to some; but finding a place in your columns, it may prove interesting to others, who are fond of tracing the mysterious laws of Physiological Botany.
Pittsburg, Pa., April 5th, 1835.