Transactions of the Society for the Promotion of Useful Arts 1(4): 340-342 (1801)

On the Effects of OXYGENE, in accelerating the Germination of Seeds, communicated in a Letter to Simeon De Witt, Esq.

I ENCLOSE you a very important discovery of the German chymists; you will easily see the great advantage that will result from it, not only in the introduction of foreign plants, the seeds of which seldom vegetate, but even in common agriculture; in that of Indian corn more particularly, which, from not vegetating soon, is frequently destroyed by birds and insects, as well as injured by lying in the earth. It will be peculiarly proper to lay before the society, as it will convince them of the connexion that exists between chemistry and agriculture.

On the effects of Oxygene in accelerating Germination.
[From the Journal de Physique, 1798.]

"Mr. Humboldt discovered, in 1793, that simple metallic substances are unfavorable to the germination of plants, and that metallic oxydes favor it in proportion to their degree of oxidation. This discovery induced him to search for a substance with which oxygene might be so weakly combined as to be easily separated, and he made choice of oxygenated muriatic acid gas, mixed with water. Cresses (lepidium sativum) in the oxygenated, muriatic acid, shewed germs at the end of six hours, and in common water at the end of thirty-two hours. The action of the first fluid on the vegetable fibres is announced by an enormous quantity of air-bubbles, which cover the seeds, a phenomenon not exhibited by water till at the end of from 30 to 45 minutes. These experiments, announced in Humboldt's Flora, and in his Aphorisms on the Chemical Physiology of plants, have been repeated by others; they were made at a temperature of from 12 to 15, Reaumur. In the summer of 1796, Humbolt began a new series of experiments, and found that by joining the stimulus of caloric [heat] to that of oxygene, he was enabled still more to accelerate the progress of vegetation. He took the seeds of garden cresses, peas, French beans, garden lettuce, mignonette, equal quantities of which were thrown into pure water, and the oxygenated muriatic acid at a temperature of 88° Farenheit. Cresses exhibited germs in three hours in the oxygenated, muriatic acid, while none were seen in water till the end of 26 hours. In the muriatic, nitric, or sulphuric acid, pure or mixed with water, there was no germ at all; the oxygene seemed there to be too intimately united with the bases of azote or sulphur to be disengaged by the affinities presented by the fibres of the vegetable. The author announces that his discoveries may one day be of great benefit in the cultivation of plants. His experiments have been repeated with great industry and zeal by several distinguished philosophers. Prosessor Pohl, at Dresden, caused to germinate in oxygenated, muriatic acid, the seed of a new kind of euphorbia, taken from Bocconi's collection of dried plants, 110 or 120 years old. Jacquin and Vander Schott, at Vienna, threw into oxygenated, muriatic acid, all the old seeds which had been kept 20 or 30 years at the botanical garden, every attempt to produce vegetation in which had been fruitless, and the greater part of them were stimulated with success: even the hardest seeds yielded to this agent. Among those which germinated were the yellow bonduc or nickar tree (guilandina bonduc,) the pigeon cytisus (cytisus cajan,) the dodonaea angustifolia, the climbing mimosa (mimosa scandans, [Entada phaseoloides]) and new kinds of the homaoe. There are now shewn at Vienna very valuable plants which are entirely owing to the oxygenated, muriatic acid, and which are at present from five to eight inches in height. Humboldt caused to germinate the clusia rosea, the seeds of which had been brought from the Bahama Islands by Boose, and which before had resisted every effort to make them vegetate; for this purpose he employed a new process, which seems likely to be much easier for gardeners who have not an opportunity of procuring the oxygenated, muriatic acid: he formed a paste by mixing the seeds with the black oxyde of manganese, and then poured over it the muriatic acid, diluted with water. Three cubic inches of water were mixed with half a cubic inch of the muriatic acid; the vessel which contains this mixture must be covered, but not closely shut, else it might readily burst. At the temperature of 95° the muriatic acid becomes strongly oxydated, the oxygenated, muriatic gas, which is disengaged, passes through the seeds, and it is during this passage that irritation of the vegetable fibres takes place."