The Fertilisation of Flowers


    CHRISTIAN CONRAD SPRENGEL'S treatise on the structure and fertilisation of flowers, after well nigh a century of oblivion, has come to be recognised as one of the most interesting of books, and his theory of the adaptation of flowers to fertilisation by insects is one that will ever be associated with his name. In the “Origin of Species” Darwin referred to Sprengel's researches, and one of the results of the now well-known Chapter IV. of that great work was to show the value of Sprengel's labours, and this has caused his book to play a prominent part in the investigation of the prime causes which determine the forms of flowers. The idea of cross-fertilisation can scarcely be said to have established itself until 1859, and was a most powerful impetus to research based upon Sprengel's observations. First among the results we had Darwin's own work on Orchids and on plants with heterogynous forms of styles, and attracted by these there came a long line of other more or less able investigators, of whom Hildebrand, Delpino, Fritz Müller, and others may be mentioned—some devoting themselves more to the details of floral mechanisms, others to the proof of the advantages of cross-fertilisation. More comprehensive were the views of Hermann Müller, who, in 1872, published his important “Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten und die gegenseitigen Anpassungen beider.” In this the author's aim was to consider each case of cross-fertilisation in all its possible bearings, the advantage to the flower and to the insect, and how the one in its contrivances to assure its ends acted and reacted on the other; there was the evolution of the powers of the insect step by step with some advantage to the plant. Naturally the scheme was too vast, too grand to be entirely accomplished through the labours, direct or indirect, of any one man; and, so far as regarded anthophilous insects, Hermann Müller chiefly confined his attention to the bees, describing the modifications which fit them for a floral part, and proving that such modifications had been gradually evolved. This work of H. Miiller's has been the guide-book of a host of workers during these last eleven years, and we most cordially greet its appearance now in an English translation by Mr. D'Arcy W. Thompson. The very recent death of its painstaking and worthy author adds a peculiar interest to its publication; in it he has incorporated all his most recent observations, so that it is not only a translation but a new and importantly enlarged edition—a monument to his fame. We regret that the translator did not think fit to give us the author's preface, which, though but four pages, contained much of practical interest, gave us an insight into Müller's labours as a teacher of natural science in the High School at Lippstadt, and would have been a worthy affix to the genial prefatory notice of Charles Darwin. One other regret and we are done. Why are the modest but pregnant words on the title-page of the original nowhere alluded to in the translation? This work, for which Darwin felt grateful—this book containing “an enormous mass of original observations on the fertilisation of flowers and on the part which insects play in the work,” we quote again Darwin—the author himself styles “Ein Beitrag zur Erkenntniss des Ursächlichen Zusammenhanges in der Organischen Natur,” but the translation says nothing of this.

    The Fertilisation of Flowers.

    By Prof. Hermann Müller. Translated and Edited by D'Arcy W. Thompson, B.A., Scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, with a Preface by Charles Darwin. With Illustrations. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1883.)

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    The Fertilisation of Flowers . Nature 28, 513–514 (1883).

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