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THE METAMORPHOSIS OF PLANTS

By J. W. Goethe


INTRODUCTION

1

Anyone who observes even a little the growth of plants will easily discover that certain of their external parts sometimes undergo a change and assume, either entirely, or in a greater or lesser degree, the form of the parts adjacent to them.

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So the simple flower, for example, often changes into a double one, if petals develop in the place of stamens and anthers. These petals may either perfectly resemble the other petals of the corolla both in form and colour, or they may still retain visible signs of their origin.

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If we see that in this way it is possible for the plant to make a retrograde step and reverse the order of growth, we shall become all the more aware of the normal course of Nature, and shall learn to understand those laws of transformation by which she produces one part out of another and creates the most varied forms by the modification of one single organ.

4

The secret affinity between the various external parts of the plants, such as leaves, calyx, corolla and stamens, which are developed one after the other and as it were one out of the other, has long been recognised in a general way by naturalists; indeed, much attention has been given to the study of it. The process by which one and the same organ presents itself to us in manifold forms has been called the metamorphosis of plants.

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There are three kinds of metamorphosis: regular, irregular and accidental.

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Regular metamorphosis we may also call progressive, for here we may follow the development step by step from the first seed-leaves to the final forming of the fruit, ascending through transformations of one form into another, as by a spiritual ladder, to that crowning aim of Nature, the propagation of the plant by male and female organs. I have been attentively observing this process for some years, and it is in order to explain it that I am writing, now. In the following demonstration we shall therefore study the plant only in so far as it is annual and proceeds without pause from the seed to fertilisation.

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