Professor A. Vogel, in a communication to the "Sitzungsberichte der Munchener Akademie," brings into prominence the fact that the hemlock plant, which yields coniine in Bavaria, contains none in Scotland. Hence he concludes that solar light plays a part in the generation of the alkaloids in plants. This view is corroborated by the circumstance that the tropical cinchonas, if cultivated in our feebly lighted hothouses, yield scarcely any alkaloids. Prof. Vogel has proved this experimentally. He has examined the barks of cinchona plants obtained from different conservatories, but has not found in any of them the characteristic reaction of quinine. Of course it is still possible that quinine might be discovered in other conservatory-grown cinchonas, especially as the specimens operated upon were not fully developed. But as the reaction employed indicates very small quantities of quinine, it may be safely assumed that the barks examined contained not a trace of this alkaloid, and it can scarcely be doubted that the deficiency of sunlight in our hothouses is one of the causes of the deficiency of quinine.
It will at once strike the reader as desirable that specimens of cinchonas should be cultivated in hothouses under the influence of the electric light, in addition to that of the sun.
If sunlight can be regarded as a factor in the formation of alkaloids in the living plant, it has, on the other hand, a decidedly injurious action upon the quinine in the bark stripped from the tree. On drying such bark in full sunlight the quinine is decomposed, and there are formed dark-colored, amorphous, resin-like masses. In the manufacture of quinine the bark is consequently dried in darkness.
This peculiar behavior of quinine on exposure to sunlight finds its parallel in the behavior of chlorophyl with the direct rays of the sun. It is well known that the origin of chlorophyl in the plant is entirely connected with light, so that etiolated leaves growing in the dark form no chlorophyl. But as soon as chlorophyl is removed from the sphere of vegetable life, a brief exposure to the direct rays of the sun destroys its green color completely.
Prof. A. Vogel conjectures that the formation of tannin in the living plant is to some extent influenced by light. This supposition is supported by the fact that the proportion of tannin in beech or larch bark increases from below upward - that is, from the less illuminated to the more illuminated parts, and this in the proportions of 4:6 and 5:10.
Sunny mountain slopes of a medium height yield, according to wide experience, on an average the pine-barks richest in tannin. In woods in level districts the proportion of tannin is greatest in localities exposed to the light, while darkness seems to have an unfavorable effect. Here, also, we must refer to the observation that leaves exceptionally exposed to the light are relatively rich in tannin.
We may here add that in the very frequent cases where a leaf is shadowed by another in very close proximity, or where a portion of a leaf has been folded over by some insect, the portion thus shaded retains a pale green color, while adjacent leaves, or other portions of the same leaf, assume their yellow, red, or brown autumnal tints. If, as seems highly probable, these tints are due to transformation products of tannin, we may not unnaturally conclude that they will be absent where tannin has not been generated. - Jour. of Science.