The Power of Movement in Plants

In his autobiography, pp. 135-6, Darwin wrote of this book: "In 1880 I published, with Frank's assistance, our Power of Movement in Plants. This was a tough piece of work. ... the great and important classes of movements, excited by light, the attraction of gravity, &c., are all modified forms of the fundamental movement of circumnutation. It has always pleased me to exalt plants in the scale of organised beings; and I therefore felt an especial pleasure in showing how many and what admirably well adapted movements the tip of a root possesses."

Francis Darwin wrote in Life and letters: "The central idea of the book is that the movements of plants in relation to light, gravitation, &c., are modifications of a spontaneous tendency to revolve or circumnutate, which is widely inherent in the growing parts of plants." The research for this book is the subject of Chapter X of Life and letters.

In the conclusion Darwin argued that all botanical adaptations could be accounted for as gradual modifications to existing features in response to natural forces such as light and water.


The diagrams of lines and dots throughout the book are tracings made by one of three methods explained in the introduction to show how the part of a plant being observed moved over time as recorded on a plate of glass and then transferred to tracing paper. Hundreds of these tracings remain in the Darwin Archive in the folders CUL-DAR209.1-15 with Darwin's notes and materials for this book.

Francis Darwin later published an article on 'On the power possessed by leaves of placing themselves at right angles to the direction of incident light' in the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany).

John van Wyhe

Bibliographical introduction by R. B. Freeman

This was an extension of the work on climbing plants to show that the same mechanisms hold good for flowering plants in general. It was another specialist book and seems to have sold fewer copies than any other, and was not reprinted in England after the year of Darwin's death until modern facsimilies appeared of the first thousand in 1966 and the second in 1969.

The first edition was published on November 6, 1880, and it is recorded that 1,500 copies were sold at Murray's autumn sale. It was in a standard binding and cost 15s. There are thirty-two pages of inserted advertisements dated May 1878; to have them more than two years earlier than the date of the book is unusual, but this is normal and they are present in Darwin's own copy, at Cambridge. In this issue there are two lines of errata on page x which are corrected in the second thousand of the same year. In this second thousand, the advertisements may be the same as those in the first, but are more often dated November 1880. In the third thousand of 1882, the last Murray printing, the preface is slightly altered. In all three, the spine title differs from the form on the title page, reading 'The movements of plants'.

It appeared in French, German and Russian by 1882, and in Italian and Romanian later.

1880. The power of movement in plants. London: John Murray. Text Image PDF F1325

1880. The power of movement in plants. 2d thousand. PDF F1326

1881. The power of movement in plants. New York: D. Appleton. Image PDF F1327


1882. La faculté motrice dans les plantes. Image PDF F1342


1881. Das Bewegungsvermögen der Pflanzen. Image PDF (Provided by F1343


1884. I potere di movimento nelle piante. PDF F1347


From: Freeman, R. B. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d ed. Dawson: Folkstone.

NOTE: With thanks to The Charles Darwin Trust and Dr Mary Whitear for use of the Bibliographical Handlist. Copyright. All rights reserved. For private academic use only. Not for republication or reproduction in whole or in part without the prior written consent of The Charles Darwin Trust, 31 Baalbec Road, London N5 1QN.

Corrections and additions copyright John van Wyhe, The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online - National University of Singapore.


File last up24 August, 2023e -->e -->