One of the most fascinating things about Darwin’s science is how he used simple experiments to help him understand larger ideas. While Darwin was travelling around the world on HMS Beagle, he asked himself, why would plants on islands be similar to those on the mainland? He was not satisfied by the explanation given by some naturalists of his day that organisms were specially created for their geographic location. So in the 1850s he started a series of experiments to test whether seeds could survive being soaked in salt water. If he was right, it would suggest that plants could get to an island from the mainland and continue to evolve.
Our education team has put together a recreation of Darwin’s experiment. You can access a copy of the lesson here. Recently the experiment was done in a Freshman Seminar at Harvard College. Each of the students were given two types of garden variety seeds, and they placed them in jars of salt water for five weeks. Then they planted the seeds in trays and waited for them to germinate. You can see the results below!
As you can see, several of the species germinated. The students were able to experience one of Darwin’s simplest and most exciting experiments first hand.