Van Helmont's experiments on plant growth

In 1634, Jan Baptist van Helmont was arrested by agents of the Spanish Inquisition for the crime of studying plants and other phenomena. While under house arrest, he started to consider how plants grew.

The prevailing theory at the time was that plants grew by eating soil, and van Helmont devised a clever investigation to test this idea. He weighed a willow tree and weighed dry soil. He planted the tree, watered it and then left it for 5 years. He then re-weighed the tree, which had increased in mass by over 12 stone. He dried the soil and weighed it, showing that the soil was almost the same mass. He concluded that the tree grew by drinking water.

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