Proceedings of the American Seed Trade Association (1902) pp. 29-46
C. L. Allen
Breeding, whether between the races of men, the races of animals, or the races of plants, is usually regarded simply a perfunctory act, in obedience to the law of reproduction, that plants act as a machine acts, without volition, producing because it was made to produce, whenever and wherever conditions were favorable for the results that follow.
To us plant breeding has a broader significance; it is education, development, the giving of character too, and the bringing of the plant up to the highest possibility of its creation.
Let us be understood at the start that each of the 150,000 so-called species of plants that inhabit the earth was created for a purpose — each was a study — each the result of a plan. As plant growth is conditional upon the characteristics of soil, and degrees of temperature, each was designed for the position it occupies, it was created for the conditions in which we find it, and was not the result of them.
To fully understand the plants' capabilities for development it will be necessary to first study them in their native habitat; to do that a glance at their geographical distribution will be the first step, then note the variation in form and substance, incident upon a changed condition of climate, as well as in the character of soil, when removed to distant localities.
Tournefort, the discoverer of the sexes in plants, which was systematized by the world's greatest botanist, Linnaeus, observed during his travels in Armenia, upon the slopes of Mount Ararat, that at the foot of the mountain he saw the plants of Armenia, higher up he found the plants of Italy, higher up still he found those of the environs of Paris, above these were the plants of Sweden; finally, on the borders of eternal snow, near the summit of mountain, he found those of Lapland.
In every country, from the tropics to the poles, each changing degree of temperature has its particular plants. At the foot of the Alps we find the plants of France and Italy, at the summit the plants of the frozen north, and the same northern plants are again to be found on the summit of the mountains of Africa.
Buffon observed upon the range of the hills which separate the Mogul empire from the Kingdom of Cashmere we find on the southern slopes many of the plants of India, and it is not surprising that we should find on the north flanks many of those of Europe. It is also from the extremes of climate that we draw our drugs, perfumes, and poisons, and all the plants whose active properties are in excess. Temperate climates, on the contrary, only produce temperate things; the mildest of herbs, the most refreshing of fruits, the quietest of animals, and the most polished of men, are the heritage of the mildest of climates.
In the natural distribution of plants temperature was the principle that governed selection, or, it might be more proper to say, that each species was created for the place it was to occupy.
Some species were created to resist a temperature of 70 degrees below the freezing point, while others will perish in a temperature 10 degrees above. Many Alpine plants will shrivel and fade at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while other plants will accommodate themselves to a temperature of 140 degrees.
As each plant was created for a given time and place, we can easily understand why certain plants that have been removed a long distance from their native habitat will live, and to an extent thrive, without flowering, and that others will flower without producing fruit. The short summers and short days in such countries fail to furnish the aggregate amount of heat, and that supplied is just sufficient to develop their leaves, but not enough to expand their flowers; consequently their fruits are abortive.
Most vegetables occupy a determinate zone of their own, which they rarely pass. The cold prevents them from passing its limits towards the north, and the heat exercises the same towards the south. All plants have their polar and tropical limits.
Humidity of the atmosphere and the solar influence have, on the other hand, a notable influence on the geographical distribution of plants. It is still more necessary to consider the influence of elevation.
In proportion as we rise in the atmosphere, the temperature decreases, and this lowering of the temperature is so sudden that in ascending a mountain we pass through many degrees of temperature in the course of a few hours. From this it follows that a high mountain under the equator may be clothed at its base in the richest vegetation, while its summit is covered with eternal snow, and the space between is clothed with all the diversity of vegetation (on a limited scale), which a traveler meets with in his journey from the equator to the pole.
Each and every plant was not only created for the place it was to occupy, but to minister to the necessities of the existing fauna, that likewise changes with the changes in temperature, that they may live in harmony together. It matters not whether at a high elevation in the tropics, or near the level of the se.a at the north, in the same mean temperature the same species of vegetables and the same natural order of animals will be found dwelling together in harmony of purpose.
With these general prefatory remarks, we will take up the subject we were to consider, more in detail, viz.: Plant Breeding in its relation to seeds, their reproduction, and its possibilities.
The first question for our consideration is, What is plant breeding?
We shall not answer this question wholly from the practical side or standpoint, but as a principle, which, when thoroughly understood, makes practice an easy matter, and prevents many mistakes in developing types and perpetuating those already secured.
As a principle, plant breeding is plant education, or plant development, in the order of evolution, which is growth along the line of quality, or improvement, in harmony with a developed character in manhood, the result of wise selection, which means good breeding.
The history of cultivated plants shows most conclusively the harmonies of creation; that in the rise and fall of nations with their intelligence and social attainments, the plant has kept pace with every onward, upward advance, and, with their decline and fall, the beautiful flowers, delicious fruits, and esculent vegetables have soon become weeds of sorrow in the solitude.
The wild, undeveloped man, fed on wild, undeveloped fruits and vegetables, and upon meats as coarse as himself, as he grew, in obedience to command, as his moral and intellectual forces developed, the food upon which he subsisted developed qualities that would minister to the necessities of his new growth.
I am in the most perfect and happy accord with Earnest Haeckel's theory regarding the soul cell in plants, that there is in each, and was when the plant was but an invisible cell, the possibilities of its highest development, also a consciousness adapted to its duty to develop in harmony with other creations.
Creative energy did not rest, neither was creative thought exhausted, when the earth was covered with vegetable forms perfectly adapted to the positions they were to fill, or the uses for which they were created. It was commanded to grow, to develop as well as to increase.
Nature is double all through, mind and matter, body and soul. The soul of nature in the plant is that vivifying force or principle, that governs the plant's every action, directing its every change, or variation of form or usefulness, in its adaptation to changed environments, and to other creations, of which it is a component part in the great principle of life.
While we can readily understand the plant's changes in form or substance, through climatic influences, many of which we shall duly consider, they are frequently so marked in their essential character that no one can understand these variations unless they are the results of the plant's own volition.
Upon general principles it is safe to assert that plant breeding is simply giving a plant an opportunity to develop its latent forces, in obedience to the command to grow. A plant in its native habitat is an undeveloped, uneducated object in the realm of nature, and has its analogy in the wild man of the wood, from which it differs only in degree. In its native state the plant's only mission is reproduction, its whole energy is along those lines. The development of its functions, or active principle that gives it a place in the economy of nature, whether it be for food, raiment, or medicine, or for its uses in the mechanic arts, is left until such times as these productions become indispensable to other creations.
When the period arrives for the plant to produce food for the sustenance of man, and it sees that its labors are appreciated, and that those it serves will assist in its propagation and perpetuation, it ceases in a great measure to produce seed, which is the true fruit of the plant, and its whole energies are directed to the production of food for the use of man, who, in return for the food received, which we are pleased to call fruit, must from necessity attend to the reproduction and perpetuation of the plant by artificial or changed methods. Man is quite apt to arrogate to himself the credit for doing what the plant through the order of evolution has done for him, and in spite of his efforts to do something else.
As a fitting illustration of this principle we will take the banana, musa paradisica, the fruit of which is highly nutritious and is credited with sustaining a larger number of the human race than any one of the cereals. Though less nutritious than wheat or potatoes, yet the space occupied by their culture and the care required are so very much less, that Humboldt has calculated the produce of bananas compared with that of wheat as 133 to 1, and to that of potatoes as 44 to 1.
In its native habitat the fruit is filled with small, black, shining seeds, which like all other seeds exhaust the plant's vital energies far more than the fruit we eat.
Under cultivation the banana rarely ever produces seeds, and reproduction is effected by suckers, or more properly offsets, and the energy required to produce seed is applied to the production of fruit, in remuneration for services rendered in the reproduction of the plant. An individual plant of the banana never produces but one crop of fruit. As soon as this is gathered the stem immediately begins to decay, and is removed, and the numerous offsets from the base of the plant are separated and planted out in new fields, and in a few months will produce a crop of fruit, which keeps up a continuous harvest.
The orange is another striking illustration of the plant's adaptation to man's use. In the direct line of evolution it ceased but a few years ago in one of the districts of Brazil, where this fruit is found growing to the greatest perfection, to produce seed, instead of which the whole energy of the tree was employed in producing fruit, nature, seemingly, confident that the perpetuation of the species was safe in the hands of those who were to profit by the fruit produced. The result was that a much larger crop was obtained from each tree, and of superior quality, as well as increased size.
The seedless orange as now grown in California, but more especially in Arizona, is not only the largest but the most delicious fruit of its kind that comes to our market. No horticulturist can claim the honor of originating the seedless orange, no one had the least idea of such a possibility, until nature through her own efforts did for mankind what the race could not do itself.
The potato, where grown to the greatest perfection, rarely produces seed, other than through the agency of artificial fertilization. Nature, working along the lines of that rigid economy that marks her every action, has thrown the energy required for the production of seed into the development of the tubers, which are furnished with buds for the perpetuation of a given type which the seed could not do.
While all our cultivated varieties of potatoes were originally grown from seed, if a thousand seeds were now sown, from our present varieties, no two would reproduce the same variety; as we have stated on a former occasion, after a cross has been effected between so-called species, which arc in reality varieties changed in form and habit from their environments, in the progeny may be seen all the forms, colors, and essential characteristics that a combination of the parent varieties is capable of producing.
So far as we know nature never did produce a vegetable fit for developed man to eat, but in every class there were the possibilities of the greatest usefulness, when or where their uses were required. To reproduce is nature's work; to develop or educate was a duty imposed on man.
Plants have no habits that cannot be changed by a change of environments and cultivation, and these forms soon become permanent or fixed in every locality wherein they find a congenial home. With every change of locality, accompanied by marked conditions of growth, their habits or periods of growth are changed in obedience to the law of necessity.
But a tropical plant can never be made to endure the vigors of a temperate climate. Its cellular tissue is an arbitrary arrangement that is unchangeable. To meet changed conditions of climate the plant's habits of growth, being of a flexible nature, can be made long or short, in obedience to the laws of growth or development.
Take as an illustration the climate of Sweden, where there is but nine weeks of spring, summer, and autumn, yet the active principle of growth is so intense during that short period that their meadows yield two crops of the most nutritious grass, and their gardens two crops of the most delicate and delicious vegetables.
Do not understand me that they can take seeds grown in a more southernly clime and get such results at first; they cannot; but by slow stages the plants have become adapted to localities where rapid growth is required, until the results are as stated.
On the contrary, seeds grown in Denmark will, if planted in a more southern locality, make for a season a much more rapid growth, but a second or third generation will take the full time allowance for reproduction.
We do not know, and do not assert, that a plant has knowledge akin to human understanding, but we truly believe there is a subtle union between the physical being of the plant and the mental forces of man that causes the plant to act in harmony with man's wishes.
As the collie perfectly understands the mind or wishes of its master and brings to him the desired sheep from the flock, almost invariably so, too, there is in the plant a living, vital principle or power of adaptation to grow in harmony with animal natures or growths, and develop along other lines of development.
Many plants which are annual and herbaceous in temperate climates become perennial and ligneous in the tropics, and the reverse, a fact that is the cause of some strange freaks in plant variation. Take as an example the common castor oil plant, ricinus communis, which is here grown as an annual, and now produces its seed freely; when first introduced it was a tall growing plant and rarely ripened but the fruit of its first flowers. By saving the seed for a few generations it adapted itself to the climate, became more dwarf in habit, its seeds grew smaller, and the plant is now extensively grown for commercial purposes.
The same species in Africa grows to an immense size and is perennial in habit, while its trunk is as woody as most of the forest trees.
A better illustration, from the fact of its being one in which you are more interested, may be found in the lima bean (phaseolus lunatus). In South America, where it is indigenous, it is a tender herbaceous perennial, a most rampant grower, and. having fully nine months to perfect it fruit, it can ramble at leisure without fear of frost. When spring time comes, as it does everywhere, from the crown of its immense fleshy tubers, not unlike the Chinese yam, some of which weigh fully fifty pounds each, there shoots forth numerous tender stems, not unlike the perennial Ipomoeas, which make a rapid growth, twining over other vegetable forms, until it becomes an impenetrable mass.
Like most other twining plants it follows the sun in its course, which is there from right to left, directly opposite from the natural direction of twining plants north of the equator, which accounts for the difficulty experienced here in getting them to climb the poles. Habit says go to the left, the sun says, Follow me and go to the right; the result is it will not willingly do either.
Note the change. The plant's consciousness of its place in the economy of nature, that its mission is to adapt itself to the necessities of other forms of life, and, as reproduction is the active, vital principle of life, when removed from its natural habitat and grown under changed conditions of climate it immediately adapts itself to its environments. If the season of its adopted home is shortened its growth is more rapid, and the vines are proportionately shortened, at the same time more vigorous; just the same as we find a tree grown in the open is more sturdy and rugged than one grown in the dense forest.
The farther removed from its southern home the more rapid its growth and the more dwarf its habit, until it reaches the limit of growth or time it has for growth sufficient for reproduction. By slow stages in its adaptation to changed conditions it has assumed a dwarf, bushy habit, instead of a climbing plant as we find it where indigenous.
The question — What is the cause of this change in habit, where and how did the bush limas originate? — is readily understood to be in the direct line of evolution; the strange differentiation is in obedience to the command to grow, that other growths might develop through its energy in its furnishing means for their support.
There is not, neither has there been, a greater change in the habits of growth of the lima bean than in the quality of the seed produced as an article of food. The large, flat lima grown at the south is far more delicious and tender than those grown at the farthest point north, where the same can be produced. The beans brought from Lima would not reproduce themselves if planted in the northern or eastern states, and our valued productions are the results of gradual removals from south to north by slow stages. And, as animal nature at the north required more solid and hearty food than at the south, the plant's production has changed in its essential character to meet those demands.
This same principle is noticeable with our common field corn; at the north the grain is harder, more compact, and of a more oily nature than that grown in the south, where the climatic conditions render a change in the character of food necessary.
There is another cause of change in the character of the lima bean when taken from a warmer to a colder clime, one that is of vital importance to the plant's existence. All fruits, and the lima bean is but the fruit of the plant that produces it, are for the protection of the infant germ that is to develop the future plant, and perpetuate the species.
The fruit of the apple tree is not what we eat, but what we eat is that which was ordered as a protection to the infant plant. The colder the climate the more safeguards are thrown around these vegetable embryos, or, as generally understood, the more valuable the fruit. At the north the bean is more solid in character or substance than if grown at the south; it must needs be for the reason stated, which makes it more valuable as a food product.
With all plants, when this extra care in protecting the germ is a necessity, the care given serves a double purpose. Nature never tolerates lavish waste, and the protection given a plant for its sustenance is always available for either food or raiment for other creations.
THE SCARLET RUNNER.
What is true in regard to the lima bean is equally true with the scarlet runner (phaseolus multiflorus) and allied species, which is also a native of South America and perennial in habit. Here it is grown as an annual; but few, relatively, know it to be otherwise. We are well acquainted with a plant which has been growing in a border from a seed planted ten years ago. This plant is close to a wall on the south side of the house, which is kept so warm by the furnace in the cellar that no frost ever enters the border. It throws up a large number of shoots annually, and produces its flowers and seeds in great profusion. We examined its underground stem or tuber last spring and found it as large as a Mangel Wurzel. It is but correct to say that each of the stems are not as prolific as a single stem when grown as an annual.
Some of the old herbalists speak of both these species as herbaceous perennials, although in different language, and say if the roots are kept in sand and in a warm place during winter they can be kept growing for many years.
There is an active principle in the fruit of the legumes, of which the garden bean is the most useful species, that seems to contribute to the health and strength of the human race more than any other plant.
The many so-called species, which are only varieties adapted to the positions they occupy, seem fitted for every place and condition. More than the cereals they are found where their uses are mostly required, and they respond most liberally to the care and attention given them, and more than most other plants they resent any injury received in cultivation.
"Like seed grown on good ground yielding an hundred fold" is a simile most applicable to the bean crop, as the bean can be made to yield the proverbial hundred fold, while a tenfold yield is one of the best possible evidences of neglected agriculture.
There are but few of our useful plants so greatly changed by a change of locality as the different varieties of field corn. Not only is this the case as to the period of time the crop takes to mature, but to the essential character of the grain when grown under changed conditions of soil and climate.
Corn has been and is being grown to a profit where there is rarely a month in the year without a frost. I have seen it growing in the province of Quebec where such climatic conditions existed. The stalk did not exceed more than four feet in height and was proportionate in diameter, yet nearly all of them produced each two small ears of sound yellow corn of most excellent quality.
Some of this corn was taken to central New York and given every attention necessary for the production of a crop, and never did plants respond more freely to good treatment. The growth was no larger than the same made in Quebec, and the harvest was made in about the same number of days after planting the crop, being harvested before the middle of August.
The seed product was all used for planting the following season, but its consciousness having found that in the climate of its adopted home it had twice as long a time to mature, it took it all and grew as high and strong as the yellow flint corn there generally grown, and produced as large ears. Its identity as an early type or variety was lost, but the lesson taught was instructive and valuable, showing how readily the plant adapted itself to the conditions as found and how readily all plants accept the situation given them and cheerfully perform their alloted work.
That the sweet pea has its uses in the economy of nature there can be no doubt; like all other creations it was for a purpose; for what other than an eye crop we do not know, but do know there never was created in man a love for the beautiful without a creation that would minister to it. The ideal was as bountifully provided for as the actual, and, from the standard of human happiness, as essential.
In its native habitat the sweet pea is the tallest grower of the numerous genus of lathyrus, and, where growth is slow, and climate moist, its period of flowering is much longer than where the seasons are short and the atmosphere rare with high temperature. But the law of reproduction is always understood and respected, and in obedience to command, it adapts itself to whatever situation in which it may be placed.
In the short seasons of northern New York and in the heavy clay soil, with seasons of heat and drought, in order to produce the required number of seeds growth had to be curtailed and the season of flowering made shorter; the result was that all its flowers were produced nearly at the same time, which makes the plant far more effective and useful as a florist's flower. This is shown in the Blanche Ferry, and the dwarf varieties, now becoming common, to be the result of the plant's adaptation to its environments.
The cabbage in cold climates adds an additional number of leaves to its head for the protection of the germ that is to develop the seed stem, and the colder the climate the greater the number and the more compact their arrangement. While nature is protecting her own she at the same time provides for other creations, worthy objects of her care.
Seed grown here, if taken to a warmer climate, will in one generation produce soft heads, simply because greater protection is unnecessary for purposes of reproduction.
The same is true of the Ruta Baga. In climates where the roots can be left in the field they invariably produce large, long necks, which are thickly set with buds that will in due time develop the stalks and branches that yield the seed. On Long Island the tendency of the root is to grow globular in shape, and with a little care in selection will become nearly a perfect globe. There is a type that does not show a particle of neck, and when taken up upon the approach of winter nearly every leaf drops off, so there is no necessity for cutting the tops before trenching. This feature is more noticeable when they are grown in light sandy soil.
These changes constantly going on have made in almost every genus of plants many types so entirely different in form and habit from the parent as to constitute them distinct species.
Certainly the bush lima bean of the potato type and the large, fiat variety of twining habit, if found indigenous in the same locality, would, by any one with authority to define species, been given distinctive specific names, and with propriety.
Where these variations occur the insignia of purpose is plainly manifest; when accomplished, the new form will soon become permanent in a given latitude, and will as quickly change when removed to another.
There are as many types of vegetables as latitudes in which they are grown, and these will be more or less modified by the character of the soil in which they are grown. But it is not as arbitrary as we have been taught to suppose, and the more we study it, the deeper we penetrate the mysteries of creative energy, the greater our astonishment, and the more we become convinced there is not a plant but has creative thought impressed upon it, and a soil in which it can find a congenial home.
We take, for instance, a cubic foot of soil, composed at most of only four simple earths, and notice what it will produce with only water and atmospheric gases to aid it. Side by side we see the wheat producing its flour, the sorrel its oxalic acid, the beet its sugar, the poppy its opium. From one plant comes the fragrance of the rose, from another the odor of garlic. The tubers of the deadly nightshade and the potato will intertwine, the one to destroy, the other to sustain, animal life.
The multiplicity of operations continually going on in vegetable forms at the same time and the variety of different substances formed out of the same ingredients, and at the same time, astonish and confound us. The order, too, and the skill with which every operation in the economy of nature is conducted, are no less surprising.
This brief reference to soil seems necessary from the mistaken and prevalent idea that certain characters of soil are necessary for each and every class of plants; when, in fact, the soil is nature's department store, where any vegetable can be obtained by asking for it. Do not accept this statement literally, but as a principle.
A plant that will make any growth at all will do all that is possible even under the most adverse circumstances. The character or quality of the vegetable will be materially changed by the elements in the soil being more or less favorable to some desired quality, either flavor, tenderness, form, or color, but it matters not in what soil a seed may be placed, reproduction is its active principle, its soul of being.
Having shown that many, if not most, of the changes in vegetable forms have been made necessary for self-preservation when grown under changed climatic conditions, and also that these changes were along the lines of evolution, to enable them to live in harmony with other creations, we will now briefly consider what is generally supposed the most important element in plant breeding or plant development, viz.:
Much stress is laid on the importance of hybridization, as an order in the development of species and the parent of new varieties. While we are willing to credit any agency that gives us an improved vegetable form, no matter what it may be, it is possible to give to this more than is justly its due.
When hybridization was defined a cross between species, the result of which is a mule, a creation incapable of reproduction, we could only regard it the parent of monstrosities, which would render all such results, from the seedsman's standpoint, utterly useless, as any seedless plant would be to those whose business it is to sell seeds.
But since the more recent definition of the word makes it include a cross between varieties we most heartily accept it as an important agency in the development of vegetable forms, and the credit should have been given to cross-fertilization, instead of hybridization.
That we have many varieties of great value, the result of cross-fertilization, there is not — there cannot be the least doubt.
But how are types developed through this agency, may be asked. We reply: by simply uniting the good qualities of two or more varieties into one. As, for instance, a tree, shrub, or plant may be vigorous in growth and strong in reproductive energy, but its fruits may be low in those qualities that give it a commercial value — it is undeveloped, uneducated.
An allied species or variety may have but little strength physically, but produce fruits in limited quantity that reach the highest degree of perfection. A union of the good qualities of the two is a most valuable acquisition. This is our work, our duty, as agents in plant breeding or plant education.
Where indigenous the species are all vigorous, and reproduction their only mission; development is held in check until such times as it may be required. In each there is an active principle of usefulness along some given line which is chained to its own home until the will of man orders its release. These active principles are the elementary substances of the food we consume or the clothes we wear.
When these imprisoned energies are set free by cross-fertilization they are liable to impart to their progeny some very strange combinations; many erratic freaks present themselves, like an unbridled horse, showing more zeal than discretion. These strange variations are apt to show themselves for several generations. This makes the work of selection a necessary one, which must be long continued before a desired type becomes permanent.
That we have secured a variety that will prove constant and reproduce these pronounced characteristics we so highly prize, when first they present themselves, is by no means certain. The most desirable varieties have been the result of a long series of careful selection from stocks which showed a tendency to improve under favorable circumstances.
There is no work as uncertain as that of cross-fertilization. No one knows, no one can know, the result of labor employed in this direction. Many efforts have been made to secure some desired form or quality, one usually difficult to obtain, but we do not know of an instance, and do not think there ever has been one, where the plant breeder ever succeeded in getting the results he expected, or approximated them. He may, and often does, get some desirable variety, but not the one sought.
Improvement along any line of reproduction is slow and uncertain, but nowhere more uncertain than in the family of plants. Many of the varieties produced through the agency of cross-fertilization, while of great value in the locality where they originated, are or may be without value elsewhere, as they do not always reproduce themselves when grown under changed conditions of soil and climate. They may come true to the type the first year, but will not reproduce it, from the fact of its not being congenial to its changed conditions of reproduction.
This is true with all leading varieties, and, while the seed of a given type will come true under nearly all conditions where the plant can be grown at all. but it may not do to grow it for seed purposes. The seed growers all over the world fully understand these conditions and get their stocks from localities where development rather than deterioration is the natural tendency.
This brings us to the last point we are to consider and the most important one, viz.:
It matters not when, how, or where a given variety was produced, the question for the seedsman is, Where can it be reproduced to the best possible advantage? In other words, where can he procure seeds that will give the greatest satisfaction in the locality he has to supply.
As all plants owe their existence in the first place to the seed, reproduction depends wholly upon the seed's power of germination. But germination in its relation to the value of the plant produced is relative, all depends upon what the plant is grown for. A high power of germination is absolutely necessary in one case, while in another a low percentage of germination is just as important. Weakness of vital power is highly important in many kinds of plants that are grown for the beauty of their flowers. Take, for instance, the Balsam and Zinnia, the weaker the vitality the more care nature takes to protect the germ that is to perpetuate the species. The flower is increased in size by an additional number of petals to protect the vital spark that is to perpetuate the species. The old gardeners made it a practice to carry the seeds of some of their choicest flowering plants in their pockets to weaken vitality, as they produced more double flowers.
It is an open secret that some of the truckers that grow cabbage largely for the New York market never use seed until its germinating power becomes greatly weakened. These men have the reputation of being the most successful growers in the country, and sell seed to their neighbors at an exorbitant price. To their shrewdness must be credited the fact of their giving to their neighbors new seed, which will not always give the desired results.
The seed these growers use would be discarded by any dealer, and by those who seem to have authority to place the value of all seeds upon the test of germination.
The egg plant grown in hot climates produces an enormous quantity of seed of high germinating power, and what would be called a handsome sample. The egg plant grown on Long Island grows to a much larger size, has but few seeds, and these of low germinating power, and have a shrunken, shriveled look, but the growers have no trouble in getting $5 per ounce for the seed, because of the better fruit it produces. An ounce of this seed that many dealers would reject as worthless will yield three times the number of barrels of fruit as would the same amount of seed grown at the extreme south. It is not the fruit — so called — which we eat that exhausts the plant's vitality, but the seed produced. Our most successful fruit growers make it a practice to thin out all their fruits, leaving not more than one-third set; the result is they get a crop annually and just as many bushels from a tree as if all the fruit is left to mature its seeds.
On the other hand, where the seed is the part consumed, as with the cereals, it is of the utmost importance that the seeds of all kinds should be of the largest size, and such as are perfectly matured and have been carefully preserved, so that their vitality has in no way become weakened.
Seed which has not reached maturity may, it is true, possess the power of germination, but it will always retain a disposition to disease and weakness. It is true that disposition may be so far conquered by a coincidence of favorable auspices, and by a soil and temperature peculiarly adapted to the requirements of the plant, that imperfect seeds may produce vigorous and healthy plants; but there is always great danger of the crop failure and of the progeny's inheriting disease instead of strength.
So far as we have been able to learn, our most practical and intelligent agriculturists who have paid any attention to the subject are fully convinced that great advantages arise from sowing the largest and most perfect grains of all the cereals; that by systematic care in the selection of the largest and most perfect grains for seed purposes and development of the types are perfected. The secret of plant breeding, so far as it relates to the cereals is concerned, consists in ever breeding from the highest developed and most prolific types.
In choosing the seed a preference should always be given to that which has been grown where the conditions of soil and climate are calculated to bring it to perfection, and that all inferior plants should be eliminated from the field before the harvest. It is highly important to have all the grains selected for seed purposes uniform and perfectly matured. More important still is it to have the seed saved from a field where the plants are uniformly good than to select from a field where there arc to be found many plants inferior or below the type we wish to secure. By these means seed can be secured uniform in character and in period of maturity.
It is not in the direct line of plant breeding to select for seed purposes from a field where the average is below the type we wish to secure. It is a much safer plan to throw out the inferior from a field that is uniformly good, than to select from a field uniformly below the standard required.
To produce the largest number of bushels of the cereals from a given average, with the grains of the best quality and appearance, and to get the largest yield of vegetables of the most desirable types, is the object and aim of every seedsman, and to secure seeds that will produce such results his greatest desire; as it is upon them that success or failure in a great measure depends he naturally inquires where can such be obtained, an important query, readily answered.
Get all seeds of the various types grown where, with good culture, they show a tendency to develop quality and productiveness, and never get them where, under favorable conditions of growth, the tendency is towards deterioration.
Selection, not merely a choice, but as an order of creation, is the principle in the school of plant breeding or plant education. In the races of plants as in the races of men there are in every class some that show superior merit, a desire to grow, to reach a higher order of usefulness than their fellows. Opportunity alone is all that is required to make them leaders in the army to which they belong.
There is not a field of grain or of any kind of vegetable but in which may be found some individual of superior merit. To give this an opportunity to grow is not only the work, but the duty of the plant breeder. It is the only road that will lead him to success; it is direct and certain. Encourage any superior growth; take it from its humble position and give it a higher one; minister to the necessities that growth or development entails and the results that follow will be proportionate, to the efforts employed.
Time will not permit of our taking up this order of development in detail, but we cannot rest without calling your attention to an important field in which the seedsman or specialist has a golden opportunity. This field is the sugar beet grown for seed purposes.
As before stated, the place to obtain seed is where a given type will, under good cultivation, reach the limit of possibilities. No vegetable should be grown for seed purposes anywhere else. While this rule is an important one in every line, it is doubly so with the sugar beet.
The beet sugar industry is one of the greatest importance in this country. Next to the cereals, no other agricultural industry can compare with it. This industry had its birth in a seed, and its progress or decline will, in a great measure, depend upon the character of the seed used for the production of the raw material, the active principle of which is sugar.
It is safe to say that the selection of beet roots for stock seed purposes requires greater care, more intelligence, more scientific appliances, and a greater outlay of money than is employed in the production of all other stock seeds combined.
Beets for seed purposes are grown in Europe in those sections where the roots yield the largest percentage of saccharine matter, upon which their value depends. The sugar manufacturer will not use any other seed, it would be folly to do otherwise.
It is a well established fact that the beets grown in some parts of our country are about five per cent, richer in saccharine matter than those grown in Europe. Hence it follows that in those sections this seed industry should be encouraged. Judging by the results obtained in the development of other vegetable forms by selection, if the same means were employed in the production of beet seed in these favored districts as in Europe at least another five per cent, would be added to the sugar producing value of the productions, while the by-products, mainly feeding purposes, would be proportionately enhanced.
IS A CHANGE OF SEED NECESSARY?
Many persons consider a frequent change or renewal of seed as an indispensable condition to the production of a profitable crop. The necessity of this change is insisted on by both the theoretical and practical horticulturists, for reasons which they consider conclusive.
There is a very general impression that a change of seed is absolutely necessary for a good crop of potatoes, that if a given variety is grown for a succession of years on the same farm deterioration, both in quality and quantity, will be the result. This opinion being held by neighbors it is common practice for them to exchange stocks for planting. Than this there can be no greater mistake, either in principle or practice. We know of farmers who usually get four hundred bushels per acre, or double an ordinary crop, who have not changed, and have used seed of their own saving for the past twenty years.
Under certain circumstances it is always best to get potatoes for seed purposes far from where they are to be planted for the production of a crop. This is particularly true when we have in view earliness of maturity, which under many circumstances is a matter of vital importance; as, for instance, where a second crop is to follow, as is the case on Long Island, where a second crop is the rule rather than the exception, with our intensive system of farming. Seed grown at the extreme northern point, where the variety will perfect its growth and perfectly mature its seed, will reproduce itself in our latitude several days earlier than that of our own production, which makes a second crop possible, where if seed of our own production were used it might not.
Our observation has proven most conclusively that it is not profitable to save seed from a crop grown from northern seed, as they are no earlier the second year and not so productive. It is, therefore, much better to get seed from the north annually if a second crop is desirable.
Should farmers save their own seed where earliness is not an object is a question frequently asked and always answered by us in the affirmative when asked by a Long Island farmer, and that because those who save their own stocks for seed purposes and use proper care in selection are, as a rule, the most successful. There are, however, exceptions to this rule, and where it does not apply is where some inexplicable condition exists. In many cases we find the exception can be traced directly to the farmer. In this locality, as in all others where the potato is successfully grown, there are some districts and some particular farms which are famous for producing enormous crops of potatoes, and where the whole crop is frequently sold at high prices for seed purposes. In such localities we generally find that such advantages arise not less from the nature and properties of the soil being favorable to the production of the potato than to the infinitely greater care and attention which is paid to the crop; and we also find among the farmers themselves a conviction that the reputation they have made is more due to their own efforts than the natural advantages they possess.
In the selection of seed, no matter what the class to which they belong may be, there is but one safe rule to follow: procure it from that place where it is the most perfect and healthy, where the yield under favorable circumstances is the largest, where the vegetables produced reach the highest standard of excellence, and where the conditions of climate and character of soil are similar to your own. This is not always where the soil is richest or the climate the most favorable for excessive growth, as in such places the plants are not sufficiently exposed to the influence of light and air for the development of strength and character. A weak plant will beget a weak progeny.
It is a well-known fact that in plants as in animals strength and weakness, health or disease, are transmitted not only to the first generation, but through succeeding ones. Hence the importance of having stock for seed purposes, more particularly for the cereals, grown where there is the greatest strength along the lines of reproduction, rather than in the size of the plant.
On the other hand, there are certain classes of vegetables that should be grown from seeds of low vitality, the reasons for which have already been stated.