Journal of Horticulture and Practical Gardening, 16: 240-244. April 8, 1869

Extracted and translated from a pamphlet by M. Carriére, Head Gardener in the Nurseries of the Muséum of Natural History.

[THERE is no subject in gardening of greater interest than the origin of those cultivated esculents which contribute so much to our pleasures and necessities. The greater mass of people never give the subject a consideration; they are content to eat, live, and enjoy, heedless of the efforts that have been expended, or the means adopted, to minister to their necessities. But there are many in whose minds the question, Whence are they? has often arisen, and to which a reply has been sought in vain. To our good friend M. Carrière, of the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle of Paris, we are indebted for the following most interesting and practical solution of the subject, and we feel certain our readers will unite with us in thanking him by a full appreciation of his ingenious labours.—EDS.]

ON seeing our fruit trees and kitchen garden plants, and eating their produce, we naturally ask the question, How have they originated? Two answers alone are possible—either to admit that they are modifications or descendants of a wild type, or that they were created much the same as they now are. As every-day facts, supported and explained by science, contradict the latter supposition, the former we may consider is the truth.

To trace the origin of a plant, how should we proceed? By tracing analogies, and making comparative experiments, studying well their results, in order to form deductions and find out resemblances.

It is impossible to enter fully into the origin of all domesticated plants, and it is equally impossible to trace even one of them absolutely to its original form; but let it be granted that Raphanus raphanistrum is a species, not, however, in the sense in which naturalists generally accept the word—that is, as being an absolute type, of which the extension is limited. Every scientific inquiry may be compared to a line which can always be extended from each end. But as the progress of anything cannot be ascertained without knowing the different stages, as the distance travelled can only be measured from a fixed starting point, I will take as that starting point Raphanus raphanistrum, as it is found wild, and which is represented in figs. 1, 2, and 3.

Raphanus raphanistrum, or the Wild Radish, is a weed belonging to the natural order Cruciferae, and often confounded with Sinapis arvensis, or Charlock. It is much branched, the ramifications strong, wide apart, springing from the collar, with lyrate leaves (fig. 1). In a wild state it is found with pale yellow, as well as with pure white or lilac-veined flowers.

Fig. 1.
Wild Radish In flower.
Fig. 2
Pods of the Wild Radish. A. Pod of the same improved.

Having stated what are the principal characters of R. raphanistrum, I will mention how the idea occurred to me of subjecting the plant to cultivation. Born and brought up in the country, most of my youth was spent in the fields. One day I observed some resemblance between the pods of the garden Radish and those of the wild one, which at that time I mistook for Charlock. I found them good to eat, and it occurred to me to sow the seeds, but my intention to do so was not carried out till long afterwards, when, hearing of various experiments made with Cabbages, Beet, and Carrots, the remembrance of what I called Charlock occurred to me, and I determined to experiment on the plant. With this view, I gathered in the fields, and as far as possible from allied plants, such as Cabbages, Turnips, Radishes, &c., seeds of Raphanus raphanistrum, and sowed them with the intention of resowing in several successive years, selecting every time seeds from those plants which presented the most promising features.

To give my experiment, which was continued during five successive years, a greater amount of certainty, and to impress upon it more deeply the seal of truth than would otherwise have been the case, it was carried out under two different conditions—viz., at Paris, in the light, dry soil of the nurseries of the Museum of Natural History, and in the country, in a strong calcareous clay. Under these two conditions the results obtained were nearly similar. At Paris the long form of root predominated, and was almost the only one, and in the country it was the reverse. Again, whilst at Paris, only white or rose-coloured roots were produced, in the country these were purple, or very dark brown verging on black, and there were some of all forms and colours. There were at once representatives of the various sorts both of Radish and Turnip, a statement, however, which must not be taken as meaning that I consider the two vegetables the same. There was even one (fig. 6) exactly like the Chinese Winter Radish, and with a flavour intermediate between that of the Radish and the Turnip. Finally, one of the most singular of the varieties raised (fig. 9) was of beautiful purple colour, both externally, and in its flesh, being in this respect similar to the red-fleshed Beetroots, and purple-fleshed Potatoes, among vegetables, and the Sanguine Peach and Pain-Vin Pear among fruits.

Fig. 3.—Root of the Wild Radish. Fig. 4.—Wild Radish Improved. Fig. 5.

The better to show the differences between R. raphanistrum and the varieties which it produced, I will place in opposition the leading characteristics of each, which are as follow:—

RAPHANUS RAPHANISTRUM, the type. Flowers pale yellow or white sometimes lightly streaked with purple. Pods very small, inclining, only slightly fleshy. Roots long and thin, dry, fibrous, of one uniform shape, always white, hard, sub-ligneous, uneatable.

VARIETIES PRODUCED BY RAPHANUS RAPHANISTRUM. Flowers white, rosy purple, or yellow, of one colour or more frequently streaked. Pods variable in size and form, inclining, occasionally upright, sometimes very strong and almost as thick and long as those of the Madras Radish, being then succulent and good to eat. Roots large, sometimes of very great size, very variable in form and colour, fleshy; the flesh white, sometimes yellow or rose-coloured, sometimes purple, esculent and good to eat.

From the above it will be seen that the differences between the type and the varieties which proceeded from it were considerable, especially considering that they were the results of only four generations. I will now proceed to point out the principal characteristics of the roots shown in the figures.

Figs. 1, 2, and 3 are typical of the Wild Radish. Fig. 1 in a representation (one-half the natural size), of the end of a flowering shoot. Fig. 2 is a portion of the shoot with pods of the natural size, and beside this shoot is a pod A of the plant as improved. Fig. 3 (reduced one-half) represents a root of the wild plant as seen in plants which have attained about their full growth.

Fig. 6. Fig. 7.

As in the present case the whole of the progress made consists in the increased size of the roots, it will be useful to state their comparative weight in the wild and cultivated states. The root shown In fig. 8 (this, like all the succeeding figures, is half the natural size), when about full grown, weighed 339.515 grains (22 grammes), and was white, dry, fibrous, leathery, and uneatable, even when fresh-taken up.

The root shown in fig. 4 was white, slightly tinged with purple at the top. Its length from the collar to the extremities of the roots was 17.717 inches, its greatest diameter 2.362 inches, and it weighed 12.169 ozs. (345 grammes).

The root represented in fig. 5 was of a beautiful vermilion-rose colour, and near the top of a very dark red approaching to purple. Its length was 15 3/4 inches, its diameter 3.543 inches, its weight 15.696 ozs. It was so like what are known in the trade as the China Radishes, that if mixed with these it would be impossible to distinguish it.

The root shown in fig. 6 was of a dark brick red; the skin rugose, as if corky, or embroidered; the form exactly that of a Turnip; the flesh rose, streaked or veined with red to a depth of four-tenths of an inch, the rest white, slightly tinged with flesh colour. Its length was 10.236 inches, its diameter 5.118 inches, its weight 22.046 ozs.

Fig. 7 represents a root with a white skin, very smooth and even-surfaced, its appearance like that of a fine, large, well grown Turnip. Its length was nearly 12 6/10 inches, its diameter nearly 4 inches, its weight 22.963 ozs.

Fig. 8. Fig. 9. Fig. 10. Fig. 11.

Fig. 8 was white, purplish near the collar; its length was 9.848 inches, its diameter slightly exceeding 2 3/4 inches, Its weight 7.09 ozs.

Fig. 9 was blackish-purple veined; flesh purple, shaded and streaked with a deeper colour to a depth of four-tenths of an inch, the rest of the flesh white, slightly tinged with purple. Its length was 8.662 inches, its diameter slightly over 2 3/4 inches, its weight 5.115 ozs.

In the root shown in fig. 10 the skin was of a deep blackish maroon, almost black; the flesh was milk white, and very delicate. The length was 10.630 inches, the diameter 2.362 inches, the weight 3.069 ozs.

Fig. 11 is a representation of a root with a fine very thin skin of a beautiful rose colour, and very juicy almost melting flesh. Its regularly swelling, much flattened form gave it the appearance of a handsome Radish, such as a gardener would pick out for saving seed from. Instead of growing under ground it grew almost on the surface like some kinds of Turnips. Its whole length was 4.725 inches, its diameter half the length, and the form so flattened that the thickness was only 1 1/6 inch. The weight was 2.399 ozs.

The whole of the roots, whatever their colour or form, were succulent, and had a well-marked Radish flavour, approaching in some to that of the Black Spanish Radish. On careful tasting some appeared to me to have a very slight sugary flavour, with a tendency to approach that of the Turnip. In none, however, was the Turnip flavour appreciable in a raw state, but when they were cooked the case was very different. Then the pungency of the Radish entirely disappeared, giving place to the Turnip flavour, which, instead of being mild, was very strong. The smell of Turnips was also emitted by the roots when exposed to the air after having been taken up, and when decaying. The flesh (I am referring to the cooked roots), was not exactly like that of the Radish, being much firmer, hardly so sugary, but floury, and therefore very nutritious. Thus I had plants which could neither be classed with the Radishes nor the Turnips, but which seemed to partake of the nature of each of these, being Radishes in their raw and Turnips in their cooked state; but it must be admitted that the Radish flavour was by far the stronger of the two. All who ate the vegetable considered it delicious, and it may be added that, however large the roots, not one was hollow; also that they remained good for several months alter being taken up.

What advantages can be derived from these experiments? It would be rash to hazard a decided opinion, but the results already obtained favour the idea that in this way new races of plants suitable for agriculture and horticulture may be produced. Already we may consider the Wild Radish improved as being an economic plant, a particular kind of vegetable, a family Radish I may call it, obtained from a wild plant hitherto regarded as a mere weed. I call it a family Radish for two reasons—first, because it grows so large, and second, because when taken up and kept in a cellar it can be eaten all through the winter like Turnips, for which it to a certain extent serves as a substitute.

In the experiments which I have given an account of, there is one important fact which requires special notice, and that is the influence exercised by the conditions under which we operate—conditions of air, moisture, and dryness, heat and cold, aspect, &c., which collectively constitute climate; also, of soil both chemically and physically, subsoil, &c.—all circumstances that are extremely variable, and which, in conjunction with climate, influence the life and characters of living things.

Soil is not uniform in its influence, for the latter is regulated not only by the chemical composition of the soil, but by its physical characters, and these may be modified in a thousand different ways; hence in two soils, supposing these to be perfectly alike (and that cannot be), very different results will be obtained if the one be cultivated and the other not, or if both be cultivated but in a different manner. It is a well-known fact that if on two adjoining pieces of land the same description of plant is grown, frequently the results obtained are very different, and this is especially the case with the Vine. From the same kinds of Grape cultivated in the same manner, the wines produced are occasionally totally unlike in quality and keeping. I repeat, then, that the mode of cultivation, by modifying the conditions in which the plant is placed, exercises a considerable influence on the crop produced. This fact is placed beyond doubt by the experiments I have related, and which have resulted in such changes in the Wild Radish as those shown in the accompanying figures. This plant has grown from time immemorial, and in large numbers, in the fields, but had never produced anything different from what it does at the present day—namely, comparatively low, much-branched plants with small pods and white, slender, fibrous, dry, almost woody roots, yet in only four generations and five years it has become so changed as to constitute a new economic plant. But, as already remarked, the results obtained in Paris and in the country were different in their details, though similar as a whole. In the country, in a strong calcareous clay soil (Wheat land), the short forms of root predominated, indeed, were almost the only forms produced, whilst at Paris in a very light, warm, and deep calcareous soil only long, white, or somewhat purplish roots, of which fig. 4 may be taken as an example, were obtained. These facts explain why, when sowing the same seeds, different results occasionally follow.

Having shown how I transformed the Wild Radish into a domestic plant in four generations, I will point out the means by which these results can be obtained as quickly as possible. It is simply selection.

King: Wild Radishes in California