Minnsota Horticulturist 29: 75-79 (January 1901)
THE BREEDING OF NATIVE NORTHWESTERN FRUITS
PROF. N. E. HANSEN
S. D. AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE, BROOKINGS, S. D.
All who are familiar with the severe conditions with which the planter has to deal who lives on the open prairies of the northwest must realize the urgent need of a hardier list of fruits than we have at present. Before this association there is no need of going into details concerning the great annual losses experienced on the prairies by those attempting to grow many kinds of fruit. Five years ago, upon first coming into the state, my general knowledge of the conditions induced me to make a beginning in this work by gathering together wild fruit plants and trees from various parts of North and South Dakota and Manitoba. The determination to follow out this line of work was greatly intensified by attendance upon numerous farmers' institutes and by the many letters received from farmers who had failed in raising eastern and southern fruits. The work of raising seedlings was begun as soon as these plants began to fruit to any extent, which was in 1898. All the plants in fruit were carefully gone over, and the seeds saved from the plants bearing the largest and best fruit. Seedlings were raised the following year and during the past season. A careful count this fall shows a total of over 27,000 seedlings, made up in round numbers as follows:
Sand cherry, 8,400; plum, 4,000; grape, 5,000; wild strawberry, crossed with tame, 5,000; strawberry, pure native, 1,000; pin cherry, 25; choke cherry, 360; golden currant, 200; black currant, 2,200; buffalo berry, 180; gooseberry, 425; wild raspberry, crossed with tame, 200; raspberry, pure native, 40. Total, 27,030.
Showing Variation in Sand Cherry Seedlings
The most promising of new types of fruit is the sand cherry (Prunus Besseyi). Some South Dakota plants were already on the station grounds. Over 5,000 more plants, grown at Marcus, Iowa, by M. E. Hinkley, now editor of the "Fruitman," from seed he had gathered in northern Nebraska, at Valentine, near the South Dakota line, were obtained from him in the spring of 1896 and 1897, and seeds from the best plants as they fruited in 1898 and 1899. Of the over 14,000 seedlings I have raised from these plants, 8,400 have been reserved for fruiting. The plants show the most wonderful variety in size and flavor, as pointed out by Prof. Charles E. Bessey eleven years ago (American Pomological Society Report, 1899, p. 160) after examining the plants in their native habitat. Some of the plants found in this first plantation, most of which was grubbed up this fall, bear fruit of large size, with but little astringency. But little, in fact, remains to make this a choice table fruit, and it certainly makes a good fruit for culinary use. [By 1926, Hansen reported selected Sand Cherries with fruit 1 inch in diameter.]
Showing Variation in Wild Gooseberries (Ribes gracile).
In strawberries the work is being followed along two lines: 1. By crossing with cultivated varieties. 2. By pure selection. The native plants, as gathered together from various parts of the Dakotas and Manitoba, several thousand of which have fruited, show marked diversity in size. All are excellent in quality. About twenty plants were selected the past season and layered in pots for pure plantations next year. In crossing to obtain the 5.000 plants enumerated in the list, a new plan was tried. In the fall of 1899 about 350 native and cultivated plants were taken up and grown in the greenhouse during the winter. The tame sorts included the everbearing sorts from France as well as leading American sorts. As the blossoms appeared, the bi-sexual ones were emasculated, and pollen from other varieties was applied to these and to the pistillate blossoms. The plan in all cases was to have one of the parents wild and the other cultivated. The seeds were sown at once and germinated freely. The pure native seedlings were grown from fruit picked from small patches scattered through a plantation of cultivated varieties. The object of this work is to originate a strawberry that will be perfectly hardy even without winter mulching. These plants go into winter quarters in good condition and will, I hope, begin to bear next year. The experiment will be repeated on a much larger scale this winter. A new lot of seventeen varieties was received in November, 1900, direct from France. I expect, however, that the best results will come from pure selection and am prepared to fruit 200.000 seedlings or more if necessary within the next three or four years to get the variety wanted, if that is possible, and I believe it is.
Two-year old Wild Gooseberry Plant
Two-year old Wild Black Currant
My methods are, in brief, an application of the principle laid down by Darwin that "excess of food causes variation." In fact, I think that variation can be compelled to appear by such methods much sooner than by giving ordinary cultivation. The florist gives high feeding and culture to plants and reaches results much sooner than any other cultivator of plant-life by treating plants as individuals. The first few generations, then, apply the florist methods to any plant that we wish to modify or improve in any way. Break up the plants by the tens and hundreds of thousands, and select from these large numbers for the points desired.
Crossing is resorted to whenever possible, as it hastens the process of evolution by introducing new elements of variation. Realizing, however, that crossing with tender cultivated species in many cases has given a lessened degree of hardiness, the main reliance is placed upon pure selection. For crossing, plants are obtained in some cases from drier and colder regions, to give, so to speak, an excess of hardiness. In all cases the plan is to grow as many generations as possible under cultivation in the shortest possible time. My visits to many of the great seed farms of Europe lead me to think that there is much truth in the theory of the cumulative effect of cultivation in causing variation.
Several other native fruits will be given a trial the coming year, and a considerable quantity of seed has been gathered together from various parts of the northwest.
Of work with cultivated fruits, the apple is made a leading feature. The main effort is to combine the hardiness of the Russian with the long keeping capacity of the American varieties. Many sorts have been grown the past three seasons in boxes and pots, and cellared over winter. The trees are on Paradise stocks. I hope for an "orchard house" as soon as legislative appropriations permit.
The minimum temperature at this station in the memorable winter of 1898-99 was forty degrees below zero, with the ground dry and bare of snow. It is plain that eastern and southern varieties are out of place in this region, and yet native fruits are plentiful. We must take the hint given us by nature and develop a pomology of our own. No work is more worthy of the attention of the station horticulturist in regions where similar extreme climatic conditions obtain. The field is great, and the workers should be many. Patience and perseverance must be the watch words.
Prof. Hansen: When a florist takes hold of a new plant he gives it that exhaustive breeding that will enable him in a year to produce a dozen varieties of it. We can do the same thing with wild fruits by this exhaustive breeding. The way I go at it, the general way, is to start the seeds in flats, and as soon as they are big enough to handle I set the plants in pots. I do not always put them in pots, sometimes I put them in frames and get them as big as possible. They surprised me very much by their size. First sow your seed in flats, then transplant them into frames and carefully tend them the first year and then put them out in the fall. Mine made a very good growth this year. During the dry weather they did not wilt in the least. It is the same with the sand cherry. Sow the seed in flats, transplant into pots and put them right out in the fall where you want them to stay, and you will get four years growth in two, and you will cause that variation to appear. If you get a variation that is satisfactory you can propagate by layering, cutting, grafting and in many other ways.
Mr. J. S. Harris: I would like to ask Prof. Hansen whether by this method of propagating to get a better quality of fruit it is not done at the expense of hardiness.
Prof. Hansen: If you carried the process too far there might be that danger, but I think you can do it to a very large extent and still keep it hardy. There might be such a thing as improving our native plums too much, but you would have to carry it a long way before you would impair the hardiness. For practical purposes I do not think there is any danger of breeding too high in our time. Still, we are experimenting, and we will know more about the matter by and by.