Massachusetts Horticultural Society for 1890, 212-215 (1891)
Dr. Robert P. Harris
Philadelphia, April 10, 1890. To the Massachusetts Horticultural Society: —
The interests of Potato Culture in the United States require that an early repetition of the work of the late Rev. Chauncy E. Goodrich, of Utica, N.Y., should be made, and new seedlings be produced from developed wild tubers, not of South American stock, — under which he had eleven out of twelve varieties fail, in consequence of the long season required for the growth of hot-climate tubers, — but from North American wild stock, such as may be dug up in Washington Territory, California, Arizona, Texas, and Mexico.
From one Chilian potato Mr. Goodrich produced the Rough Purple Chili, the seed of which again produced the Garnet Chili, which was the father of Bresee's Early Rose, the most noted American White Potato that has yet been produced by seed-culture. Through this Early Rose has been produced a new dynasty of hardy tubers, originating in its Chilian grandfather, and our tables are now chiefly supplied by one or other of the descendants of this potato-line. But this stock, after more than thirty years, has begun, like that of the Mercer, to die out. Can any one now produce a true Garnet Chili? The value of the Early Rose, and its adaptation to certain soils, still preserves it in some sections, as in the State of Maine, where it appears to grow in its original quality. But here, no doubt, we have history only repeating itself, for those who are old enough will remember the Maine Mercers, as they were sold in New York and Philadelphia long after their failure in the Middle States.
The potato-rot of 1844 and 1845 started Mr. Goodrich in his humanitarian scheme of obtaining hardiness by cultivating and disseminating seedlings from wild potato stock, and such was his zeal and activity during sixteen years prior to his death in 1864, — although much of the time in poor health from lung trouble, — that he produced from thirteen thousand to fifteen thousand tuber-seedlings. He unfortunately died before the Garnet Chili family could be seen in its full development, and, sad to say, in poverty; but his country honors his name today for the great good he accomplished in his last years, and he is regarded in Europe as having commenced a new era in potato culture. When we consider that the loss by the potato-rot in the British Isles alone was estimated at $50,000,000 for its maximum year, and that the disease produced a famine in Ireland, we can learn to value the expedients which restored a healthy condition of crops, and were thereby the means of saving life.
To prepare for the future results of deterioration, the work of raising new varieties from wild stock should be commenced at once, and be undertaken by the younger horticulturists, as it will be the labor of some years to effect a full fruition. Wild American potatoes vary in size from that of a pea to that of a marble, and first crop seedlings are as large as buckshot. The former will generally require seven seasons to bring them to full size, and the latter four seasons. The soil should be fed with the proper materials to make the tubers enlarge, and for this purpose a dressing of wood ashes will be found available.
Wild potatoes are early, late, and too late for our climate. They are white-fleshed, yellow-fleshed, round, oval, and oblong. The plants are erect, semi-pronate, and recumbent, spreading over a wide surface; bearing white or purple flowers, but chiefly white. Some will bear seed-balls when cultivated; others will not. Seeds may produce varieties by accident, or as the result of hybridization effected by hand or insect fertilization. "Sports" from underground change will also produce changes upon the original tuber planted. Such are liable to a repetition, and gardeners have less faith in them. Potato plants that blossom but do not bear fruit can be made productive by hand-fertilizing, or by planting another variety in alternate hills; the Early Rose has been made to bear seed-balls in this latter way.
By a wise provision of the Creator wild potatoes always remain very small in their native soil unless cultivated; but for which they would exhaust the land and die out. In South America they grow on lofty plateaux like that of Quito (9,500 feet), or Bogota (8,500 feet), on the sides of the Andes at suitable elevations, and often have a season of eight months' activity, after which the newly formed tubers remain dormant for four months, when they in turn sprout. The soil is largely replenished by the dying of the old tubers and plants, just as that of a forest is by the formation of leaf-mould.
The pecuniary value of a new seedling potato maybe very great, as is shown by the history of the Early Rose, which brought as high as $2 for a single five-ounce tuber. As there would be one hundred and ninety-two such potatoes—or sixty pounds — in a bushel, the price would be equivalent to $384 for a bushel. From $2 to $3 for a pound was often obtained, and $20 for a peck was considered reasonable. These prices do not appear so extravagant when we bear in mind that the five-ounce potato was made to produce one hundred and fifty plants, which yielded four hundred and fifty pounds, or seven and a half bushels, and that one pound (four potatoes) has produced two thousand plants, and nineteen hundred and eighty-two pounds, or thirty-three bushels of potatoes. The second season of the Early-Rose brought the price down to $10 per bushel, the third year to $3, and the fourth to an edible valuation.
Yours very respectfully,
ROBERT P. HARRIS.