Experimental Evolution pp. 236-238 (1892)

Artificial Selection
Henry de Varigny, D. Sc.

1 See his Notice sur l’Amelioration de la Carotte Sauvage in Notices sur l’Amelioration des Plantes par la Culture, Paris, 1886.

It is a rather curious fact that while the operation of selection is recognised by most evolutionists, even if holding Lamarckian versus Darwinian views, but few experiments, as such, have been yet performed, although observations are plentiful. Among the best which have yet been made, I must refer to those of Vilmorin,1 performed many years ago, and published for the first time in the Transactions of the Horticultural Society in 1840 (2nd Series, vol. ii., p. 348). M. de Vilmorin,  considering that most of our food-vegetables are derived from species which have been altered by man, and that the most interesting point to investigate is the methods through which the alteration has been obtained, notices the fact familiar to all, that while species which have been a long time under cultivation vary easily and in many directions, those which have been less cultivated, or have not been cultivated at all hardly exhibit any variation. Such has been the case with this writer in his experiments on Lactuca perennis, on Tetragonia, on Solanum stoloniferum, on Brassica orientalis. But in the case of the wild carrot circumstances have been quite different, and through selection, artificial of course, he has obtained very precise and interesting results which it may be useful to quote here.

In 1832, M. de Vilmorin, wishing to obtain from the wild carrot plants with thick and edible roots, planted some seeds of the wild plant. All the plants thus obtained grew quickly and yielded seed, while no root was any better than that of the common wild carrot. He began again in 1833, and among the seeds planted, many were late in germinating and no seed was produced, while some roots were somewhat larger and thicker than usual. These roots he selected and put apart so as to plant them in the following spring, and they yielded seeds in 1834. The seeds were again planted in 1835. Many gave plants with the ordinary wild carrot root, but a rather large proportion (1/5th) yielded plants with thicker roots. The seed of these plants was selected, and planted in 1836. Selection again was performed, so that in 1837 many good roots were obtained. In 1838 and 1839 the process was continued, with the result of yielding a large proportion of satisfactory carrots (9/10ths). While acquiring different dimensions, the roots acquired also unusual colour: yellow, lilac, and even red.

1 Note sur un Projet d'Experience ayant pour but d'augmenter la Richesse saccharine de la Betterave. Loc. cit. (1890), and Note sur la Creation d'une nouvelle Race de Betterave à Sucre. Loc. cit. and Comptes Rendus, Nov. 1856.

Here we have a good instance of the selective process and of its influence and operation. Another is yielded by experiments on the beetroot, performed some years later by the same writer, with the view of obtaining a variety of this plant containing more sugar than is commonly the case.1 It is worth recording, as it shows that through selection it is possible to influence physiological variability, and the result has been to increase the proportion of sugar from 10 on an average to 12, 14 and even 16 per cent. M. de Vilmorin notices a fact which it is well to state here, when he says that it is better to select seeds from plants belonging to a group with high average than from plants yielding high maxima but also low minima.