Stamen Counters
Luther Burbank (1914)

A few years after I came to Santa Rosa, I was invited to hear a new minister preach on a subject which, I was assured, would be of interest to me.

It was not my own church, so I tried to find my way to an unobtrusive seat in the rear, where I should disturb no one. But, as if by prearrangement, the usher would not have it that way—I was led to the front center, where I was given a pew to myself.

As soon as the sermon began, I saw the reason for it all. That preacher, with a zeal in his heart worthy of a better cause, had evidently planned a sermon for my own particular benefit. He was determined to show me the error of my ways.

He began by describing "God's complete arrangements" as evidenced in the plants about us, and rebuked me openly for trying to improve on the creations of Omnipotence. He held me to ridicule as one who believed he could improve perfection; he predicted dire punishment for attempting to thwart Nature and tried to persuade me, before that audience, to leave God's plants alone.

Poor man! Whatever may have been thought of his good taste, or his tact, or his judgment, I could hardly take offense at his sentiments—for they really reflected the thought of that day.

Poor man! He could not see that our plants are what they are because they have grown up with the birds, and the bees, and the winds to help them; and that now, after all these centuries of uphill struggle, man has been given to them as a partner to free them from weakness and open new doors of opportunity.

He could not see that all of us, the birds, and the bees, and the flowers, and we, ourselves, are a part of the same onward‑moving procession, each helping the other to better things; nor could many of the others of his time see that.

And the botanists of that day, less than four short decades ago, found their chief work in the study and classification of dried and shriveled plant mummies, whose souls had fled—rather than in the living, breathing forms, anxious to reveal their life histories.

They counted the stamens of a dried flower without looking at the causes for those stamens; they measured and surveyed the length and breadth of truth with never a thought of its depth—they charted its surface, as if never realizing that it was a thing of three dimensions.

And that is why those who had devoted their lifetimes to counting stamens and classifying shapes told me, through their writings, that a cross might be made within species, but never between species; that is why when I did make a cross between species they looked no further into the truth, but simply moved up a notch, and said, "Very well, but you cannot make a cross between genera"; that is why, when I did that very thing, not once, but scores of times, that type of scientist lost interest in rule making and went back to stamen counting.