Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries, 3: 289-292 (1914)


Yet there are cases where an experimenter is working with a single plant‑characteristic in view, as, for example, when 1 successfully attempted to develop scented callas and dahlias and verbenas.

Here, obviously, the task of selection is comparatively simple. We are dealing in each case with a flower that has certain desired qualities of color that are firmly fixed in its heredity. The one conspicuous point of variation among thousands of specimens is the presence or absence of a pleasing aroma.

It is necessary, then, merely to select the individual plants that have the most pleasing perfume and to use these only for carrying on the experiment. By making such selection generation after generation, choosing always the sweet-scented and rejecting the others, it proves possible to accentuate and fix the quality of perfume‑production without altering the other characteristics of the respective flowers in question.

Again the quality sought may be a particular color of blossom, and it may be desirable to pay attention to this only, practically disregarding all other qualities. Such, for example, was the case with my experiments with the crimson Eschscholzia, commonly known as the California poppy.

The blossoms of the plant from which my new type of poppy was developed, had a narrow strip of crimson on the inner side of one petal.

This was an anomaly that appeared "spontaneously." Doubtless it was due to some crossing of ancestral strains that brought out a latent character that had long been suppressed. But as to this we can only surmise. The simple fact of the matter was that a blossom did appear that had this narrow strip of crimson on one petal. I seized on this individual blossom as offering material for an experiment in color variation.

Seeds from this plant produced the next year several plants that had a trifle more crimson on their blossoms.

The following year there was still further improvement, as plants appeared that showed a much larger invasion of the flower petals by the crimson coloring. And by selecting year after year blossoms that showed this increasing tendency to adopt the new color, I produced presently a plant that bore blossoms of a beautiful uniform clear crimson. No trace of the original color remained.

This furnishes a very good illustration of selection for color where the material consisted of a small strip of unusual color appearing on blossoms otherwise of a fixed hue.

Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries, 9: 289-292 (1914)

The affinity between the yellow and red, for example, in the case of the poppy, is clearly enough demonstrated in th experiment, outlined in an earlier chapter, in which I developed a race of crimson California poppies (Eschscholzia), the parent species being, as is well-known, bright yellow in color. It will be recalled that the new crimson flower was developed by selection through successive generations from a specimen that showed a little line of crimson, like a streak or thread of another color, lengthwise of a single petal.