Luther Burbank: His Methods and Discoveries, 1: 289-300 (1914)

California Poppies
Escholtzia californica

It may be well, at this point, however, to take space to refer to the single question most frequently asked by thousands of intelligent men and women who have visited Mr. Burbank's experiment farms.

This question, differing in form, as the individualities of the questioners differ, usually runs like this:

"If we are descendants of monkeys, why are not the monkeys turning into men today?"

* * * *

Let us learn Mr. Burbank's answer to this question by turning to the golden-yellow California poppy, so called, and the three entirely new poppies (illustrated here in natural colors), which he produced from it.

In order to make clear the truth which the poppies prove, it is necessary to explain the successive steps of the operation.

Mr. Burbank first grew a yardful of the wild, golden-yellow poppies, such as cover California's hills.

The individual poppies of this yardful—a million of them, at a guess—resembled each other as closely as one rose resembles another rose on the same bush, or as one grape resembles another on the same bunch, as one pea resembles another in the same pod.

Yet among those million poppies—all looking alike to the unpracticed eye—there could be found by a close observer as many individual differences as could he found among any million human beings in the world.

Among those million poppies, each with its distinct individuality, Mr. Burbank found three which had a decided tendency to break away from the California poppy family and start a separate race of their own.

This same tendency could be observed among a million men, a million roses, a million peas, a million quartz crystals, or a million of any of Nature's creations.

Those one, or two, or three out of every million with tendencies to break away are sometimes called the freaks or "sports" of the species.

It seems as though Nature, never quite satisfied with her creations, is always experimenting, with the hope of creating a better result—yet limiting those experiments to such a small percentage that the mass of the race remains unchanged—its characteristics preserved—its general tendencies unaffected.

The California poppy, as it grows wild, is a rich golden-yellow. In spite of individual differences, this color is the characteristic of the kind. It is a fixed characteristic, dating back at least to the time when California, because of the poppy covered hills, received its name—the land of fire—from the early Spanish navigators that ventured up and down the coast.

California Poppy
  The Golden Poppy Turned Crimson
This direct color photograph print shows the wild California poppy, so called, golden-yellow, as it grows in one at Mr. Burbank's cactus patches. This common wild flower covers California's hills at certain seasons and from it the Stale is supposed to have received its name, "The Land of Fire."   The first transformation which Mr. Burbank wrought in the California poppy as explained in the text matter was to turn it to crimson. The success of this experiment can be judged from the color photograph print shown here.
The California Poppy Turned White   The Poppy Turned Fire-Flame
The next experiment which Mr. Burbank tried was to eliminate the yellow of the wild poppy and produce, instead, a while flower. The tips of the pelais of this poppy are now pure white, while the centers remain a very light cream-yellow, the only suggestion of the bright golden yellow of its ancestors.   In his poppy variations Mr. Burbank found some which, instead of blending the inherited characteristics showed both distinctly in the same flower—lemon yellow edges with golden yellow centers. These, perhaps the most beautiful result of his experiment, he christened "The Fire-Flame Poppy."

Out of the billion billions of wild poppies that have grown, each million has no doubt contained its freaks or its "sports"—its few experimental individuals which Nature has given the tendency to break away from the characteristics of their fellows.

Yet in the history of the California poppy family, as far back as we can trace, none of these freaks or "sports" had ever achieved its object.

Among the "sports" which Mr. Burbank found in the million poppies he grew were one with a crimson tendency, one with a white tendency, and one with a lemon-yellow, fiery-red tendency.

If Mr. Burbank had not intervened, these freaks, quite likely, would have perished without offspring.

But by nurturing them, separating them and saving their seeds, within a few brief seasons he was able to produce three new kinds of the California poppy.

Each kind had all of the parent poppy characteristics but one. They were California poppies in habits, in growth, in shape, in size, in form, in grace, in texture, in beauty.

Yet in color they differed from the California wild poppy almost as a violet differs from a daisy.

One of these freaks developed into the solid crimson poppy, another into the pure white poppy, and still another into the fire-flame poppy—all shown here.

The details of method employed and the application of these methods and the underlying principles to the improvement of other flowers, fruits, trees and useful and ornamental plants, will be left for later chapters. But as an illustration, this poppy experiment brings home three things:

First, that Nature creates no duplicates.

Second, that although each of Nature's creations has its own distinctive individuality, all the time she takes special precautions to fix, preserve, and make permanent the characteristics of each of her races or kinds.

Third, that there is always present in all of her creations the experimental tendency to break away from fixed characteristics—to start new races—to branch out into entirely new forms of development. Through Mr. Burbank's intervention, in the case of the poppy, this tendency was crowned with success; in ten thousand years, perhaps, without intervention at all, the same result might have been attained.

Variations in Size
The poppy blossoms pictured in this direct color photograph print were picked out of a single ten foot bed and illustrate the variations in the size of seedlings as an aid to selection.

From the fern at the water's edge, to the apple tree which bears us luscious fruit—from the oyster that lies helpless in the bottom of Long Island Sound, to the human being who rakes it up, and eats it—every different form of life about us may, thus, be traced to the experiments which Nature is continually trying, in order to improve her creations.

As to the question so often asked, monkeys are no more turning into men than golden-yellow poppies are turning into crimson, white or fire-flame poppies.

In monkeys, as in men and poppies—and quartz crystals—there is ever present the tendency to break away from the kind, yet Nature is always alert to prevent the break—unless it demonstrates itself to be an advance, an improvement—from occurring.

She gives us, all of us, and everything—individuality, personality—unfailingly, always—at the same time preserving in each the general characteristics of its kind.

Yet all the time she is creating her freaks and "sports"—all the time she is trying new experiments—most of them doomed to die unproductive—with the hope that the thousand freaks among a billion creations may show the way toward a single improvement in a race.

Another Color Variation
  A Bouquet of Poppy Variations
Unlike the fire-flame poppy in which the center is of one color and the outside edges of another, this poppy, unnamed, has vertical divisions on each petal, half crimson and half yellow. This is but one of the countless variations secured in the poppy experiment.   It would be impossible, in a single photograph to show all of the variations which a single season's work brings forth. The bouquet shown here, however, when compared with the original golden-yellow parent, indicates the range of difference secured.
White and Crimson Side by Side
The poppy still retains many of its wild characteristics, particularly the production of great  quantities of seed. Seed from Mr. Burbank's experiment has been blown over the grounds so that poppies are likely to spring up at any point. In this direct color photograph print the golden-yellow California poppy and its new crimson cousin are seen growing wild side by side.

Burbank: California Poppies (1914) part 2

Transposons Biblio