Species and Varieties, Their Origin by Mutation (1904)
Prof. Hugo Devries

Double-flowered Stocks.

Their double flowers produce neither stamens nor pistils, and as each individual is either double or single in all its flowers, the doubles are wholly destitute of seed. Nevertheless, they are only reproduced by seed from single flowers, being an annual or biennial species.

Stocks are a large family, and include a wonderful variety of colors, ranging from white and yellow to purple and red, and with some variations toward blue. They exhibit also diversity in the habit of growth. Some are annuals, including the ten-week and pyramidal forms; others are intermediates and are suitable for pot-culture; and the biennial sorts include the well-known “Brompton” and “Queen” varieties. Some are large and others are small or dwarf. For their brightness, durability and fragrance, they are deservedly popular. There are even some striped varieties. Horticulturists and amateurs generally know that seed can be obtained from single stocks only, and that the double flowers never produce any. It is not difficult to choose single plants that will produce a large percentage of double blossoms in the following generation. But only a percentage, for the experiments of the most skilled growers have never enabled them to save seed, which would result entirely in double flowering plants. Each generation in its turn is a motley assembly of singles and doubles.

Before looking closer into the hereditary peculiarities of this old and interesting ever-sporting variety, it may be as well to give a short description of the plants with double flowers. Generally speaking there are two principal types of doubles. One is by the conversion of stamens into petals, and the other is an anomaly, known under the name of petalomany.

The change of stamens into petals is a gradual modification. All intermediate steps are easily to be found. In some flowers all stamens may be enlarged, in others only part of them. Often the broadened filaments bear one or two fertile anthers. The fertility is no doubt diminished, but not wholly destroyed. Individual specimens may occur, which cannot produce any seed, but then others of the same lot may be as fertile as can be desired. As a whole, such double varieties are regularly propagated by seed.

Petalomany is the tendency of the axis of some flowers never to make any stamens or pistils, not even in altered or rudimentary form. Instead of these, they simply continue producing petals, going on with this production without any other limit than the supply of available food. Numerous petals fill the entire space within the outer rays, and in the heart of the flower innumerable young ones are developed half-way, not obtaining food enough to attain full size. Absolute sterility is the natural consequence of this state of things.

Hence it is impossible to have races of petalomanous types. If the abnormality happens to show itself in a species, which normally propagates itself in an asexual way, the type may become a vegetative variety, and be multiplied by bulbs, buds or cuttings, etc. Some cultivated anemones and crowfoots (Ranunculus) are of this character, and even the marsh-marigold (Caltha palustris) has a petalomanous variety. I once found in a meadow such a form of the meadow-buttercup (Ranunculus acris), and succeeded in keeping it in my garden for several years, but it did not make seeds and finally died. Camellias are known to have both types of double flowers. The petalomanous type is highly regular in structure, so much so as to be too uniform in all its parts to be pleasing, while the conversion of stamens into petals in the alternative varieties gives to these flowers a more lively diversity of structure. Lilies have a variety called Lilium candidum flore pleno, in which the flowers seem to be converted into a long spike of bright, white narrow bracts, crowded on an axis which never seems to cease their production.

It is manifestly impossible to decide how all such sterile double flowers have originated. Perhaps each of them originally had a congruent single-flowered form, from which it was produced by seed in the same way as the double stocks now are yearly. If this assumption is right, the corresponding fertile line is now lost; it has perhaps died out, or been masked. But it is not absolutely impossible that such strains might one day be discovered for one or another of these now sterile varieties.

Returning to the stocks we are led to the conception that some varieties are absolutely single, while others consist of both single-flowered and double-flowered individuals. The single varieties are in respect to this character true to the original wild type. They never give seed which results in doubles, providing all intercrossing is excluded. The other varieties are ever-sporting, in the sense of this term previously assumed, but with the restriction that the sports are exclusively one-sided, and never return, owing to their absolute sterility.

The oldest double varieties of stocks have attained an age of a century and more. During all this time they have had a continuous pedigree of fertile and single-flowered individuals, throwing off in each generation a definite number of doubles. This ratio is not at all dependent on chance or accident, nor is it even variable to a remarkable degree. Quite on the contrary it is always the same, or nearly the same, and it is to be considered as an inherent quality of the race. If left to themselves, the single individuals always produce singles and doubles in the same quantity; if cultivated after some special method, the proportion may be slightly changed, bringing the proportion of doubles up to 60% or even more.

Ordinarily the single and double members of such a race are quite equal in the remainder of their attributes, especially in the color of their flowers. But this is not always the case. The colors of such a race may repeat for themselves the peculiarities of the ever-sporting characters. It often happens that one color is more or less strictly allied to the doubles, and another to the singles. This sometimes makes it difficult to keep the various colors true. There are certain sorts, which invariably exhibit a difference in color between the single and the double flowers. The sulphur-yellow varieties may be adduced as illustrative examples, because in them the single flowers always come white. Hence in saving seed, it is impossible so to select the plant, that an occasional white does not also appear among the double flowers, agreeing in this deviation with the general rule of the eversporting varieties.

I commend all the above instances to those who wish to make pedigree-cultures. The cooperation of many is needed to bring about any notable advancement, since the best way to secure isolation is to restrict one's self to the culture of one strain, so as to avoid the intermixture of others. So many facts remain doubtful and open to investigation, that almost any lot of purchased seed may become the starting point for interesting researches. Among these the sulphur-yellow varieties should be considered in the first place.

In respect to the great questions of heredity, the stocks offer many points of interest. Some of these features I will now try to describe, in order to show what still remains to be done, and in what manner the stocks may clear the way for the study of the ever-sporting varieties.

The first point, is the question, which seeds become double-flowered and which single-flowered plants? Beyond all doubt, the determination has taken place before the ripening of the seed. But though the color of the seed is often indicative of the color of the flowers, as in some red or purple varieties, and though in balsams and some other instances the most “highly doubled” flowers are to be obtained from the biggest and plumpest seeds, no such rule seems to exist respecting the double stocks. Now if one half of the seeds gives doubles, and the other half singles, the question arises, where are the singles and the doubles to be found on the parent-plant?

The answer is partly given by the following experiment. Starting from the general rule of the great influence of nutrition on variability, it may be assumed that those seeds will give most doubles, that are best fed. Now it is manifest that the stem and larger branches are, in a better condition than the smaller twigs, and that likewise the first fruits have better chances than the ones formed later. Even in the same pod the uppermost seeds will be in a comparatively disadvantageous position. This conception leads to an experiment which is the basis of a practical method much used in France in order to get a higher percentage of seeds of double-flowering plants.

This method consists in cutting off, in the first place the upper parts of all the larger spikes, in the second place, the upper third part of each pod, and lastly all the small and weak twigs. In doing so the percentage is claimed to go up to 67-70%, and in some instances even higher. This operation is to be performed as soon as the required number of flowers have ceased blossoming. All the nutrient materials, destined for the seeds, are now forced to flow into these relatively few embryos, and it is clear that they will be far better nourished than if no operation were made.

In order to control this experiment some breeders have made the operation on the fruits when ripe, instead of on the young pods, and have saved the seeds from the upper parts separately. This seed, produced in abundance, was found to be very poor in double flowers, containing only some 20-30%. On the contrary the percentage of doubles in the seed of the lower parts was somewhat augmented, and the average of both would have given the normal proportion of 50%.

Opposed to the French method is the German practice of cultivating stocks, as I have seen it used on a very large scale at Erfurt and at other places. The stocks are grown in pots on small scaffolds, and not put on or into the earth. The obvious aim of this practice is to keep the earth in the pots dry, and accordingly they are only scantily watered. In consequence they cannot develop as fully as they would have done when planted directly in the beds, and they produce only small racemes and no weak twigs, eliminating thereby without further operation the weaker seeds as by the French method. The effect is increased by planting from 6-10 separate plants in each pot.

It would be very interesting to make comparative trials of both methods, in order to discover the true relation between the practice and the results reached. Both should also be compared with cultures on open plots, which are said to give only 50% of doubles. This last method of culture is practiced wherever it is desired to produce great quantities of seeds at a low cost. Such trials would no doubt give an insight into the relations of hereditary characters to the distribution of the food within the plant.

A second point is the proportional increase of the double-flowering seeds with age. If seed is kept for two or three years, the greater part of the grains will gradually die, and among the remainder there is found on sowing, a higher percentage of double ones. Hence we may infer that the single-flowered seeds are shorter lived than the doubles, and this obviously points to a greater weakness of the first. It is quite evident that there is some common cause for these facts and for the above cited experience, that the first and best pods give more doubles. Much, however, remains to be investigated before a satisfactory answer can be made to these questions.

A third point is the curious practice, called by the French “esimpler,” and which consists in pulling out the singles when very young. It seems to be done at an age when the flower-buds are not yet visible, or at least are not far enough developed to show the real distinctive marks. Children may be employed to choose and destroy the singles. There are some slight differences in the fullness and roundness of the buds and the pubescence of the young leaves. Moreover the buds of the doubles are said to be sweeter to the taste than those of the singles. But as yet I have not been able to ascertain, whether any scientific investigation of this process has ever been made, though according to some communications made to me by the late Mr. Cornu, the practice seems to be very general in the environs of Paris. In summer large fields may be seen, bearing exclusively double flowers, owing to the weeding out of the singles long before flowering.

Bud-variation is the last point to be taken up. It seems to be very rare with stocks, but some instances have been recorded in literature. Darwin mentions a double stock with a branch bearing single flowers, and other cases are known to have occurred. But in no instance does the seed of such a bud-variant seem to have been saved. Occasionally other reversions also occur. From time to time specimens appear with more luxurious growth and with divergent instead of erect pods. They are called, in Erfurt, “generals” on account of their stiff and erect appearance, and they are marked by more divergent horns crowning the pods. They are said to produce only a relatively small number of doubles from their seeds, and even this small number might be due to fertilization with pollen of their neighbors. I saw some of these reversionary types; when inspecting the nurseries of Erfurt, but as they are, as a rule, thrown out before ripening their seed, nothing is exactly known about their real hereditary qualities.

Much remains to be cleared up, but it seems that one of the best means to find a way through the bewildering maze of the phenomena of inheritance, is to make groups of related forms and to draw conclusions from a comparison of the members of such groups. Such comparisons must obviously give rise to questions, which in their turn will directly lead to experimental investigation.

Compare Emsweller, et al. They attempt to explain the ever-sporting character of stocks, but neglect to explain the fact that more doubles are produced from seed lower in the fruit.