Journal of Heredity 8: 13-20 (1917)

An Early Apostle of Seed Selection

Seed selection is one of the methods most insisted upon nowadays for the improvement of the yield of maize; but the principle involved is not new. The Indians understood and practiced it even in pre-Columbian days. A. D. Shamel has called the attention of this journal to "Poor Richard's Almanack" for 1812, in which Evan Evans of Washington, D.C., describes the "improved mode" by which he secured from 1 acre of ground, which had not been in cultivation for twenty-five years before, 110 bushels of maize, besides 4 bushels of beans and a quantity of turnips which sold for $16. He lays the most stress on the selection of proper seed, and says that by choosing the largest and fullest ears from the largest stalks he "improved some of the corn from eighteen to thirty-two rows on the ear."

CybeRose note: The practice of selection is ancient and widespread. However, the practice was so common that it was sometimes not mentioned because it was implied. For example, Knight (1799) discussed some hybrid peas he had raised from a white-seeded variety pollinated by a white-seeded type. "By introducing the farina of another white variety (or, in some instances, by simple culture) this colour was easily discharged." To Knight, the word "culture" clearly implied selection, among other things. This usage probably persisted among gardeners and farmers who saved (and selected) their own seeds.

Lorain (1825) did mention selection directly:

"So prevalent are mixtures, that I have never examined a field of corn, (where great care had not been taken to select the seed,) which did not exhibit evident traces of all the corns in general use for field planting, with many others that are not used for this purpose.
     None can be longer or more readily traced than the gourdseed. If the smallest perfectly natural indenture appear in the grain of the hardest corns, those grains, with their descendants, may be grown, until a perfectly white gourdseed is obtained, be their colour what it may."

This explains Evans' success. The grain he was growing mingled qualities of flint and gourdseed, as Lorain described. The technique was to "grow out" (we would say, "breed out") the undesirable qualities (e.g., fewer rows) while maintaining the higher row-number of the gourdseed.