Theory and Practice

Annals of Horticulture, 4: 431 (1849)

The Destruction Of Botanical Distinctions

Florists have always been at war with botanists; and there was a time when botanists openly lectured against the crosses bred by florists, because they tended to confuse the species; and scarcely was a plant noticed by the different botanical works, than the florists seized upon it as fair game, and either produced double flowers, or new varieties of very distinct character, so that the original species was lost or confounded in a phalanx of improved kinds far more distinct from each other than the species which had engaged the attention of botanists and artists to show off their distinctive characters. This evil existed of old. The florists were ridiculed for their want of taste and their opposition to science. Their best varieties were called monsters, and the lovers of all the deformities of nature were entertained, from time to time, with pictures and descriptions of plants, in comparison with which our wild flowers and weeds were handsome. When the Dahlia was introduced in its wild state, there were several seedling varieties brought from Mexico, but they were ushered forth with all the pomp of distinct species. The florists no sooner took in hand the cultivation of the plant than they produced hundreds of varieties, far more distinct from all the species, and from each other, than any two of the subjects so scientifically announced to the world. Let us turn back to the olden times: nay, up to a late period, the botanists stuck to their miscalled species, so we need not go very far. In Paxton's Botanical Dictionary, edited by him and Dr. Lindley, we find the following:—

Dahlia Cervantesii Scarlet, from Mexico.
" Crocata Scarlet, "
" Frustranea Scarlet, "
" Frustranea Aurantia Orange, "
" Frustranea Crocea Yellow, "
" Frustranea Lutea Sulphur, "
" Superflua Purple, "

And in a sort of appendix to the work, for omissions and subsequent arrivals or discoveries, we have—

Dahlia Barkeriae Blush.  
" Excelsa Anemonaeflora, Light, from Mexico.
" Glabrata Lilac, "
" Scapigera White, "

We are not going to criticise the dictionary, or we might be inclined to condemn an authority that gives us the Dahlia as a hardy plant, when it is well known that we have not a more tender thing in British gardens. True, they do allow that Excelsa Anemonaeflora is a greenhouse species, although it is the only one that is not pronounced hardy, and is well known to be quite as hardy as the rest. However, as we before observed, our object is not to criticise the dictionary, but the idea of calling all the above distinct species, while there is not the slightest distinction in any one of them that may not be found in any batch of seedlings saved from common flowers, any year within the last forty years. The Anemonaeflora, and, indeed, all the misshapen things that were as useless as the original varieties, have long been banished from the florist's gardens; but it is not too much to say that five hundred, if not five thousand varieties, far more distinct from each other than the varieties originally dignified as species, have been raised and cultivated, when it was the fashion to have large collections. The model of the flower is, however, becoming so splendid, and the taste of the public so improved, that few florists, even among those in trade, grow more than a hundred, and those quite the best.

Annals of Horticulture 5: 430-432 (1850)

Species, Varieties, and Hybrids

We have already given our opinion on the folly of calling foreign plants distinct species, when they are evidently only varieties. Any subject, no matter what, if it comes from abroad, and varies a little in appearance from those we possess already, is at once set down as a distinct species, whereas nine out of ten prove to be only varieties.

Annals of Horticulture 5: 484 (1850)

The Petunia—Its Cultivation and Properties
George Glenny, F.H.S.

Such is the state of inglorious confusion into which modern botanists have brought things by their silly antics, that when Mr. Tweedie sent home the purple variety, Dr. Hooker called it Salpiglossis integrifolia; Professor Don, Nierembergia phoenicia; and Dr. Lindley, Petunia violacea. Yet these are the people who pretend to teach the uninitiated how to know plants!

The Cottage Gardener 10: 359-362 (Aug. 11, 1853)

Donald Beaton

I think that some members of the three genera would cross and produce self-coloured seedlings that would vie with the very best of the new Gladioli. There is a great mystery in many of the Irid genera, and some are founded on such trifling distinctions that it is hard to believe them real marks of family separation. Synnotia broke down under the pollen test, and lapsed into Gladiolus; and there is a much greater looking difference between Watsonias, Antholyzas, and Anisanths. The whole race want revising by a patient cross breeder. I would no more trust a botanist with this work than I would a lawyer to revise the conditions of a lease for a framing ground.

Journal of Horticulture n.s. 2(30): 64-65 (October 22, 1861)

Donald Beaton

Dr. Lindley is not a practical man; but they say he is a first-rate botanist...

Botanical Register v. 21. t. 1743 (1836)

Calceolaria angustiflora
Dr. John Lindley

It is a species of no great attraction, but deserves to be recorded in this work, as one of the genuine wild forms of a genus, which, however beautiful and interesting, has already begun to sink in estimation, in consequence of the ruin that has been brought upon it by the unskilfulness of gardeners. In their haste to improve the works of nature, these gentlemen have converted some of the fairest races in the Vegetable world, into forms in no case more beautiful than the original, and in the majority of instances unhealthy, mongrel, and debased. We strongly recommend all those who value this really beautiful and most singular genus, to abandon a pursuit which has as yet led to few results of which good taste can approve, and to apply the same skill which they have used in spoiling Calceolarias to recovering the pure original races, to preserving them uncontaminated, and to increasing their native charms; not by unnatural combinations, but by those well known methods by which the purity of a species may be maintained while its vigour, health and beauty are augmented.

At least, if the genus must be the subject of hybridizing, let the intermixture be made with some reasonable attention to the only rules by which it is possible to arrive at a really desirable result.

The Journal of Heredity, Jan. 1946, p. 5.

Lysenko's Genetics
Th. Dobzhansky

Some people will probably wonder why geneticists do not rush to repeat these experiments. The answer is simple enough. The progress of science would be seriously disorganized if all scientists interrupt their work every time somebody publishes a dubious claim.