Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/37

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33
A GRAIN OF WHEAT

A GRAIN OF WHEAT[1]
By R. CHODAT
PROFESSOR OP BOTANY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

PEOPLES truly rich are those who cultivate cereals on a large scale. Scores of investigators in all civilized countries devote themselves unceasingly to a problem of great social significance, viz., the increase of the national wealth through progress in agriculture. The least discovery in this field, whatever the political journals may say, is more important for a country than a change of the party in power. For it is the history of discoveries and inventions—in the domain of nature, as well as in the intellectual field—that constitutes the real history of civilizations.

Thus the modern improvements in the industry of milling in connection with better transportation facilities have helped to provide better bread for all classes and have rendered famine impossible in the Europe of to-day.

Is it then any wonder that since the most remote antiquity germinating wheat has been the symbol of mysterious and hidden life, that in their religious ceremonies the ancients attached so much importance to cereals offered on the altar, that our modern artists, putting aside the petty themes of political events, have glorified the beauty and nobility of harvests, the poetry and mystery of sowing, in justly renowned paintings? Roty's admirable sower on the French coins, who symbolizes the value of this idea, shows us the highest art seeking its inspiration at the very source of civilization—the culture of wheat.

I do not wish to overtax your attention or indulge overmuch in scientific pedantry by enumerating to you, together with their botanical characteristics, the different kinds of wheat which have been and are still cultivated. I shall merely give you as much as is essential for my purpose. The most competent botanists in this field agree in recognizing at least three species of wheat:

1. Einkorn (Triticum monococcum).

2. Polish wheat (Triticum polonicum).
3. Wheat (Triticum sativum).

These distinctions are based not only on morphological characters, but also on a character which is accepted on good grounds as usually

  1. Presented before the General Meeting of the Société des Arts, Geneva, Switzerland. Translated from the French by Maude Kellerman.