Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/319

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THE TASK OF AMERICAN BOTANISTS.

THE TASK OF AMERICAN BOTANISTS.[1]
By W. G. FARLOW,

PROFESSOR OF CRYPTOGAMIC BOTANY IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY.

IN discussing the question, What sort of botanical investigation is needed in this country? one might consider two things: First, what are the special problems which from their nature can be studied better in this country than elsewhere; and, secondly, what kind of investigation is best adapted to the present state of our botanical establishments and the capacities of the botanists of this country? In the former case, we are simply to endeavor to contribute something new to the stock of the world's knowledge. In the latter case we shall attempt also to raise the standard of work in this country to that of countries in which botany has reached its highest development. Of these two considerations, the second is, perhaps, the more urgent, because, granting that there are botanical problems which could be solved more easily by botanists living in this country than by Europeans, they will remain unsolved unless our botanists have the time, the means, and the preliminary training for the work. Let me mention a case in point. For many years, botanists wished to know the development of Azolla, a genus not found in Europe, but represented in this country by a species common in several districts comparatively near some of the centers of botanical instruction. Naturally, we should have looked to our own botanists for the study of this interesting subject; and it is not flattering to our national pride that the development of our own species of Azolla was first made out, not by an American, but by a Swede working at a disadvantage. Other instances might be given in which questions that ought to have been settled by Americans were solved by foreigners. If we are behind some other nations in the quantity and quality of our botanical investigations, what is the reason? Possibly it is not the fault of our botanists, but rather the peculiarity of the conditions under which they are placed; and it would be well, before going further, to consider some of the difficulties which are in the way of those who would like to pursue botanical investigations, for, if some of them are inevitable in the present stage of our scientific development, it may be that others are of our own creation and might be removed.

If, then, we are not doing as much in the way of investigation as other nations, it must be either through lack of inclination, lack of time, lack of means, or lack of the requisite training. I am not inclined to believe that a lack of inclination is responsible for much of the trouble. We have our full share of persons who prefer an inactive self-culture to active work in any special direction, but we also

  1. Read before the American Society of Naturalists, Philadelphia, December 29, 1886.