Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/268

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THE more usual concept of the formation of species is by slow variations so well known as the Darwinian theory, which though attacked from every point, still is and must always in the main be accepted, for without question it gives the fundamental principles of evolution as had never been done before. Yet the boundless amount of research along these lines during the last half century has developed strong new sidelights which illuminate, and in some cases compel a slightly different view of, some of the suggestions of the master, Darwin.

During the period of forty years that I have been experimenting with plant life both in bleak New England and in sunny California, extensively operating on much more than four thousand five hundred distinct species of plants, including all known economic and ornamental plant forms which are grown in the open air in temperate and semi-tropic climates, as well as many of those commonly grown in greenhouses and numerous absolutely new ones not before domesticated and on a scale never before attempted by any individual or body of individuals, numerous general principles have pressed themselves forward for discussion and observation. Only one of these can be discussed at this time, and this briefly, more as a text for further observations and experiments than as anything like a full view of this highly interesting mode of species formation.

In the first place, let me say that our so-called species are only tentative bundles of plants, no two individuals of which are exactly alike, but nearly all of which quite closely resemble each other in general outside appearances and in hereditary tendencies. Yet no one can tell just what the result will be when combinations of these inherent tendencies are crossed or subjected to any other disturbing factor or factors. Like the chemist who has new elements to work with, we may predict with some degree of accuracy what the general results will be, but any definite knowledge of the results of these combinations is far more difficult, even impossible, as the life forces of plants and animals act in infinitely more new directions than can any ordinary number of combinations of chemicals.

Only a few years ago, it was generally supposed that by crossing two somewhat different species or varieties a mongrel might be produced which might, or more likely might not, surpass its parents.

  1. Read at the annual meeting of the American Breeders' Association, at Columbia, Mo., January 5 to 8, 1909.