Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/584

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grain is concerned, which has developed into our greatest of all grain crops.

Are we correct in assuming that all of the valuable plants and animals have already been introduced into cultivation? As a matter of fact, are we not justified in questioning whether the most valuable have been introduced? On sober second thought, does it not seem wonderful that wheat, a native of the Mediterranean region, should remain the best grain crop for a region including the greater part of British America and the United States, of Russia and Argentina and all the broad area where wheat is cultivated? "Would it not seem probable that the improvement of the most promising native grain-grasses in these widely different regions would yield new types of grain crops better adapted to the regions and superior to wheat or oats? The great value of wheat and oats lies not in the superiority of the wild types from which they sprang, but to the long years of cultivation and selection to which they have been subjected. A large number of wild grasses occurring in almost every region have comparatively large grains, and if they were capable of improvement, as they doubtless are, they might possibly excel any grains that we now have. The Indian rice or water oat (Zizania aquatica) is an illustration of a large-grained wild grass that is probably known to many. Doubtless this could be greatly improved for cultivation in low lands as rice is now cultivated.

The wild wheat grass (Agropyrum occidentale) of the great plains region is a very promising type for improvement, as pointed out by Dr. Bessey.[1] In this wild grass we have a head 5 or 6 inches long and developing long, narrow grains much resembling wheat. It is a perennial and grows to a height of 2 or 3 feet. Dr. Bessey says of this plant:

If our plant had had but a fraction of the careful cultivation and selection which have been given the European species, I am confident that it would have yielded a much more productive cereal than we have in our present varieties of wheat.

Consider further that we have here a perennial that would doubtless yield for several or possibly many years without reseeding, and also that it is a native of the great plains region and thus already adapted to the environment of the great wheat states of the union. Comparing this grass with wheat, which should we expect to be better adapted to the "dry farming" regions of the west?

Several of the wild rye grasses (Elymus) have large heads and grains and appear very promising, as do also certain species of the socalled beard-grass (Andropogon).

We have only considered the value of these grasses from the standpoint of their grain development; but it is of almost equal importance

  1. Bessey, C. E., "Crop Improvement by Utilizing Wild Species," American Breeders' Association, Vol. II., p. 113.