Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/41

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37
A GRAIN OF WHEAT

This brings us to the main issue of the question which I wish to study with you.

About 1902 two German botanists, well known in Geneva, Ascherson and Schweinfurth, called the attention of a young agronomist, Mr. Aaron Aaronsohn, who was destined in later years to become director of the Haifa Agricultural Station in Palestine, to the scientific and historic interest of determining the truth of a suggestion made by Kotschy. This collector brought back from Syria a fragment of a wild plant which Körnicke, an authority on cereals, recognized as a form of Triticum dicoccum and which he made a variety under the name of T. dicoccum dicoccoides. From this mere indication Körnicke drew the same conclusions as those A. de Candolle had reached by another road, i. e., that wheat must be indigenous to Syria. In the course of a geognostic expedition in Upper Galilee to the north of Lake Tiberias, Mr. Aaronsohn gave his attention to this question, although he was very dubious about being able to answer it.

As a matter of fact, modern botanists who have studied the flora of Syria, such as Dr. Post, have not confirmed Kotschy's doubtful indication. On the first expedition Mr. Aaronsohn found nothing, but urged by his friends in Berlin he went to this same region again, and this time his efforts were crowned with success. In June, 1906, being at the north of Lake Tiberias at Rosh Pinah, he found a single specimen of the wild emmer (Triticum dicoccum dicoccoides) growing in a rocky fissure. Complete success came, however, only on leaving Rasheya, where wild wheat abounded in uncultivated ground. Having climbed Mt. Hermon, he descended on the opposite side, and towards the village of Amy wild wheat was also very common and showed here an extraordinary variety of forms; black glumes or only partly black, black or colorless heads, smooth or hirsute glumes, glumes sometimes resembling those of Triticum monococcum (einkorn) or Triticum durum (hard wheat), heads of the type of T. polonicum, etc. Among these plants there was also the wild einkorn (T. monococcum ægilipoides. This excessive variation, the abundance of these plants, their distribution on the slopes of Mt. Hermon from an altitude of 1,500-2,000 m., all show that the plant is certainly indigenous. It is a known fact that our cereals do not spread beyond cultivation in any country and that however extended their cultivation may be they never become subspontaneous. In order to establish itself in any locality a plant must hold its own against competitors which, masters of the soil from time immemorial, have been selected to fit the soil and climate. Moreover, emmer is not cultivated anywhere in Palestine. This wild wheat is furthermore a different plant from any known in cultivation, a polymorphous race, no doubt, but a distinct