Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/November 1891/Some of the Possibilities of Economic Botany I
|SOME OF THE POSSIBILITIES OF ECONOMIC BOTANY.|
OUR Association demands of its president, on his retirement from office, some account of matters connected with the department of science in which he is engaged.
But you will naturally expect that, before I enter upon the discharge of this duty, I should present a report respecting the mission with which you intrusted me last year. You desired me to attend the annual meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, and express your good wishes for its success. Compliance with your request did not necessitate any material change in plans formed long ago to visit the South Seas; some of the dates and the sequence of places had to be modified; otherwise the early plans were fully carried out.
I can assure you that it seemed very strange to reverse the seasons, and find midsummer in January. But in the meeting with our brethren of the southern hemisphere nothing else was reversed. The official welcome to your representative was as cordial and the response by the members was as kindly as that which the people in the northern hemisphere would give to any fellow-worker coming from beyond the sea.
The meeting to which I was commissioned was held in January last in the cathedral city of Christchurch, New Zealand, the seat of Canterbury College.
Considering the distance between the other colonies and New Zealand, the meeting was well attended. From Hobart, Tasmania, to the southern harbor, known as the Bluff, in New Zealand, the sea voyage is only a little short of one thousand miles of rough water. From Sydney in New South Wales to Auckland, New Zealand, it is over twelve hundred miles. If, therefore, one journeys from Adelaide in South Australia, to Christchurch, New Zealand, where the meeting was held, he travels by land and by sea over two thousand miles. From Brisbane in Queensland, it is somewhat farther. Although certain concessions are made to the members of the Association, the fares by rail and by steamship are high, so that a journey from any one of the seats of learning in Australia proper to New Zealand is formidable on account of its cost. It is remarkable that so large a number of members should have met together under such circumstances, and it speaks well for the great strength and vigor of the Association. The Australasian Association is modeled rather more closely after the British Association than is our own. The president delivers his address upon his inauguration. There are no general business meetings, but all the details are attended to by an executive committee answering to our council; none except the members and associates are invited to attend even the sectional meetings, and there are some other differences between the three associations. The secretaries stated to me their conviction that their organization and methods are better adapted to their surroundings than ours would be, and all their arguments seemed cogent. Although the Association has been in existence but three years, it has accomplished great good. It has brought together workers in different fields for conference and mutual benefit; it has diminished misunderstandings, and has strengthened friendships. In short, it is doing the same kind of good work that we believe ours is now doing, and in much the same way.
Your message was delivered at the general evening session immediately before the induction of the new officers. The retiring president. Baron von Mueller, and the incoming president. Sir James Hector, in welcoming your representative, expressed their pleasure that you should have seen fit to send personal greetings.
In replying to their welcome, I endeavored to convey your felicitations upon the pronounced success of the Association, and your best wishes for a prosperous future. In your name I extended a cordial invitation to the members to gratify us by their presence at some of our annual meetings, and I have good reason to believe that this invitation will be accepted. I know it will be most thoroughly and hospitably honored by us.
On the morning of the session to which I refer, we received in the daily papers a cable telegram relative to the Bering Sea difficulties (which were then in an acute stage). In your stead, I ventured to say, "In these days of disquieting dispatches, when there are rumors of trouble between Great Britain and the United States, it is pleasant to think that 'blood is thicker than water.'" This utterance was taken to mean that we are all English-speaking kinsmen, and, even before I had finished, the old proverb was received with prolonged applause.
The next meeting of the Australasian Association is to be held in Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, under the presidency of the Governor, Sir Robert Hamilton. The energetic secretaries. Prof. Liversidge, Prof. Hutton, and Mr. Morton, promise a cordial welcome to any of our members visiting the Association. Should you accept the invitation, you will enjoy every feature of the remarkable island, Tasmania, where the meeting is to be held. You will be delighted by Tasmanian scenery, vegetation, and climate; but that which will give you the greatest enjoyment in this as in other English South Sea colonies is the fact that you are among English-speaking friends half-way around the world. You will find that their efficient Association is devoted to the advancement of science and the promotion of sound learning. In short, you will be made to feel at home.
The subject which I have selected for the valedictory address deals with certain industrial, commercial, and economic questions: nevertheless, it lies wholly within the domain of botany. I invite you to examine with me some of the possibilities of economic botany.
Of course, when treating a topic which is so largely speculative as this, it is difficult and unwise to draw a hard and fast line between possibilities and probabilities. Nowadays possibilities are so often realized rapidly that they become accomplished facts before we are aware.
In asking what are the possibilities that other plants than those we now use may be utilized we enter upon a many-sided inquiry. Speculation is rife as to the coming man. May we not ask what plants the coming man will use?
There is an enormous disproportion between the total number of species of plants known to botanical science and the number of those which are employed by man.
The species of flowering plants already described and named are about one hundred and seven thousand. Acquisitions from unexplored or imperfectly explored regions may increase the aggregate perhaps one tenth, so that we are within very safe limits in taking the number of existing species to be somewhat above one hundred and ten thousand.
Now, if we should make a comprehensive list of all the flowering plants which are cultivated on what we may call a fairly-large scale at the present day, placing therein all food and forage plants, all those which are grown for timber and cabinet woods, for fibers and cordage, for tanning materials, dyes, resins, rubber, gums, oils, perfumes, and medicines, we could bring together barely three hundred species. If we should add to this short catalogue all the species which, without cultivation, can be used by man, we should find it considerably lengthened. A great many products of the classes just referred to are derived in commerce from wild plants, but exactly how much their addition would extend the list it is impossible in the present state of knowledge to determine. Every enumeration of this character is likely to contain errors from two sources: first, it would be sure to contain some species which have outlived their real usefulness, and, secondly, owing to the chaotic condition of the literature of the subject, omissions would occur.
But after all proper exclusions and additions have been made the total number of species of flowering plants utilized to any considerable extent by man in his civilized state does not exceed, in fact it does not quite reach, one per cent.
The disproportion between the plants which are known and those which are used becomes much greater when we take into account the species of flowerless plants also. Of the five hundred ferns and their allies we employ for other than decorative purposes only five; the mosses and liverworts, roughly estimated at five hundred species, have only four which are directly used by man. There are comparatively few algæ, fungi, or lichens which have extended use.
Therefore, when we take the flowering and flowerless together, the percentage of utilized plants falls far below the estimate made for the flowering alone.
Such a ratio between the number of species known and the number used justifies the inquiry which I have proposed for discussion at this name—namely, Can the short list of useful plants be increased to advantage? If so, how?
This is a practical question; it is likewise a very old one. In one form or another, by one people or another, it has been asked from early times. In the dawn of civilization, mankind inherited from savage ancestors certain plants, which had been found amenable to simple cultivation, and the products of these plants supplemented the spoils of the chase and of the sea. The question which we ask now was asked then. "Wild plants were examined for new uses; primitive agriculture and horticulture extended their bounds in answer to this inquiry. Age after age has added slowly and cautiously to the list of cultivable and utilizable plants, but the aggregate additions have been, as we have seen, comparatively slight.
The question has thus no charm of novelty, but it is as practical to-day as in early ages. In fact, at the present time, in view of all the appliances at the command of modern science, and under the strong light cast by recent biological and technological research, the inquiry which we propose assumes great importance. One phase of it is being attentively and systematically regarded in the great experiment stations, another phase is being studied in the laboratories of chemistry and pharmacy, while still another presents itself in the museums of economic botany.
Our question may be put in other words, which are even more practical. What present likelihood is there that our tables may, one of these days, have other vegetables, fruits, and cereals than those which we use now? What chance is there that new fibers may supplement or even replace those which we spin and weave, that woven fabrics may take on new vegetable colors, that flowers and leaves may yield new perfumes and flavors? What probability is there that new remedial agents may be found among plants neglected or now wholly unknown? The answer which I shall attempt is not in the nature of a prophecy; it can claim no higher rank than that of a reasonable conjecture.
At the outset it must be said that synthetic chemistry has made and is making some exceedingly short cuts across this field of research, giving us artificial dyes, odors, flavors, and medicinal substances of such excellence that it sometimes seems as if before long the old-fashioned chemical processes in the plant itself would play only a subordinate part. But although there is no telling where the triumphs of chemical synthesis will end, it is not probable that it will ever interfere essentially with certain classes of economic plants. It is impossible to conceive of a synthetic fiber or a synthetic fruit. Chemistry gives us fruit-ethers and fruit-acids, and after a while may provide us with a true artificial sugar and amorphous starch; but artificial fruits worth the eating or artificial fibers worth the spinning are not coming in our day.
Despite the extraordinary achievements of synthetic chemistry, the world must be content to accept, for a long time to come, the results of the intelligent labor of the cultivator of the soil and the explorer of the forest. Improvement of the good plants we now utilize, and the discovery of new ones, must remain the care of large numbers of diligent students and assiduous workmen. So that, in fact, our question resolves itself into this: Can these practical investigators hope to make any substantial advance?
It will be well to glance first at the manner in which our wild and cultivated plants have been singled out for use. We shall in the case of each class, allude to the methods by which he selected plants have been improved, or their products fully utilized. Thus, looking the ground over, although not minutely, we can see what new plants are likely to be added to our list. Our illustrations can, at the best, be only fragmentary.
We shall not have time to treat the different divisions of the subject in precisely the proportions which would be demanded by an exhaustive essay; an address on an occasion like this must pass lightly over some matters which other opportunities for discussion could properly examine with great fullness. Unfortunately some of the minor topics which must be thus passed by possess considerable popular interest; one of these is the first subordinate question introductory to our task, namely. How were our useful cultivated and wild plants selected for use?
A study of the early history of plants employed for ceremonial purposes, in religious solemnities, in incantations, and for medicinal uses shows how slender has sometimes "been the claim of certain plants to the possession of any real utility. But some of the plants which have been brought to notice in these ways have afterward been found to be utilizable in some fashion or other. This is often seen in the cases of the plants which have been suggested for medicinal use through the absurd doctrine of signatures.
It seems clear that, except in modern times, useful plants have been selected almost wholly by chance, and it may well be said that a selection by accident is no selection at all. Nowadays the new selections are based on analogy. One of the most striking illustrations of the modern method is afforded by the utilization of bamboo fiber for electric lamps.
Some of the classes of useful plants must be passed by without present discussion; others alluded to slightly; while still other groups fairly representative of selection and improvement will be more fully described. In this latter class would naturally come, of course, the food-plants known as
I. The Cereals.—Let us look first at these.
The species of grasses which yield these seed-like fruits, or, as we might call them for our purpose, seeds, are numerous; twenty of them are cultivated largely in the Old World, but only six of them are likely to be very familiar to you, namely, wheat, rice, barley, oats, rye, and maize. The last of these is of American origin, despite doubts which have been cast upon it. It was not known in the Old World until after the discovery of the New. It has probably been very long in cultivation. The others all belong to the Old World. Wheat and barley have been cultivated from the earliest times; according to De Candolle, the chief authority in these matters, about four thousand years. Later came rye and oats, both of which have been known in cultivation for at least two thousand years. Even the shorter of these periods gives time enough for wide variation, and, as is to be expected, there are numerous varieties of them all. For instance, Vilmorin, in 1880, figured sixty-six varieties of wheat with plainly distinguishable characters.
If the Chinese records are to be trusted, rice has been cultivated for a period much longer than that assigned by our history and traditions to the other cereals, and the varieties are correspondingly numerous. It is said that in Japan above three hundred varieties are grown on irrigated lands, and more than one hundred on uplands.
With the possible exception of rice, not one of the species of cereals is certainly known in the wild state. Now and then specimens have been gathered in the East which can be referred to the probable types from which our varieties have sprung, but doubt has been thrown upon every one of these cases. It has been shown conclusively that it is easy for a plant to escape from cultivation and persist in its new home even for a long time in a near approximation to cultivated form. Hence, we are forced to receive all statements regarding the wild forms with caution. But it may be safely said that if all the varieties of cereals which we now cultivate were to be swept out of existence, we could hardly know where to turn for wild species with which to begin again. We could not know with certainty.
To bring this fact a little more vividly to our minds, let us suppose a case. Let us imagine that a blight without parallel has brought to extinction all the forms of wheat, rice, rye, oats, barley, and maize now in cultivation, but without affecting the other grasses or any other form of vegetable food. Mankind would be obliged to subsist upon the other kindly fruits of the earth—upon root-crops, tubers, leguminous seeds, and so on. Some of the substitutions might be amusing in any other time than that of a threatened famine. Others would be far from appetizing under any condition, and only a few would be wholly satisfying even to the most pronounced vegetarian. In short, it would seem, from the first, that the cereals fill a place occupied by no other plants. The composition of the grains is theoretically and practically almost perfect as regards food ratio between the nitrogenous matters and the starch group; and the food value, as it is termed, is high. But, aside from these considerations, it would be seen that for safety of preservation through considerable periods, and for convenience of transportation, the cereals take highest rank. Pressure would come from every side to compel us to find equivalents for the lost grains. From this predicament I believe that the well-equipped experiment stations and the Agricultural Departments in Europe and America would by and by extricate us. Continuing this hypothetical case, let us next inquire how the stations would probably go to work in the up-hill task of making partially good a well-nigh irreparable loss.
The whole group of relatives of the lost cereals would be passed in strict review. Size of grain, strength and vigor and plasticity of stock, adaptability to different surroundings, and flexibility in variation would be examined with scrupulous care.
But the range of experiment would, under the circumstances, extend far beyond the relatives of our present cereals. It would embrace an examination of the other grasses which are even now cultivated for their grains, but which are so little known, outside of their own limit, that it is a surprise to hear about them. For example, the millets, great and small, would be investigated. These grains, so little known here, form an important crop in certain parts of the East. One of the leading authorities on the subject states that the millets constitute "a more important crop" in India "than either rice or wheat, and are grown more extensively, being raised from Madras in the south to Rajputana in the north. They occupy about eighty-three per cent of the food-grain area in Bombay and Sinde, forty-one per cent in the Punjab, thirty-nine per cent in the central provinces," "in all about thirty million acres."
Having chosen proper subjects for experimenting, the cultivators would make use of certain well-known principles. By simple selection of the more desirable seeds, strains would be secured to suit definite wants, and these strains would be kept as races, or attempts would be made to intensify wished-for characters. By skillful hybridizing of the first, second, and higher orders, tendencies to wider variation would be obtained and the process of selection considerably expedited.
It is out of our power to predict how much time would elapse before satisfactory substitutes for our cereals could be found. In the improvement of the grains of grasses other than those which have been very long under cultivation, experiments have been few, scattered, and indecisive. Therefore we are as badly off for time-ratios as are the geologists and archaeologists in their statements of elapsed periods. It is impossible for us to ignore the fact that there appear to be occasions in the life of a species when it seems to be peculiarly susceptible to the influence of its surroundings. A species, like a carefully laden ship, represents a balancing of forces within and without. Disturbance may come through variation from within, as from a shifting of the cargo, or in some cases from without. We may suppose both forces to be active in producing variation, a change in the internal condition rendering the plant more susceptible to any change in its surroundings. Under the influence of any marked disturbance, a state of unstable equilibrium may be brought about, at which times the species as such is easily acted upon by very slight agencies.
One of the most marked of these derangements is a consequent of cross-breeding within the extreme limits of varieties. The resultant forms in such cases can persist only by close breeding or by propagation from buds or the equivalents of buds. Disturbances like these arise unexpectedly in the ordinary course of nature, giving us sports of various kinds. These critical periods, however, are not unwelcome, since skillful cultivators can take advantage of them. In this very field much has been accomplished. An attentive study of the sagacious work done by Thomas Andrew Knight shows to what extent this can be done. But we must confess that it would be absolutely impossible to predict with certainty how long or how short would be the time before new cereals or acceptable equivalents for them would be provided. Upheld by the confidence which I have in the intelligence, ingenuity, and energy of our experiment stations, I may say that the time would not probably exceed that of two generations of our race, or half a century.
In now laying aside our hypothetical illustration, I venture to ask why it is that our experiment stations, and other institutions dealing with plants and their improvement, do not undertake investigations like those which I have sketched? Why are not some of the grasses other than our present cereals studied with reference to their adoption as food-grains? One of these species will naturally suggest itself to you all, namely, the wild rice of the lakes. Observations have shown that, were it not for the difficulty of harvesting these grains, which fall too easily when they are ripe, they might be utilized. But attentive search might find or educe some variety of Zizania with a more persistent grain and a better yield. There are two of our sea-shore grasses which have excellent grains, but are of small yield. Why are not these, or better ones which might be suggested by observation, taken in hand?
The reason is plain. We are all content to move along in lines of least resistance, and are disinclined to make a fresh start. It is merely leaving well enough alone, and, so far as the cereals are concerned, it is indeed well enough. The generous grains of modern varieties of wheat and barley compared with the well-preserved charred vestiges found in Greece by Schliemann, and in the lake-dwellings, are satisfactory in every respect. Improvements, however, are making in many directions; and in the cereals we now have we possess far better and more satisfactory material for further improvement, both in quality and as regards range of distribution, than we could reasonably hope to have from other grasses.
From the cereals we may turn to the interesting groups of plants comprised under the general term
II. Vegetables.—Under this term it will be convenient for us to include all plants which are employed for culinary purposes, or for table use, such as salads and relishes.
The potato and sweet potato, the pumpkin and squash, the red or capsicum peppers, and the tomato, are of American origin.
All the others are, most probably, natives of the Old World. Only one plant coming in this class has been derived from southern Australasia, namely, New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia).
Among the vegetables and salad-plants longest in cultivation we may enumerate the following: turnip, onion, cabbage, purslane, the large bean (Faba), chick-pea, lentil, and one species of pea, garden pea. To these an antiquity of at least four thousand years is ascribed.
Next to these, in point of age, come the radish, carrot, beet, garlic, garden cress and celery, lettuce, asparagus, and the leek. Three or four leguminous seeds are to be placed in the same category, as are also the black peppers.
Of more recent introduction the most prominent are the parsnip, oyster-plant, parsley, artichoke, endive, and spinach.
From these lists I have purposely omitted a few which belong exclusively to the tropics, such as certain yams.
The number of varieties of these vegetables is astounding. It is, of course, impossible to discriminate between closely allied varieties which have been introduced by gardeners and seedsmen under different names, but which are essentially identical, and we must therefore have recourse to a conservative authority, Vilmorin, from whose work a few examples have been selected. The varieties which he accepts are sufficiently well distinguished to admit of description, and in most instances of delineation, without any danger of confusion. The potato has, he says, innumerable varieties, of which he accepts forty as easily distinguishable and worthy of a place in a general list, but he adds also a list, comprising, of course, synonyms, of thirty-two French, twenty-six English, nineteen American, and eighteen German varieties. The following numbers speak for themselves, all being selected in the same careful manner as those of the potato: celery, more than twenty; carrot, more than thirty; beet, radish, and potato, more than forty; lettuce and onion, more than fifty; turnip, more than seventy; cabbage, kidney-bean, and garden pea, more than one hundred.
The amount of horticultural work which these numbers represent is enormous. Each variety established as a race (that is, a variety which comes true to seed) has been evolved by the same sort of patient care and waiting which we have seen is necessary in the case of cereals, but the time of waiting has not been as a general thing so long.
You will permit me to quote from Vilmorin also an account of a common plant, which will show how wide is the range of variation and how obscure are the indications in the wild plant of its available possibilities. The example shows how completely hidden are the potential variations useful to mankind:
The wild cabbage, such as it now exists on the coasts of England and France, is a perennial plant with broad-lobed, undulated, thick, smooth leaves, covered with a glaucous bloom. The stem attains a height of from nearly two and a half to over three feet, and bears at the top a spike of yellow or sometimes white flowers. All the cultivated varieties present the same peculiarities in their inflorescence, but up to the time of flowering they exhibit most marked differences from each other and from the original wild plant. In most of the cabbages it is chiefly the leaves that are developed by cultivation; these for the most part become imbricated or overlap one another closely, so as to form a more or less compact head, the heart or interior of which is composed of the central undeveloped shoot and the younger leaves next it. The shape of the head is spherical, sometimes flattened, sometimes conical. All the varieties which form heads in this way are known by the general name of cabbages, while other kinds with large branching leaves which never form heads are distinguished by the name of borecole or kale.In some kinds the flower stems have been so modified by culture as to become transformed into a thick, fleshy, tender mass, the growth and enlargement of which are produced at the expense of the flowers, which are absorbed and rendered abortive. Such are the broccolis and cauliflowers.
But this plant has other transformations.
Here are important morphological changes like those to which Prof. Bailey has called attention in the case of the tomato.
Suppose we are strolling along the beach at some of the seaside resorts of France, and should fall in with this coarse cruciferous plant, with its sprawling leaves and strong odor. Would there be anything in its appearance to lead us to search for its hidden merit as a food-plant? What could we see in it which would give it a preference over a score of other plants at our feet? Again, suppose we are journeying in the highlands of Peru, and should meet with a strong-smelling plant of the nightshade family, bearing a small irregular fruit, of subacid taste and of peculiar flavor. We will further imagine that the peculiar taste strikes our fancy, and we conceive that the plant has possibilities as a source of food. We should be led by our knowledge of the potato, probably a native of the same region, to think that this allied plant might be safely transferred to a northern climate; but would there be promise of enough future usefulness, in such a case as this, to warrant our carrying the plant north as an article of food? Suppose, further, we should ascertain that the fruit in question was relished not only by the natives of its home, but that it had found favor among the tribes of south Mexico and Central America, and had been cultivated by them until it had attained a large size; should we be strengthened in our venture? Let us go one step further still. Suppose that having decided upon the introduction of the plant, and having urged everybody to try it, we should find it discarded as a fruit, but taking a place in gardens as a curiosity under an absurd name, or as a basis for preserves and pickles; should we not look upon our experiment in the introduction of this new plant as a failure? This is not a hypothetical case.
The tomato, the plant in question, was cultivated in Europe as long ago as 1554; it was known in Virginia in 1781 and in the Northern States in 1785; but it found its way into favor slowly, even in this land of its origin. A credible witness states that in Salem it was almost impossible to induce people to eat or even taste of the fruit. And yet, as you are well aware, its present cultivation on an enormous scale in Europe and this country is scarcely sufficient to meet the increasing demand.A plant which belongs to the family of the tomato has been known to the public under the name of the strawberry tomato. The juicy yellow or orange-colored fruit is inclosed in a papery calyx of large size. The descriptions which were published when the plant was placed on the market were attractive, and were not exaggerated to a misleading extent. But, as you all know, the plant never gained any popularity. If we look at these two cases carefully we shall see that what appears to be caprice on the part of the public is at bottom common sense. The cases illustrate as well as any which are at command the difficulties which surround the whole subject of the introduction of new foods.
Before asking specifically in what direction we shall look for new vegetables I must be pardoned for calling attention, in passing, to a very few of the many which are already in limited use in Europe and this country, but which merit a wider employment. Cardon, or cardoon; celeriac, or turnip-rooted celery; fetticus, or corn-salad; martynia; salsify; sea-kale; and numerous small salads, are examples of neglected treasures of the vegetable garden.
The following, which are even less known, may be mentioned as fairly promising:
1. Arracacia esculenta, called arracacha, belonging to the parsley family. It is extensively cultivated in some of the northern states of South America. The stems are swollen near the base and produce tuberous enlargements filled with an excellent starch. Although the plant is of comparatively easy cultivation, efforts to introduce it into Europe have not been successful, but it is said to have found favor in both the Indies, and may prove useful in our Southern States.
2. Ullucus or ollucus, another tuberous-rooted plant from nearly the same region, but belonging to the beet or spinach family. It has produced tubers of good size in England, but they are too waxy in consistence to dispute the place of the better tubers of the potato. The plant is worth investigating for our hot, dry lands.
3. A tuber-bearing relative of our common hedge-nettle, or Stachys, is now cultivated on a large scale at Crosnes, in France, for the Paris market. Its name in Paris is taken from the locality where it is now grown for use. Although its native country is Japan, it is called by some seedsmen Chinese artichoke. At the present stage of cultivation the tubers are small and are rather hard to keep, but it is thought that, "both of these defects can be overcome or evaded." Experiments indicate that we have in this species a valuable addition to our vegetables. We must next look at certain other neglected possibilities.
Dr. Edward Palmer, whose energy as a collector and acuteness as an observer are known to you. all, has brought together very interesting facts relative to the food-plants of our North American aborigines. Among the plants described by him there are a few which merit careful investigation. Against all of them, however, there lie the objections mentioned before, namely:
1. The long time required for their improvement, and—
2. The difficulty of making them acceptable to the community, involving—
3. The risk of total and mortifying failure.
In the notes to this address the more prominent of these are enumerated.
In 1854 the late Prof. Gray called attention to the remarkable relations which exist between the plants of Japan and those of our Eastern coast. You will remember that he not only proved that the plants of the two regions had a common origin, but also emphasized the fact that many species of the two countries are almost identical. It is to that country, which has yielded us so many useful and beautiful plants, that we turn for new vegetables to supplement our present food resources. One of these plants, namely, Stachys, has already been mentioned as rather promising. There are others which are worth examination and perhaps acquisition.
One of the most convenient places for a preliminary examination of the vegetables of Japan is at the railroad stations on the longer lines—for instance, that running from Tokio to Kobe. For native consumption there are prepared luncheon-boxes of two or three stories, provided with the simple and yet embarrassing chopsticks. It is worth the shock it causes one's nerves to invest in these boxes and try the vegetable contents. The bits of fish, flesh, and fowl which one finds therein can be easily separated and discarded, upon which there will remain a few delicacies. The pervading odor of the box is that of aromatic vinegar. The generous portion of boiled rice is of excellent quality with every grain well softened and distinct, and this without anything else would suffice for a tolerable meal. In the boxes which have fallen under my observation there were sundry boiled roots, shoots, and seeds which were not recognizable by me in their cooked form. Prof. Georgeson, formerly of Japan, has kindly identified some of these for me, but he says, "There are doubtless many others used occasionally."
One may find sliced lotus roots, roots of large burdock, lily bulbs, shoots of ginger, pickled green plums, beans of many sorts, boiled chestnuts, nuts of the gingko tree, pickled greens of various kinds, dried cucumbers, and several kinds of sea-weeds. Some of the leaves and roots are cooked in much the same manner as beet roots and beet leaves are by us, and the general effect is not unappetizing. The boiled shoots are suggestive of only the tougher ends of asparagus. On the whole, I do not look back on Japanese railway luncheons with any longing which would compel me to advocate the indiscriminate introduction of the constituent vegetables here.
But when the same vegetables are served in native inns, under more favorable culinary conditions, without the flavor of vinegar and of the pine wood of the luncheon-boxes, they appear to be worthy of a trial in our horticulture, and I therefore deal with one or two in greater detail.
Prof. Georgeson, whose advantages for acquiring a knowledge of the useful plants of Japan have been unusually good, has placed me under great obligations by communicating certain facts regarding some of the more promising plants of Japan which are not now used here. It should be said that several of these plants have already attracted the notice of the Agricultural Department in this country.
The soy bean (Glycine hispida). This species is known here to some extent, but we do not have the early and best varieties. These beans replace meat in the diet of the common people.
Mucuna (Mucuna capitata) and dolichos (Dolichos cultratus) are pole-beans possessing merit.
Dioscorea; there are several varieties with palatable roots. Years ago one of these was spoken of by the late Dr. Gray as possessing "excellent roots, if one could only dig them."
Colocasia antiquorum has tuberous roots, which are nutritious.
Conophallus Konjak has a large bulbous root, which is sliced, dried, and beaten to a powder. It is an ingredient in cakes.
Aralia cordata is cultivated for the shoots, and used as we use asparagus.
Œnanthe stolonifera and Cryptotænia canadensis are palatable salad plants, the former being used also as greens.
There is little hope, if any, that we shall obtain from the hotter climates for our southern territory new species of merit The native markets in the tropical cities, like Colombo, Batavia, Singapore, and Saigon, are rich in fruits, but, outside of the native plants bearing these, nearly all the plants appear to be wholly in established lines of cultivation, such, for instance, as members of the gourd and nightshade families.
Before we leave the subject of our coming vegetables, it will be well to note a naïve caution enjoined by Vilmorin in his work, Les Plantes Potagères.
"Finally," he says, "we conclude the article devoted to each plant with a few remarks on the uses to which it may be applied and on the parts of the plants which are to be so used. In many cases such remarks mav be looked upon as idle words, and yet it would sometimes have been useful to have them when new plants were cultivated by us for the first time. For instance, the giant edible burdock of Japan (Lappa edulis) was for a long time served up on our tables only as a wretchedly poor spinach, because people would cook the leaves, whereas, in its native country, it is only cultivated for its tender, fleshy roots."
I trust you are not discouraged at this outlook for our coming vegetables.
Two groups of improvable food-plants may be referred to before we pass to the next class, namely, edible fungi and the beverage-plants. All botanists who have given attention to the matter agree with the late Dr. Curtis, of North Carolina, that we have in the unutilized mushrooms an immense amount of available nutriment of a delicious quality. It is not improbable that other fungi than our common "edible mushroom" will by and by be subjected to careful selection.
The principal beverage-plants—tea, coffee, and chocolate—are all attracting the assiduous attention of cultivators. The first of these plants is extending its range at a marvelous rate of rapidity through India and Ceylon; the second is threatened by the pests which have almost exterminated it in Ceylon, but a new species, with crosses therefrom, is promising to resist them successfully; the third, chocolate, is every year passing into lands farther from its original home. To these have been added the kola, of a value as yet not wholly determined, and others are to augment the short list.
[To be concluded.]
- Presidential address delivered before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at Washington, August, 1891.
- The following are among the more useful works of a general character dealing with the subject. Others are referred to either in the text or notes. The reader may consult also the list of works on Economic Botany in the catalogue published by the Linnæan Society.
Select Extra-tropical Plants, readily Eligible for Industrial Culture or Naturalization, with Indications of their Native Countries and some of their Uses. By Baron Ferd. von Mueller, K.C.M.G., F.R.S., etc., Government Botanist for Victoria. Melbourne, 1888. Seventh edition, revised and enlarged.
At the close of his treatise on industrial plants. Baron von Mueller has grouped the genera indicating the different classes of useful products in such a manner that we can ascertain the respective numbers belonging to the genera. Of course, many of these genera figure in more than one category. He has also arranged the plants according to the countries naturally producing them.
Useful Native Plants of Australia (including Tasmania). By J. H. Maiden, F. L. S., Curator of the Technological Museum of New South Wales, Sydney. Sydney, 1889.
See also note (*), page 71.
Hand-book of Commercial Geography. By Geo. G. Chisholm, M. A., B. So. London, 1889.
New Commercial Plants, with Directions how to grow them to the Best Advantage. By Thomas Christy. London, Christy & Co.
Dictionary of Popular Names of the Plants which furnish the Natural and Acquired Wants of Man. By John Smith, A. L. S. London, 1885.
Cultivated Plants: Their Propagation and Improvement. By F. W. Burbage. London, 1877.
The Wanderings of Plants and Animals from their First home. By Victor Hehn, edited by James Steven Stally brass. London, 1885.
Researches into the Early History of Mankind, and the Development of Civilization. By Edward B. Tylor, D. C. L., LL.D., F.R. S. 1878.
- The number of species of Phanogamia has been given by many writers as not far from 150,000. But the total number of species recognized by Bentham and Hooker, in the Genera Plantarum (Durand's Index), is 100,220, in 210 natural orders and 8,417 genera.
- Dr. E. Lewis Sturtevant, to whose kindness I am indebted for great assistance in the matter of references, has placed at my disposal many of his notes on edible plants, etc. From his enumeration it appears that, if we count all the plants which have been cultivated for food at one time or another, the list contains 1,192 species; but if we count all the plants which either "habitally or during famine periods are recorded to have been eaten," we obtain a list of no less than 4,090 species, or about three and one half per cent of all known species of plants. But, as Sir Joseph Hooker has said, the products of many plants, though eatable, are not fit to eat.
- The Folk Lore of Plants. By T. F. Thiselton Dyer, 1889.
- In Dr. Sturtevant's list, 88 species of Gramineæ are counted as food-plants under cultivation, while the number of species in this order which can be or have been utilized as food amounts to 146. Our smaller number 20 comprises only those which have been grown on a large scale anywhere.
- "In Agricultural Museum at Poppelsdorf 600 varieties are exhibited."
- E. L. S. in letter, quoted from Seedsman's Catalogue.
- The best account of the early history of these and other cultivated plants can be found in the classical work of De Candolle, Origine des Plantes Cultivêes (Paris), translated in the International Series, History of Cultivated Plants (New York). The reader should consult also Darwin's Animals and Plants under Domestication.
- Food-grains of India, A. II. Church, London, 1886, p. 34. In this instructive work the reader will find much information regarding the less common articles of food. Of Panicum frumentaccum. Prof. Georgeson states in a letter that it is grown in Japan for its grain, which is used for food, but here would take rank as a fodder-plant.
- In order to avoid possible misapprehension, it should be stated that there are a few persons who hold that at least some of our cereals, and other cultivated plants, for that matter, have not undergone material improvement, but are essentially unmodified progeny. Under this view, if we could look back into the farthest past, we should see our cereals growing wild and in such admirable condition that we should unhesitatingly select them for immediate use. This extreme position is untenable. Again, there are a few extremists who hold that some plants under cultivation have reached their culminating point, and must now remain stationary or begin to retrograde.
- Gray's Botanical Text-Book, vols, i and ii.
- A Selection from the Physiological and Horticultural Papers published in the Transactions of the Royal and Horticultural Societies, by the late Thomas Andrew Knight, Esq., President of the Horticultural Society, London. London, 1841.
- Illustrations of the Manners and Customs and Condition of the North American Indians. By George Catlin. London, 1876. A reprint of the account published in 1841, of travels in 1832-'40. "Plate 278 is a party of Sioux, in bark canoes (purchased of the Chippewas), gathering the wild rice, which grows in immense fields around the shores of the rivers and lakes of these northern regions, and used by the Indians as an article of food. The mode of gathering it is curious and, as seen in the drawing, one woman paddles the canoe, while another with a stick in each hand bends the rice over the canoe with one and strikes it with the other, which shakes it into the canoe, which is constantly moving along until it is filled." Vol. ii, p. 208.
- Schliemann's carbonized specimens exhumed in Greece are said to be "very hard, fine-grained, sharp, very flat on grooved side, different from any wheats now known." American Antiquities, 1880, p. 66. The carbonized grains in the Peabody Museum at Cambridge, Mass., are small.
- Prehistoric Times as illustrated by Ancient Remains and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages. By John Lubbock, Bart. New York, fourth edition, 1886. "Three varieties of wheat were cultivated by the lake-dwellers, who also possessed two kinds of barley and two of millet. Of these the most ancient and most important were the six-rowed barley and small "lake-dwellers'" wheat. The discovery of Egyptian wheat (Triticum turgidum), at Wangen and Robenhausen, is particularly interesting. Oats were cultivated during the bronze age, but are absent from all the stone age villages. Rye was also unknown" (p. 216). "Wheat is most common, having been discovered at Merlen, Moosseedorf, and Wangen. At the latter place, indeed, many bushels of it were found, the grains being in large, thick lumps. In other cases the grains are free, and without chaff, resembling our present wheat in size and form, while more rarely they are still in the ear." One hundred and fifteen species of plants have been identified (Heer, Keller).
- Les Plantes Potagères, Vilmorin, Paris. Translated into English under the direction of W. Robinson, Editor of the (London) Garden, 1885, and entitled The Vegetable Garden.
- Loc. cit., English edition, p. 104.
- According to notes made by Mr. Manning, Secretary Massachusetts Horticultural Society (History Massachusetts Horticultural Society), the tomato was introduced into Salem, Mass., about 1802 by Michele Felice Corne, an Italian painter, but he found it difficult to persuade people even to taste the fruit (Felt's Annals of Salem, vol. ii, p. 631). It was said to have been introduced into Philadelphia by a French refugee from Santo Domingo in 1798. It was used as an article of food in New Orleans in 1812, but was not sold in the markets of Philadelphia until 1829. It did not come into general use in the North until some years after the last-named date.
- "In Spain and those hot regions, they use to eat the (love) apples prepared and boiled with pepper, salt, and olives; but they yield very little nourishment to the bodies, and the same nought and corrupt. Likewise they doe eat the apples with oile, vinegar, and pepper mixed together for sauce to their meat even as we in these Cold Countries do Mustard." (Gerard's Herbal, p. 316.)
- Commercial Botany of the Nineteenth Century. By John R. Jackson, A. L. S. Cassell & Co. London, 1890. Mr. Jackson, who is the Curator of the Museums, Royal Gardens, Kew, has embodied in this treatise a great amount of valuable information, well arranged for ready reference.
- Gardener's Chronicle, 1888.
- Department of Agriculture Report for 1870, pp. 404-428. Only those are here copied from Dr. Palmer's list which he expressly states are extensively used: Ground-nut (Apios tuberosa); Aesculus californica; Agave amcricana; Nuphar advena; prairie potato (Psoralea esculenta); Scirpus lacustris; Sagittaria variabilis; kamass-root (Camassia esculenta); Solanum Fendleri (supposed by him to be the original of the cultivated potato); acorns of various sorts; mesquite (Algarobia glandulosa); Juniperus occidentalis; nuts of Carya, Juglans, etc.; screw-bean (Strombocarpus pubescens); various cactaceæ; Yucca; cherries and many wild berries; Chenopodium album, etc. Psoralea esculenta=prairie potato, or bread-root. (Palmer in Agricultural Report, 1870, p. 402). The following from Catlin, loc. cit., i, p. 122: "Corn and dried meat are generally laid in in the fall, in sufficient quantities to support them through the winter. These are the principal articles of food during that long and inclement season; and, in addition to them, they oftentimes have in store great quantities of dried squashes, and dried 'pommes blanches,' a kind of turnip which grows in great abundance in those regions.… These are dried in great quantities and pounded into a sort of meal and cooked with dried meat and corn. Great quantities also are dried and laid away in store for the winter season, such as buffalo-berries, service-berries, strawberries, and wild plums. In addition to this we had the luxury of service-berries without stint; and the buffalo bushes, which are to these northern regions, lined the banks of the river and the defiles in the bluffs, sometimes for miles together, forming almost impassable hedges, so loaded with the weight of their fruit that their boughs everywhere gracefully bending down or resting on the ground. This last shrub (Shepherdia), which may be said to be the most beautiful ornament that decks out the wild prairies, forms a striking contrast to the rest of the foliage, from the blue appearance of its leaves by which it can be distinguished for miles in distance. The fruit which it produces in such incredible profusion, hanging in clusters to every limb and to every twig, is about the size of ordinary currants and not unlike them in color and even in flavor; being exceedingly acid, almost unpalatable, until they are bitten by frost of autumn, when they are sweetened and their flavor delicious, having to the taste much the character of grapes, and I am almost fain to think would produce excellent wine." (George Catlin's Illustrations and Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians, p. 72, vol. i.) For much relative to the food of our aborigines, especially of the Western coast, consult The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America. By H. H. Bancroft. New York, 1875. The following from vol. i, p. 538, indicates that inaccuracies have crept into the work: "From the earliest information we have of these nations" (the author is speaking of the New Mexicans), "they are known to have been tillers of the soil; and though the implements used and their methods of cultivation were both simple and primitive, cotton, corn, wheat, beans, and many varieties of fruits which constituted their principal food were raised in abundance." Wheat was not grown on the American continent until after the landing of the first explorers.
- Pickled daikon, the large radish, often grated. Ginger-roots—shoga. Beans (Glycine hispida), many kinds, and prepared in many ways. Beans (Dolichos cultratus), cooked in rice and mixed with it. Sliced hasu, lotus roots. Lily bulbs, boiled whole and the scales torn off as they are eaten. Pickled green plums (ume-boshi), colored red in the pickle by the leaves of Perilla arguta (shiso). Sliced and dried cucumbers, kiuri. Pieces of gobo—roots of Lappa major. Rakkio—bulbs of Allium Bakeri, boiled in shogu. Grated wasabi—stem of Eutrema wasabi. Water-cress—midzu-tagarashi (not often). Also sometimes pickled greens of various kinds, and occasionally chestnut-kernels boiled and mixed with a kind of sweet sauce. Nut of the gingko tree. Several kinds of sea-weeds are also very commonly served with the rice. Prof. C. C. Georgeson in letter.
- Loc. cit. Preface in English edition.