Hybrid Conference Report, 1900
Report of a Conference called by the Royal Horticultural Society. Covers broad issues surrounding hybridizing, many still relevent today. To visit full original report click here
The Introductory remarks gives a nice history of Hybridizing, click here
for original or see below;
Tuesday, July 11, 1899, at Chiswick.
Introductory Address by Dr. Maxwell T. Masters, F.R.S., Officer of the Order of Leopold, &c., &c.
Our first duty, and a very pleasant one it is, is to welcome our foreign guests, our friends from across the sea as I prefer to call them, to thank them for their presence here to-day, and to express a hope that their sojourn among us may be both agreeable and profitable. At the same time we regret that some such as Dr. Focke, the historian of hybridisation, has not been able to preside over this meeting, as we had hoped he might have done. Nor can we at such a meeting do other than express our abiding regret at the loss, though at an advanced age, of the great hybridiser, Charles Naudin.
Our next duty is to thank the Council of the Royal Horticultural Society for this opportunity of meeting once more in these time-honoured gardens to discuss what, I venture to think, is one of the, if not the most important subject in modern progressive experimental horticulture. I use the words progressive and experimental because I believe that the future of horticulture depends very greatly on well-directed experiment.
So far as the details of practical cultivation are concerned we are not so much in advance of our forefathers. We have infinitely greater advantages, and we have made use of them, but if they had had them they would have done the same. We are able to bring to bear on our art not only the " resources of civilisation " to a degree impossible to our predecessors, but we can avail ourselves also of the teachings of science, and endeavour to apply them for the benefit of practical gardening. We are mere infants in this matter at present, and we can only dimly perceive the enormous strides that gardening will make when more fully guided and directed by scientific investigations. One object of this Conference is to show that cultural excellence by itself will not secure progress, and to forward this progress by discussing the subject of cross-breeding and hybridisation in all their degrees, alike in their practical and in their scientific aspects.
To appreciate the importance of cross-breeding and hybridisation we we have only to look round our gardens and our exhibition-tents, or to scan the catalogues of our nurserymen. Selection has done and is doing much for the improvement of our plants, but it is cross-breeding which has furnished us with the materials for selection.
A few years ago by the expression "new plants," we meant plants newly introduced from other countries, but, with the possible exception of Orchids, the number of new plants of this description is now relatively few.
The "new plants " of the present day, like the Roses, the Chrysanthemums, the Fuchsias, and so many others, are the products of the gardener's skill. From Peaches to Potatos, from Peas to Plums, from Strawberries to Savoys, the work of the cross-breeder is seen improving the quahty and the quantity of our products, adapting them to different climates and conditions, hastening their production in spring, prolonging their duration in autumn.* Surely in these matters we have outdistanced our ancestors.
But let us not forget that they showed us the way. I do not propose to dilate on the share which Camerarius, Millington, Grew, Morland, and others at the close of the seventeenth century had in definitely establishing the fact of sexuality in plants ; but I do wish to emphasise the fact that it was by experiment, not by speculation, nor even by observation, that the fact was proved ; and I do wish to show that our English gardeners and experimenters w^ere even at that time quite aware of the importance of their discovery, and forestalled our Herbert and Darwin in the inferences they drew from it. In proof of w^hich allow me to quote from a work of Richard Bradley, called " New Improvements of Planting and Gardening, both Philosophical and Practical," published in 1717, cap. ii. After alluding to the discovery of the method of the fertilisation of plants, he says (p. 22) : —" By this knowledge we may alter the proj)erty and taste of any fruit by impregnating the one with the farina of another of the same class ; as, for example, a Codlin with a Pearmain, which will occasion the Codlin so impregnated to last a longer time than usual, and be of a sharper taste; or if the winter fruits should be fecundated with the dust of the summer kinds they will decay before their usual time ; and it is from this accidental coupling of the farina of one with the other that in an orchard where there is variety of Apples even the fruits gathered from the same tree differ in their flavour and times of ripening ; and, moreover, the seeds of those Apples so generated, being changed by that means from their natural qualities, will produce different kinds of fruit if they are sown.
" 'Tis from this accidental coupling that proceeds the numberless varieties of fruits and flowers which are raised every day from seed . . . "
Moreover, a curious person may by this knowledge produce such rare kinds of plants as have not yet been heard of by making choice of two plants for his purpose, as are near alike in their parts, but chiefly in their flowers or seed vessels ; for example, the Carnation and Sweet William are in some respects alike : the farina of the one will impregnate the other, and the seed so enlivened will produce a plant differing from either, as may now be seen in the garden of Mr. Thomas Fairchild, of Hoxton, a plant neither Sweet William nor Carnation, but resembling both equally, which was raised from the seed of a Carnation that had been impregnated by the farina of the Sweet William."
Here we have the first record of an artificially produced hybrid, and you will remark that this was more than forty years before Kolreuter began his elaborate series of experiments. Fairchild was the friend and associate of Philip Miller, and of a small knot of " advanced " thinkers,
* See some interesting observations of McFarlane
on the period of flowering in hybrids as intermediate; between that of the parents, Gardeners' Chronicle, June 20, 1891 ; and on the structure of hybrids, and workers who banded themselves together into a " Society of Gardeners."
" He is mentioned," says Johnson in his " History of Enghsh Gardening," "throughout Bradley's works as a man of general information and fond of scientific research, and in them are given many of his experiments to demonstrate the sexuality of plants and their possession of a circulatory system. He was a commercial gardener at Hoxton, carrying on one of the largest trades as a nurseryman and florist that were then established. He was one of the largest English cultivators of a vineyard, of which he had one at Hoxton as late as 1722. He died in 1729, leaving funds for insuring the delivery of a sermon annually in the Church of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, on Whit Tuesday, ' On the wonderful works of God in the Creation ; or, On the certainty of the resurrection of the dead proved by the certain changes of the animal and vegetable parts of the Creation.' "
Fairchild was thus not only the raiser of the first garden hybrid, but the originator of the flower services now popular in our churches. We do not hear much of intentionally raised hybrids from this time till that of Linnaeus, in 1759.* The great Swedish naturalist having observed in his garden a Tragopogon, apparently a hybrid between T. pratensis and T. parvifolius, set to work to ascertain by experiment whether this conjecture was correct. He placed pollen of T. parvifolius on to the stigmas of T. prater sis, obtained seed, and from this seed the hybrid was produced.
About the same time (that is, in 1760) Kolreuter began his elaborate experiments ; but these were made with no practical aim, and thus for a time suffered unmerited oblivion.
Some years after the President of this Society, Thomas Andrew Knight, and specially Dean Herbert, took up the work, with what splendid results you all know.
It is curious, however, to note that objections and prejudices arose from two sources. Many worthy people objected to the production of hybrids on the ground that it was an impious interference with the laws of Nature. To such an extent was this prejudice carried that a former firm of nurserymen at Tooting, celebrated in their day for the culture, amongst other things, of Heaths, in order to avoid wounding sensitive susceptibilities, exhibited as new species introduced from the Cape of Good Hope forms which had really been originated by cross-breeding in their own nurseries.
The best answer to this prejudice was supplied by Dean Herbert, whose orthodoxy was beyond suspicion. He, like Linnaeus before him, had observed the existence of natural hybrids, and he set to work to prove experimentally the justness of his opinion. He succeeded in raising, as Engleheart has done since, many hybrid Narcissi, such as he had seen Avild in the Pyrenees, by means of artificial cross-breeding. If such forms exist in nature, there can be no impropriety in producing them by the art of the gardener.
In our own time, Eeichenbach, judging from appearances only, described as natural hybrids numerous Orchids. Veitch and others have confirmed his conjecture by producing by artificial fertilisation the very same forms which the botanist described.
It remains only to speak of another respectable but mistaken prejudice that has existed against the extension of hybridisation, I am sorry to say this has been on the part of the botanists. It is not indeed altogether surprising that the botanists should have objected to the inconvenience and confusion introduced into their systems of classification by the introduction of hybrids and mongrels, and that they should object to hybrid species, and much more to hybrid genera ; but it would be very unscientific to prefer the interests of our systems to the extension of the truth.
I may mention two cases where scepticism still exists as to the real nature of certain plants : Clematis Jackmani of our gardens, raised, as is alleged, by Mr. Jackman, of Woking ("Gardeners' Chronicle," 1864, p. 82-5), was considered by M. Decaisne and M. Lavallee* to be a real Japanese species, and not a hybrid. This may be so, but there is no absolute impossibility in the conjecture that the Japanese plant and the cultivated plant originated in the same way. Again, Mr. Culverwell's hybrid between the Strawberry and the Raspberry has been pronounced to be no hybrid, but to be Rubus Leesii. But what, I may ask, is Rubus Leesii ? It appears to be a sterile form more closely allied to the Raspberry than to the Strawberry. Is it not possible that Mr. Culver well has produced it artificially ?
The days when " species " were deemed sacrosanct, and " systems " were considered "natural," have passed, and Darwin, just as Herbert did in another way, has taught us to welcome hybridisation as one means of ascertaining the true relationships of plants and the limitations of species and genera.
Darwin's researches and experiments on cross-fertilisation came as a revelation to many practical experimenters, and we recall with something akin to humiliation the fact that we had been for years exercising ourselves about the relative merits of " pin eyes " and " thrum eyes " in Primroses, without ever perceiving the vast significance of these apparently trifling details of structure.
It would occupy too much time were I to dilate upon the labours of Gaertner, of Godron, of Naudin, of Naegeli, of Millardet, of Lord Penzance, of Engleheart, and many others. Nor need I do more than make a passing reference to the wonderful morphological results obtained within our own times by the successive crossings and inter-crossings of the tuberous Dcgonias, changes so remarkable that a French botanist has even been constrained to found a new genus, Lemoinea, so widely have they deviated from the typical Begonias.
For scientific reasons, then, no less than for practical purposes, the study of cross-breeding is most important, and we welcome the opportunity that this Confeience affords of extending our knowledge of the life history of plants, in full confidence that it will not only increase our stock of knowledge, but also enable us still further to apply it to the benefit of mankind.
1* Amceji. Acad., ed. Gilibert, vol. i. p. 212.
2* Lavallee, Les Clematises a Grandes Fleurs, p. vi-and p. 9, tab. iv. : Clematis Hakonensis.