Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection


First, for the sterility of species when crossed and of their hybrid offspring. It is impossible to study the several memoirs and works of those two conscientious and admirable observers, Kolreuter and Gartner, who almost devoted their lives to this subject, without being deeply impressed with the high generality of some degree of sterility. Kolreuter makes the rule universal; but then he cuts the knot, for in ten cases in which he found two forms, considered by most authors as distinct species, quite fertile together, he unhesitatingly ranks them as varieties. Gartner, also, makes the rule equally universal; and he disputes the entire fertility of Kolreuter's ten cases. But in these and in many other cases, Gartner is obliged carefully to count the seeds, in order to show that there is any degree of sterility. He always compares the maximum number of seeds produced by two species when first crossed, and the maximum produced by their hybrid offspring, with the average number produced by both pure parent-species in a state of nature. But causes of serious error here intervene: a plant, to be hybridised, must be castrated, and, what is often more important, must be secluded in order to prevent pollen being brought to it by insects from other plants. Nearly all the plants experimented on by Gartner were potted, and were kept in a chamber in his house. That these processes are often injurious to the fertility of a plant cannot be doubted; for Gartner gives in his table about a score of cases of plants which he castrated, and artificially fertilised with their own pollen, and (excluding all cases such as the Leguminosae, in which there is an acknowledged difficulty in the manipulation) half of these twenty plants had their fertility in some degree impaired. Moreover, as Gartner repeatedly crossed some forms, such as the common red and blue pimpernels (Anagallis arvensis and coerulea), which the best botanists rank as varieties, and found them absolutely sterile, we may doubt whether many species are really so sterile, when intercrossed, as he believed.

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