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


The real difficulty in our present subject is not, as it appears to me, why domestic varieties have not become mutually infertile when crossed, but why this has so generally occurred with natural varieties, as soon as they have been permanently modified in a sufficient degree to take rank as species. We are far from precisely knowing the cause; nor is this surprising, seeing how profoundly ignorant we are in regard to the normal and abnormal action of the reproductive system. But we can see that species, owing to their struggle for existence with numerous competitors, will have been exposed during long periods of time to more uniform conditions, than have domestic varieties; and this may well make a wide difference in the result. For we know how commonly wild animals and plants, when taken from their natural conditions and subjected to captivity, are rendered sterile; and the reproductive functions of organic beings which have always lived under natural conditions would probably in like manner be eminently sensitive to the influence of an unnatural cross. Domesticated productions, on the other hand, which, as shown by the mere fact of their domestication, were not originally highly sensitive to changes in their conditions of life, and which can now generally resist with undiminished fertility repeated changes of conditions, might be expected to produce varieties, which would be little liable to have their reproductive powers injuriously affected by the act of crossing with other varieties which had originated in a like manner.

I have as yet spoken as if the varieties of the same species were invariably fertile when intercrossed. But it is impossible to resist the evidence of the existence of a certain amount of sterility in the few following cases, which I will briefly abstract. The evidence is at least as good as that from which we believe in the sterility of a multitude of species. The evidence is also derived from hostile witnesses, who in all other cases consider fertility and sterility as safe criterions of specific distinction. Gartner kept, during several years, a dwarf kind of maize with yellow seeds, and a tall variety with red seeds growing near each other in his garden; and although these plants have separated sexes, they never naturally crossed. He then fertilised thirteen flowers of the one kind with pollen of the other; but only a single head produced any seed, and this one head produced only five grains. Manipulation in this case could not have been injurious, as the plants have separated sexes. No one, I believe, has suspected that these varieties of maize are distinct species; and it is important to notice that the hybrid plants thus raised were themselves PERFECTLY fertile; so that even Gartner did not venture to consider the two varieties as specifically distinct.

This is page 299 of 505. [Mark this Page]
Mark any page to add this title to Your Bookshelf. (0 / 10 books on shelf)
Customize text appearance:
Color: A A A A A   Font: Aa Aa   Size: 1 2 3 4 5   Defaults
(c) 2003-2012 and Michael Moncur. All rights reserved.
For information about public domain texts appearing here, read the copyright information and disclaimer.