Some flowers on a single plant of both species were fertilised with their own pollen, and others were crossed with pollen from a distinct individual; both plants being protected by a net from insects. The crossed and self-fertilised seeds thus produced were sown on opposite sides of the same pots, and treated in all respects alike; and the plants when fully grown were measured and compared. With both species, as in the cases of the Linaria and Dianthus, the crossed seedlings were conspicuously superior in height and in other ways to the self-fertilised. I therefore determined to begin a long series of experiments with various plants, and these were continued for the following eleven years; and we shall see that in a large majority of cases the crossed beat the self-fertilised plants. Several of the exceptional cases, moreover, in which the crossed plants were not victorious, can be explained.

It should be observed that I have spoken for the sake of brevity, and shall continue to do so, of crossed and self-fertilised seeds, seedlings, or plants; these terms implying that they are the product of crossed or self-fertilised flowers. Cross-fertilisation always means a cross between distinct plants which were raised from seeds and not from cuttings or buds. Self-fertilisation always implies that the flowers in question were impregnated with their own pollen.

My experiments were tried in the following manner. A single plant, if it produced a sufficiency of flowers, or two or three plants were placed under a net stretched on a frame, and large enough to cover the plant (together with the pot, when one was used) without touching it. This latter point is important, for if the flowers touch the net they may be cross-fertilised by bees, as I have known to happen; and when the net is wet the pollen may be injured. I used at first "white cotton net," with very fine meshes, but afterwards a kind of net with meshes one-tenth of an inch in diameter; and this I found by experience effectually excluded all insects excepting Thrips, which no net will exclude. On the plants thus protected several flowers were marked, and were fertilised with their own pollen; and an equal number on the same plants, marked in a different manner, were at the same time crossed with pollen from a distinct plant. The crossed flowers were never castrated, in order to make the experiments as like as possible to what occurs under nature with plants fertilised by the aid of insects. Therefore, some of the flowers which were crossed may have failed to be thus fertilised, and afterwards have been self-fertilised. But this and some other sources of error will presently be discussed. In some few cases of spontaneously self-fertile species, the flowers were allowed to fertilise themselves under the net; and in still fewer cases uncovered plants were allowed to be freely crossed by the insects which incessantly visited them. There are some great advantages and some disadvantages in my having occasionally varied my method of proceeding; but when there was any difference in the treatment, it is always so stated under the head of each species.

Care was taken that the seeds were thoroughly ripened before being gathered. Afterwards the crossed and self-fertilised seeds were in most cases placed on damp sand on opposite sides of a glass tumbler covered by a glass plate, with a partition between the two lots; and the glass was placed on the chimney-piece in a warm room. I could thus observe the germination of the seeds. Sometimes a few would germinate on one side before any on the other, and these were thrown away. But as often as a pair germinated at the same time, they were planted on opposite sides of a pot, with a superficial partition between the two; and I thus proceeded until from half-a-dozen to a score or more seedlings of exactly the same age were planted on the opposite sides of several pots. If one of the young seedlings became sickly or was in any way injured, it was pulled up and thrown away, as well as its antagonist on the opposite side of the same pot.

The Effects of Cross and Self-Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom Page 08

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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