At first this seemed a simple task; but Mr. H. C. Watson, to whom I am much indebted for valuable advice and assistance on this subject, soon convinced me that there were many difficulties, as did subsequently Dr. Hooker, even in stronger terms. I shall reserve for my future work the discussion of these difficulties, and the tables themselves of the proportional numbers of the varying species. Dr. Hooker permits me to add, that after having carefully read my manuscript, and examined the tables, he thinks that the following statements are fairly well established. The whole subject, however, treated as it necessarily here is with much brevity, is rather perplexing, and allusions cannot be avoided to the "struggle for existence," "divergence of character," and other questions, hereafter to be discussed.
Alph. De Candolle and others have shown that plants which have very wide ranges generally present varieties; and this might have been expected, as they become exposed to diverse physical conditions, and as they come into competition (which, as we shall hereafter see, is a far more important circumstance) with different sets of organic beings. But my tables further show that, in any limited country, the species which are most common, that is abound most in individuals, and the species which are most widely diffused within their own country (and this is a different consideration from wide range, and to a certain extent from commonness), often give rise to varieties sufficiently well-marked to have been recorded in botanical works. Hence it is the most flourishing, or, as they may be called, the dominant species,--those which range widely over the world, are the most diffused in their own country, and are the most numerous in individuals,--which oftenest produce well-marked varieties, or, as I consider them, incipient species. And this, perhaps, might have been anticipated; for, as varieties, in order to become in any degree permanent, necessarily have to struggle with the other inhabitants of the country, the species which are already dominant will be the most likely to yield offspring which, though in some slight degree modified, will still inherit those advantages that enabled their parents to become dominant over their compatriots.
If the plants inhabiting a country and described in any Flora be divided into two equal masses, all those in the larger genera being placed on one side, and all those in the smaller genera on the other side, a somewhat larger number of the very common and much diffused or dominant species will be found on the side of the larger genera. This, again, might have been anticipated; for the mere fact of many species of the same genus inhabiting any country, shows that there is something in the organic or inorganic conditions of that country favourable to the genus; and, consequently, we might have expected to have found in the larger genera, or those including many species, a large proportional number of dominant species. But so many causes tend to obscure this result, that I am surprised that my tables show even a small majority on the side of the larger genera. I will here allude to only two causes of obscurity. Fresh-water and salt-loving plants have generally very wide ranges and are much diffused, but this seems to be connected with the nature of the stations inhabited by them, and has little or no relation to the size of the genera to which the species belong. Again, plants low in the scale of organisation are generally much more widely diffused than plants higher in the scale; and here again there is no close relation to the size of the genera. The cause of lowly-organised plants ranging widely will be discussed in our chapter on geographical distribution.
From looking at species as only strongly-marked and well-defined varieties, I was led to anticipate that the species of the larger genera in each country would oftener present varieties, than the species of the smaller genera; for wherever many closely related species (i.e. species of the same genus) have been formed, many varieties or incipient species ought, as a general rule, to be now forming.