But it may be argued that neither an excess of food nor a superfluity in the organised fluids of the body necessarily induces variability. The goose and the turkey have been well fed for many generations, yet have varied very little. Our fruit-trees and culinary plants, which are so variable, have been cultivated from an ancient period, and, though they probably still receive more nutriment than in their natural state, yet they must have received during many generations nearly the same amount; and it might be thought that they would have become habituated to the excess. Nevertheless, on the whole, Knight's view, that excess of food is one of the most potent causes of variability, appears, as far as I can judge, probable.
Whether or not our various cultivated plants have received nutriment in excess, all have been exposed to changes of various kinds. Fruit-trees are grafted on different stocks, and grown in various soils. The seeds of culinary and agricultural plants are carried from place to place; and during the last century the rotation of our crops and the manures used have been greatly changed.
Slight changes of treatment often suffice to induce variability. The simple fact of almost all our cultivated plants and domesticated animals having varied in all places and at all times, leads to this conclusion. Seeds taken from common English forest-trees, grown under their native climate, not highly manured or otherwise artificially treated, yield seedlings which vary much, as may be seen in every extensive seed-bed. I have shown in a former chapter what a number of well-marked and singular varieties the thorn (Crataegus oxycantha) has produced: yet this tree has been subjected to hardly any cultivation. In Staffordshire I carefully examined a large number of two British plants, namely Geranium phaeum and pyrenaicum, which have never been highly cultivated. These plants had spread spontaneously by seed from a common garden into an open plantation; and the seedlings varied in almost every single character, both in their flower and foliage, to a degree which I have never seen exceeded; yet they could not have been exposed to any great change in their conditions.
With respect to animals, Azara has remarked with much surprise (22/12. 'Quadrupedes du Paraguay' 1801 tome 2 page 319.) that, whilst the feral horses on the Pampas are always of one of three colours, and the cattle always of a uniform colour, yet these animals, when bred on the unenclosed estancias, though kept in a state which can hardly be called domesticated, and apparently exposed to almost identically the same conditions as when they are feral, nevertheless display a great diversity of colour. So again in India several species of fresh-water fish are only so far treated artificially, that they are reared in great tanks; but this small change is sufficient to induce much variability. (22/13. M'Clelland on Indian Cyprinidae 'Asiatic Researches' volume 19 part 2 1839 pages 266, 268, 313.)
Some facts on the effects of grafting, in regard to the variability of trees, deserve attention. Cabanis asserts that when certain pears are grafted on the quince, their seeds yield a greater number of varieties than do the seeds of the same variety of pear when grafted on the wild pear. (22/14. Quoted by Sageret 'Pom. Phys.' 1830 page 43. This statement, however, is not believed by Decaisne.) But as the pear and quince are distinct species, though so closely related that the one can be readily grafted and succeeds admirably on the other, the fact of variability being thus caused is not surprising; as we are here enabled to see the cause, namely, the very different nature of the stock and graft. Several North American varieties of the plum and peach are well known to reproduce themselves truly by seed; but Downing asserts (22/15. 'The Fruits of America' 1845 page 5.), "that when a graft is taken from one of these trees and placed upon another stock, this grafted tree is found to lose its singular property of producing the same variety by seed, and becomes like all other worked trees;"--that is, its seedlings become highly variable. Another case is worth giving: the Lalande variety of the walnut-tree leafs between April 20th and May 15th, and its seedlings invariably inherit the same habit; whilst several other varieties of the walnut leaf in June.