This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Have we any hybrid strawberries ? Several propagators of new varieties of this fruit say "yes," and claim to have produced them. Now, let us look a little into this subject. When we plant different varieties near each other, we find that there is no mixing in the fruit in the least degree, even if a hundred kinds were growing on a bed ten feet square. Suppose, then, that the seeds of the fruit grow on such a bed he sows, what will the plantsbe produced from this bed? Horticulturists would call them either "chance seedlings," or"chance hybrids,"" while in fact they are only chance crosses, the term "hybrid" being in such a case entirely improper. This cross is effected by insects carrying the pollen from the blossoms of one variety to those of another, till perhaps each of the blossoms of the entire hundred varieties would become fructified, in some degree, by the pollen of every variety in the bed.
Next, we will suppose that a thousand of these so-called chance hybrids are growing, will any of them be exactly like the one hundred parent plants? Not one, but all will be different in some respect; and the entire lot will be one thousand new varieties, the nature of which can never be changed by the art of man.
Again, we set a variety by itself, say a stami-nate that is self-fructifying; no other variety within a mile, if you please; no possible cross, in this case, and we sow the seed of this isolated plant and produce another thousand new varieties, with not one exactly like the purer sort nor any other known to exist. How do these plants correspond in their fruits with the one thousand varieties first spoken of above ? The fruit is about the same in size, color and quality, some small, some large, some good and some pool, and so far as appearances go, they seem to be as good in all respects as the first-named thousand varieties, not following the parent plant as regards size of berries, unless it be by mere chance.
Now we will come to what is said to produce the real hybrids. We take a choice staminate and also a good pistillate plant, and set them by themselves, about a foot apart, with no other varieties so near that there will be any danger that the pistilate variety can become, in any degree, fructified by any sort, but by the selected male staminate set by it; and when this pistillate plant fruits, we plant the seeds from it, and the result is claimed to be perfect hybrids with the good qualities of both parent sorts. Are they so ? I say no - only chance seedlings, like the two thousand varieties previously introduced, Let any one take the largest two varieties, male and female, that exist in the world, say each producing berries twelve inches in circumference, as it is now claimed that one or two do produce, and let them be set one, five, or ten miles from every other variety, would the seed of the female plant produce plants that would bear berries as large as those of the parent plants ? Only by chance; and in one thousand such plants perhaps not one would produce berries over half the size of those vielded by the parent varieties. If this is"hybridization," so be it.
I shall call it simply chance crossing.
[It may be proper to note that Mr. Miner uses the term"staminate" in the sense of hermaphrodite. No pure staminates are grown now. What he says of crossing is correct. A hybrid is a mixture of two distinct species. A cross is a mixture of distinct forms of one species, but, practically, the distinction is not of much importance, for botanists themselves disagree as to what is a species, and what is but a distinct form of one. Yet as the matter stands, if we could get progeny between an Alpine strawberry, called botanically, Fragaria vesca, and the common garden strawberries - F. Virginiana, they would be considered hybrids; but progeny between Hovey's Seedling and Albany Seedling, would be regarded as but a cross. But we are glad Mr. Miner has introduced the ques-. tion. Instances are getting ridiculously common for people to talk of their new seedlings as hybrids or crosses between this and that, when there is no evidence whatever that they are more than natural variations. - Ed. G. M].