This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Your invaluable journal follows us down here from our home in Oakland and tempts us to devote an hour from out our busy, tired life to writing an item for your columns.
We find here in these very particularized mountains two species of wild potatoes, each bearing tubers as large as a boy's marble. The plants grow in lately disturbed soil, generally on the overflow of a mountain stream, and they attain a height of about a foot. One species, called scientifically Solanum Jamesii.has whitish flowers, narrow leaves, and produces whitish tubers; the other, Solanum Thurberi, has bluish flowers, broader leaves, and dark blue tubers - this species, in fact, being very near to our cultivated potatoes. Now we read that the original Solanum tuberosum from Peru was a hard little tuber, and that all we know of its many varieties of form, color, quality, hardiness, etc, comes from cultivation.
Also, we know that in some varieties the process of changing the nature of the tuber has been carried too far; that weakness of constitution is the result; that disease sets in, or the insect world overpowers the plant, etc.
Hence, would it not be well to find out other native, and consequently strong species, and bring them also into cultivation? Has any attempt ever been made to cultivate these native species? Will any of your readers give them a trial - if the tubers can be had?
The plants are just in bloom now and forming tubers, two to five to each plant on rather long subterranean stems or stolons. We remain here botanizing the Huachuca range of mountains until the first of November, so we can gather tubers, if desired, and forward to applicants. In regard to our success in collecting here, we can report some excellent finds already, and the belated rainy season has just set in, after which the whole country will put on new garments, and then another harvest is in prospect. It is very satisfactory to scour these ravines or steeps, and every day adds to our bales of plants certain species not seen since the boundary commissioners in '46 carefully explored these mountains and added so many new species to the then known flora of North America.
Occasionally we spy out a new one and then there is great rejoicing in the camp. The latter, by the way, is at present a deserted cabin in a lonely canon many miles from the fort.; but we seem to be in no danger of being cut off and annoyd by the fear of an attack by Apaches, as was our case last year in the Chirricahua mountains.
This botanizing in the land of the Apaches and cowboys is very risky business to be sure, but then its results are most satisfactory. Some discoveries we were enabled to make last season concerning four large timber trees of this country that were mostly unknown, certainly have a utilitarian aspect for this practical age. Then in the realm of pure scientific research it is no small thing to add a dozen distinct species of plants, however small, to our flora, especially when some of them are ferns - that family so much admired.
When we return home next autumn we will send a list of our new things to the Monthly and some specimens, too, if they are deired. Meantime, possibly you may receive other items from this station.
[Mr. and Mrs. Lemmon's friends will be glad to have this word from them in the wilds where they are endeavoring, at the risk of their lives, to add to the sum of human comfort and happiness. We seldom know the value of anything till we find it. The most insignificant and weedy-looking plant may come to be of inestimable value. The first who saw the potato could never have dreamed of the uses we put it to. Thou sands may yet bless the lonely discoverers of even "mere species " in the Huachuca mountains.
Of the tuberous potatoes we may say that some years ago Solanum Fendleri was introduced to culture by Dr. C. C. Parry. The writer of this grew it for several years before, by some unknown accident, it disappeared. It seemed that there was an improved size apparent in some of the tubers, and suggested the probability that by judicious selection larger varieties could be obtained. - Ed. G. M].