Predisposition and immunity - Pathological conditions vary - Hardy varieties - "Disease-proof " varieties - Disease dodging - Thick skins - Indian wheats, etc. Cell-contents vary - Citrus, Cinchona, Almonds, etc. Double ideals in selection - Cultivation of pest and host-plant - Variations of fungi - Bacteria - Specialised races - Difficulties - Experiment only will solve the problems.
The numerous and often expensive failures in the application of any prophylactic treatment, have proved an acute stimulus to the research for other ways of combating the ravages of plant diseases. It is a matter of every-day experience that particular varieties of cultivated plants may suffer less from a given disease than others in the same district; also that one and the same species may suffer badly in one country and not in another - e.g. the Larch in the lowlands of Europe as contrasted with the same tree in its Alpine home, and the various species of American Vines in Europe.
These matters, in the hands of astute observers, are turning the attention of cultivators and experts to new aspects of the question of plant diseases, namely, the possible existence of immunity, and the breeding of disease-proof varieties; and the existence on the part of the host plant of predispositions to disease which may depend on some factors in the plant or in the environment over which it is possible to exercise control, or which, if known, can be avoided.
The matter is complicated by the recent demonstration of the fact that parasites also vary and can adapt themselves to altered conditions, as is shown by the history of the coffee-leaf disease (Hemileia) in Ceylon, and by Eriksson's results with Wheat-rusts (Puccinia) and various experiments with Coleosporium and other Uredineae; but there are good grounds for concluding that hybridisation, grafting, and selection of varieties may do much towards the establishment of races which will resist particular diseases, as shown by Millardet's experiments with Vines, and the results obtained by Cobb and others with Wheat.
The great difficulty with so-called "disease-proof varieties" is to test them under similar conditions in different countries, and for a sufficient period of time. A particular race of Wheat may behave very differently in Norfolk, Devonshire, and Northumberland, and the recent introduction of the purely experimental method in this connection is a marked advance. However rough the experiments may of necessity have to be, it is only by such means that data can be gradually accumulated.
Having now obtained some insight into the factors concerned in disease, let us enquire further into the bearing of variation on these. It is evident that pathological conditions may vary; indeed they are themselves symptoms of variation, as we have seen. The history of all our cultivated plants shows abundantly that many of the variations obtained by breeding in our gardens, orchards, fields, etc., involve differences of response on the part of the plant to the very agencies which induce disease. Every year the florists' catalogues offer new "hardy" varieties; but a hardy variety is simply, for our present purpose, one which succumbs less readily to frost, cutting winds, cold damp weather, and so forth. If anyone doubts that hardy varieties have been gradually bred by selection, I refer him to the evidence collected by De Candolle, Darwin, Wallace, Bailey and others. When we come to enquire into the causes of "hardiness," however, difficulties at once beset us. The adaptation may express itself in a difference in the time of flowering or leafing, the exigencies of the season being "dodged," as it were, in a manner which was impossible with the original stock, as appears to have occurred with Peaches in America; or it may be expressed in deeper rooting, as is said to be the case in some Apples, or in the acquirement of a more deciduous habit, or in actually increased resistance to low temperatures.
In such cases we cannot trace what alterations have occurred in the cells and tissues concerned, though we may be sure that some changes do occur.
No experienced cultivator doubts that some varieties of Potato, Wheat, Vine, Chrysanthemum, etc., suffer more from epidemic diseases than others, and our yearly catalogues furnish us with plenty of promises of "disease-proof" varieties. Here also we may imagine several ways in which a particular variety may resist or escape the epidemic attacks of fungi which in the same neighbourhood decimate other varieties. If we could breed a variety of the Larch which opened its buds later than the ordinary form in our northern plains, the probability of its escaping the Larch-disease would be increased in proportion to the shortness of the period of tender foliation described on p. 153. It has been claimed for certain varieties of Wheat that increased thickness of the cuticle and fewer stomata per square unit of surface have diminished the risk of infection by Rust fungi, and for certain varieties of Potato, that the thicker periderm of the tuber protects them against fungi in the soil. That certain thick-skinned Apples, Tomatoes, and Plums pack and store better than those with a more tender epidermis seems proved - that is to say, they suffer less from fungi which gain access through bruises and other wounds; but it cannot be said that any convincing proof is yet to hand explaining in detail why some races of wheat resist Rust, or why the roots of American Vines suffer less from Phylloxera than others.
One of the most extraordinary cases known to me in this connection is the unconscious selection on the part of native Indian cultivators, perfectly ignorant of the principles involved, of spring and autumn forms of Rice, Wheat, Castor Oil, Sugar Cane, Cotton, and other crops. "It has been estimated that Bengal alone possesses as many as 10,000 recognisable forms of rice." Now there is not the slightest ground for doubt that these have been unconsciously bred from the semi-aquatic native species during the many centuries of Indian agriculture, and nevertheless they have, among other peculiar races, some hill-breeds which they cultivate on dry soils and without direct inundation. That is to say, they possess tropical and temperate races differing far more than our spring and summer wheats.