Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 69.djvu/369

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
365
LUTHER BURBANK'S WORK

only one of the crossed forms. Some crosses are made in the attempt to extinguish an undesirable characteristic.

Third, there is always immediately following the unusual production of variations, the recognition of desirable modifications and the intelligent and effective selection of them, i. e., the saving of those plants to produce seed or cuttings which show the desirable variations and the discarding of all the others. In Burbank's gardens the few tenderly cared for little potted plants or carefully grafted seedlings represent the surviving fittest, and the great bonfires of scores of thousands of uprooted others, the unfit, in this close mimicry of Darwin and Spencer's struggle and survival in nature.

It is precisely in this double process of the recognition and selection of desirable variations that Burbank's genius comes into particular play. Bight here he brings something to bear on his work that few other men have been able to do. It is the extraordinary keenness of perception, the delicacy of recognition of desirable variations in their (usually) small and to most men imperceptible beginnings. Is it a fragrance that is sought? To Burbank in a bed of hundreds of seedling walnuts scores of the odors of the plant kingdom are arising and mingling from the fresh green leaves, but each, mind you, from a certain single seedling or perhaps from a similar pair or trio. But to me or to you, until the master prover points out two or three of the more dominant single odors, the impression on the olfactories is simply (or confusedly) that of one soft elusive fragrance of fresh green leaves. Similarly Burbank is a master at seeing, and a master at feeling. And besides he has his own unique knowledge of correlations. Does this plum seedling with its score of leaves on its thin stem have those leaves infinitesimally plumper, smoother or stronger, or with more even margins and stronger petiole or what not else, than any other among a thousand similar childish trees? Then it is saved, for it will bear a larger, or a sweeter, or a firmer sort of plum, or more plums than the others. So to the bonfires with the others and to the company of the elect with this 'fittest' one. Now this recognition, this knowledge of correlations in plant structure, born of the exercise of a genius for perceiving through thirty years of opportunity for testing and perfecting it, is perhaps the most important single thing which Burbank brings to his work that other men do not (at least in such unusual degree of reliability). Enormous industry, utter concentration and single-mindedness, deftness in manipulation, fertility in practical resource, has Burbank—and so have numerous other breeders and experimenters. But in his perception of variability in its forming, his recognition of its possibilities of outcome, and in his scientific knowledge of correlations, a knowledge that is real, for it is one that is relied on and built on, and is at the very foundation of his