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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE ROLE OF SELECTION IN PLANT BREEDING[1]

By Professor E. M. EAST

HARVARD UNIVERSITY

WHEN one attempts to give some idea of the principles and of the methods and scope of plant breeding, the matter falls naturally into two parts, the role of selection and the role of hybridization. This is not because the subject is really thus separable, but because the methods in use fall into these categories. One must, of course, use selection after hybridization, but there are a number of plants of great agricultural value, in which either the flowers are too small for artificial crossing or in which other reasons make it desirable to use simply selection in their improvement. It is of these that this paper will treat.

The particular work discussed has been selected because it will illustrate certain principles, not because it is regarded as more important than other work of like nature. The work of many quiet men who are striving for the good of mankind by their efforts toward the improvement of plants deserves to be mentioned, but unfortunately the limits of a single paper are too narrow to discuss principles and to say much about practise, and knowledge of the former should be made more widespread in order that the latter may be appreciated.

The non-botanical public can not be blamed if it receives comparatively worthless productions with greater acclaim than those of value when the former obtain all the publicity and no voice is raised in protest. Exploitations of new plant introductions of little value have certainly been numerous in the past few years. Perhaps this has been a public benefit, for it has increased the general interest in plant breeding and has stimulated many laymen to study the subject in order to be able to separate the wheat from the tares when dealing with new varieties. It is strange, perhaps, with our reputation for always looking for the dollar sign, that the new agricultural productions of greatest economic value have always received less notoriety than the production of horticultural novelties of limited use and small importance; yet such is the case. It is doubtful whether the production of a new field corn that would increase the yield in the United States by ten per cent, would obtain more than a passing notice from the press; yet such an increase would add $100,000,000 per annum to the wealth of

  1. This paper is based on a series of poular lectures delivered at the Bussey Institution of Harvard University April and May, 1910. A second paper will follow.