Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 459 pages of information about Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom.

As plants are adapted by such diversified and effective means for cross-fertilisation, it might have been inferred from this fact alone that they derived some great advantage from the process; and it is the object of the present work to show the nature and importance of the benefits thus derived.  There are, however, some exceptions to the rule of plants being constructed so as to allow of or to favour cross-fertilisation, for some few plants seem to be invariably self-fertilised; yet even these retain traces of having been formerly adapted for cross-fertilisation.  These exceptions need not make us doubt the truth of the above rule, any more than the existence of some few plants which produce flowers, and yet never set seed, should make us doubt that flowers are adapted for the production of seed and the propagation of the species.

We should always keep in mind the obvious fact that the production of seed is the chief end of the act of fertilisation; and that this end can be gained by hermaphrodite plants with incomparably greater certainty by self-fertilisation, than by the union of the sexual elements belonging to two distinct flowers or plants.  Yet it is as unmistakably plain that innumerable flowers are adapted for cross-fertilisation, as that the teeth and talons of a carnivorous animal are adapted for catching prey; or that the plumes, wings, and hooks of a seed are adapted for its dissemination.  Flowers, therefore, are constructed so as to gain two objects which are, to a certain extent, antagonistic, and this explains many apparent anomalies in their structure.  The close proximity of the anthers to the stigma in a multitude of species favours, and often leads, to self-fertilisation; but this end could have been gained far more safely if the flowers had been completely closed, for then the pollen would not have been injured by the rain or devoured by insects, as often happens.  Moreover, in this case, a very small quantity of pollen would have been sufficient for fertilisation, instead of millions of grains being produced.  But the openness of the flower and the production of a great and apparently wasteful amount of pollen are necessary for cross-fertilisation.  These remarks are well illustrated by the plants called cleistogene, which bear on the same stock two kinds of flowers.  The flowers of the one kind are minute and completely closed, so that they cannot possibly be crossed; but they are abundantly fertile, although producing an extremely small quantity of pollen.  The flowers of the other kind produce much pollen and are open; and these can be, and often are, cross-fertilised.  Hermann Muller has also made the remarkable discovery that there are some plants which exist under two forms; that is, produce on distinct stocks two kinds of hermaphrodite flowers.  The one form bears small flowers constructed for self-fertilisation; whilst the other bears larger and much more conspicuous flowers plainly constructed for cross-fertilisation by the aid of insects; and without their aid these produce no seed.

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Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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