Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection

2. DEGREES OF STERILITY. (continued)

It is certain, on the one hand, that the sterility of various species when crossed is so different in degree and graduates away so insensibly, and, on the other hand, that the fertility of pure species is so easily affected by various circumstances, that for all practical purposes it is most difficult to say where perfect fertility ends and sterility begins. I think no better evidence of this can be required than that the two most experienced observers who have ever lived, namely Kolreuter and Gartner, arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions in regard to some of the very same forms. It is also most instructive to compare--but I have not space here to enter on details--the evidence advanced by our best botanists on the question whether certain doubtful forms should be ranked as species or varieties, with the evidence from fertility adduced by different hybridisers, or by the same observer from experiments made during different years. It can thus be shown that neither sterility nor fertility affords any certain distinction between species and varieties. The evidence from this source graduates away, and is doubtful in the same degree as is the evidence derived from other constitutional and structural differences.

In regard to the sterility of hybrids in successive generations; though Gartner was enabled to rear some hybrids, carefully guarding them from a cross with either pure parent, for six or seven, and in one case for ten generations, yet he asserts positively that their fertility never increases, but generally decreases greatly and suddenly. With respect to this decrease, it may first be noticed that when any deviation in structure or constitution is common to both parents, this is often transmitted in an augmented degree to the offspring; and both sexual elements in hybrid plants are already affected in some degree. But I believe that their fertility has been diminished in nearly all these cases by an independent cause, namely, by too close interbreeding. I have made so many experiments and collected so many facts, showing on the one hand that an occasional cross with a distinct individual or variety increases the vigour and fertility of the offspring, and on the other hand that very close interbreeding lessens their vigour and fertility, that I cannot doubt the correctness of this conclusion. Hybrids are seldom raised by experimentalists in great numbers; and as the parent-species, or other allied hybrids, generally grow in the same garden, the visits of insects must be carefully prevented during the flowering season: hence hybrids, if left to themselves, will generally be fertilised during each generation by pollen from the same flower; and this would probably be injurious to their fertility, already lessened by their hybrid origin. I am strengthened in this conviction by a remarkable statement repeatedly made by Gartner, namely, that if even the less fertile hybrids be artificially fertilised with hybrid pollen of the same kind, their fertility, notwithstanding the frequent ill effects from manipulation, sometimes decidedly increases, and goes on increasing. Now, in the process of artificial fertilisation, pollen is as often taken by chance (as I know from my own experience) from the anthers of another flower, as from the anthers of the flower itself which is to be fertilised; so that a cross between two flowers, though probably often on the same plant, would be thus effected. Moreover, whenever complicated experiments are in progress, so careful an observer as Gartner would have castrated his hybrids, and this would have insured in each generation a cross with pollen from a distinct flower, either from the same plant or from another plant of the same hybrid nature. And thus, the strange fact of an increase of fertility in the successive generations of ARTIFICIALLY FERTILISED hybrids, in contrast with those spontaneously self- fertilised, may, as I believe, be accounted for by too close interbreeding having been avoided.

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