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


The hybrids raised from two species which are very difficult to cross, and which rarely produce any offspring, are generally very sterile; but the parallelism between the difficulty of making a first cross, and the sterility of the hybrids thus produced--two classes of facts which are generally confounded together--is by no means strict. There are many cases, in which two pure species, as in the genus Verbascum, can be united with unusual facility, and produce numerous hybrid offspring, yet these hybrids are remarkably sterile. On the other hand, there are species which can be crossed very rarely, or with extreme difficulty, but the hybrids, when at last produced, are very fertile. Even within the limits of the same genus, for instance in Dianthus, these two opposite cases occur.

The fertility, both of first crosses and of hybrids, is more easily affected by unfavourable conditions, than is that of pure species. But the fertility of first crosses is likewise innately variable; for it is not always the same in degree when the same two species are crossed under the same circumstances; it depends in part upon the constitution of the individuals which happen to have been chosen for the experiment. So it is with hybrids, for their degree of fertility is often found to differ greatly in the several individuals raised from seed out of the same capsule and exposed to the same conditions.

By the term systematic affinity is meant, the general resemblance between species in structure and constitution. Now the fertility of first crosses, and of the hybrids produced from them, is largely governed by their systematic affinity. This is clearly shown by hybrids never having been raised between species ranked by systematists in distinct families; and on the other hand, by very closely allied species generally uniting with facility. But the correspondence between systematic affinity and the facility of crossing is by no means strict. A multitude of cases could be given of very closely allied species which will not unite, or only with extreme difficulty; and on the other hand of very distinct species which unite with the utmost facility. In the same family there may be a genus, as Dianthus, in which very many species can most readily be crossed; and another genus, as Silene, in which the most persevering efforts have failed to produce between extremely close species a single hybrid. Even within the limits of the same genus, we meet with this same difference; for instance, the many species of Nicotiana have been more largely crossed than the species of almost any other genus; but Gartner found that N. acuminata, which is not a particularly distinct species, obstinately failed to fertilise, or to be fertilised, by no less than eight other species of Nicotiana. Many analogous facts could be given.

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