RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1857. Productiveness of foreign seed. Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette no. 46 (14 November): 779.
REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 2002-8. RN3
Productiveness of Foreign Seed.—Will the writer of the highly remarkable article on weeds in your last Number have the kindness to state why he supposes that "there is too much reason to believe that foreign seed of an indigenous species is often more prolific than that grown at home?"1 Is it meant that the plant produced from the foreign seed actually produces more seed, or merely that the introduced stock is more vigorous than the native stock? I have no doubt that so acute an observer has some good reason for his belief. The point seems to me of considerable interest in regard to the great battle for life which is perpetually going on all around us. The great American botanist, Dr. Asa Gray,2 believes that in the United States there are several plants now naturalised in abundance from imported seed, which are likewise indigenous; and my impression is (but writing from home I cannot refer to his letter to me) that the imported stock prevails over the aboriginal. So again, Dr. Hooker in his admirable Flora of New Zealand3 has told us that the common Sonchus has spread extensively from imported seed, whilst the same species is likewise an aboriginal; the natives in this instance being able from trifling differences to distinguish the two stocks. Might I further ask whether it is now some years since the seed of Sinapis nigra was accidentally introduced on the farm described; and if so, whether the common Charlock still remains in lessened numbers owing to the presence of the invader, and without, as far as known, fresh seed of the invading S. nigra having been introduced?— whether, in short, it was a fair fight between the two species, ending in the victory of the Black Mustard? Would it be trespassing too much on the kindness of the writer of the article to ask whether he knows of any other analogous cases of a weed introduced from other land beating out, to a greater or lesser extent, a weed previously common in any particular field or farm? C. Darwin, Down, Bromley, Kent.
1 The quoted passage reads: 'The manner in which weeds are spread over some farms may be observed in the increase of exotic species from the use of foreign seeds, a circumstance which accounts for the increase of plants in our English Flora within the last few years. However these, as being wholly foreigners, seldom make rapid progress, whilst there is too much reason to believe that foreign seed of an indigenous species is often more prolific than that grown at home.' anon 1857. See Correspondence vol. 6, pp. 482-4.
2 Asa Gray (1810-1888), American botanist, Fisher Professor of natural history, Harvard University, 1842-1888. Darwin refers to the 16 February 1857 letter from Gray, see Correspondence vol. 6, pp. 339-342.
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