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Discovery of Sexuality in Plants


THE discovery of sex in plants is usually credited to Camerarius (1694), and Koelreuter (1761) is generally believed to have made the first systematic study of plant hybrids. Statements of Sachs in his “History of Botany” are mainly responsible for these attributions. Dr. Conway Zirkle is able to show, however (J. Hered., vol. 23, No. 11), that other names really have priority in connexion with these important developments in the history of science. N. Grew, in an address to the Royal Society in 1676, expressed the view that the stamens are the male organs of a flower, the pollen acting as vegetable sperm. Thomas Fairchild, whom Sachs referred to as “a gardener in London”, was in fact the leading experimenter of his generation, and his famous cross between sweet william and the carnation is shown to have been made at least as early as 1717. Philip Miller was the first to describe insect pollination by observations on tulips. This was not, however, in 1751, as stated by Sachs, but so early as 1721. He also observed natural crossing in cabbages as well as sexual reproduction in cucumbers and melons. Dr. Zirkle also gives an interesting account of equally early American observations on pollination and crossing, chiefly in maize, by Cotton Mather (1716), Judge Dudley (1724) and Governor Logan (1735). A letter of John Bartram in 1739 shows that he too had made species crosses in Lychnis at that date.

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Discovery of Sexuality in Plants. Nature 131, 392 (1933).

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