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HOW THE PLUM FOLLOWED THE POTATO

LUTHER BURBANK'S FIRST WORK IN CALIFORNIA

What you need is a complete rest and a change of climate. Go to California for the winter. This, or something like this, I am told, is a very common prescription of the New York specialist, or for that matter, of physicians everywhere. The value of rest is almost axiomatic, and the benefit to be derived from a change of climate is matter of familiar observation to layman and physician alike. Now I have more than once called attention to the similarity between human beings and plants as to a good many of their hereditary propensities and environmental responses. And the present case furnishes another illustration in point. Rest and change of climate are no less beneficial to the plant than to the human patient. And as new surroundings arouse the mind and give a fresh stimulus to the imagination, in the case of human beings both individually and collectively, so the transplantation of a plant to new soil sometimes brings out unsuspected racial tendencies and stimulates variation in such a way as greatly to improve individual specimens and quite to transform their progeny. I had seen instances of this as applied to many different species of plants from the time of my first coming to California. I myself felt the mental uplift of new surroundings, and seemed to find evidence that plants that had come from the eastern United States, even as I had come, were not unmindful of a similar influence. No species of plant or bird or animal is quite the same on the Atlantic and the Pacific seaboard. We have but to compare specimens of such familiar birds as the robin, quail, and meadow-lark, or of plants of any garden variety to note the evidence of beginning transformation. My early letters from California told of my astonishment in seeing "great rose trees, thirty feet high; veronica trees, and geranium trees." Of course in those cases where the species has been long resident in California the change has progressed so far that representatives of what were once members of the same clan no longer are to be classified as of the same species. All of this, as I say, was observed from the outset when I came to California, just as many another man had observed it. Indeed these things are too patent to escape notice. But, unlike many others, I was impelled to inquire whether some useful application might not be made of the observed influence of the California climate on immigrant plants.

THE PRESCRIPTION APPLIED TO PLANTS

In following up this idea I was led to apply to a vast coterie of plants the prescription which has become so popular with the present day physician in the treatment of his patients. "Take a rest, and find a complete change of climate. Go to California-and stay there," was the modified form of the prescription as I gave it to the plants of the remotest regions of the globe to which I could send word. And the result of the carrying out of this prescription will require some volumes in the telling. For the plants that came to me in response have furnished the chief material out of which a large proportion of my developments of new fruits, grains, grasses, vegetables and flowers have grown. Perhaps foremost in the list of immigrant plants that have had a large share in my life work must be named a little company of plum seedlings that came to me at the very beginning of the period when I was renouncing the calling of the regular nurseryman and determining to devote my entire attention to the development of new races of plants. The capacity for development shown by this little company of seedlings was nothing less than phenomenal. The change of climate from Japan to California was, seemingly, of all things precisely what they needed if they were to put forth their best endeavors to better themselves, and in bettering themselves to confer benefits upon humanity. Perhaps it is not too much to say that the little company of twelve plum seedlings that came to me with my first successful shipment in 1885 constituted, from an economic standpoint, the most important importation of fruit-bearers ever made at a single time into America. For the immediate bud sisters of two of these seedlings constitute today varieties of plum that are recognized as standards everywhere; and from the progeny of these and the others were developed plums of such size and quality as not alone to give this fruit an altogether new standing in the markets of America, but fairly to revolutionize the plum industry in such far away regions as Africa, Australia, New Zealand, our own southern states, and the states of the Pacific Coast. "Rest and a change of climate." It was a magical prescription as applied to the twelve plum seedlings from Japan. And as to the plant physician who gave the prescription-for him personally the results were perhaps as notable as any other events in his life. Already, when scarcely more than a boy in New England, he had had the good fortune to develop a new race of potatoes that had proved of vast economic importance, supplanting all other varieties of its tribe in widely extended regions, and making its way triumphantly round the entire world. Now he was enabled, practically at the outset of his work as a professional plant developer, to introduce races of plums that followed and even out-distanced the potato, revolutionizing a great fruit industry in widely scattered regions of two hemispheres and preparing the way for other conquests in fruit development of which even now the limits are quite unpredictable. Visionary indeed must have been the dreams of the would-be plant developer if his forecast of the possible result of his importation of the twelve little plum seedlings was more than a faint adumbration of the actual denouement. High hopes he had, yet doubtless in this case he builded better than he knew. I recall very vividly the precise stimulus that led me a number of years before the Japanese seedlings were actually imported to turn my eyes toward Japan as the probable source of a new race of plums.

A SAILOR'S YARN AND WHAT CAME OF IT

Browsing among the books of the Mercantile Library in San Francisco, I had chanced to come upon an account of the wanderings in Japan of an American sailor, and what particularly held my attention was his mention of a red-fleshed plum of exceptional quality that he had seen and eaten in the Province of Satsuma in southern Japan. That red-fleshed plum appealed to me, and I determined to secure a specimen of it for my own orchards. The sailor reported in his book that he had seen a single plum tree bearing this "blood-plum of Satsuma." But of course the rarity of the fruit made it the more alluring. So in due course when I came to make importations of native seeds, plants, and bulbs from Japan, I urged Mr. Isaac Bunting, an English bulb dealer in Yokohama who collected these for me, to visit the southern part of that country and make a particular effort to procure with others some of the red-fleshed plums. Mr. Bunting complied with my request, but, vastly to my disappointment, the first lot of young trees he shipped to me arrived (Nov. 5, 1884) in such condition that I despaired of doing anything with them. I immediately sent a request for another shipment, and gave definite instructions as to packing. A little over a year later, on Dec. 20, 1885, there arrived the twelve seedlings to which I have already referred. And this time, to my great satisfaction, the tiny trees were found in good condition. A few days after these seedlings were received, I purchased the Gold Ridge Farm at Sebastopol, eight miles from my Santa Rosa place, and here as soon as they were large enough, cions from the twelve little strangers were grafted on to older trees and thus brought early to maturity. One of them bore fruit the following summer and the others in the course of one or two succeeding seasons. And so well had the little immigrants responded to the stimulus of new surroundings that each one of them revealed, I make no doubt, the very fullest possibilities of its heritage. More than that of course was impossible, but it may well be doubted whether any one of the company would have produced fruit quite of the same order had it been nurtured in the climate and fed from the soil to which its ancestors had been habituated. Rest and a change of climate could not give new hereditary possibilities, but they could be instrumental in bringing dormant possibilities to full realization.

HOW REST STIMULATES GROWTH

Possibly this statement requires a further word of explication, for I think we have not elsewhere emphasized-though the subject has been once or twice mentioned-the value of rest in enhancing the vitality of plants and in giving them new capacity for growth. Of course nothing is more familiar-and therefore nothing seems more commonplace-than the annual dormancy of plant life in general throughout the winter season in temperate zones. But until somewhat recently no one had particularly associated such dormancy with the vigorous growth of the reviving plants in the springtime. It was familiarly known that tropical plants keep up their growth, even if somewhat intermittently, throughout the year; and it was assumed that the plants of temperate zones had taken on the habit of winter rest merely because this habit was forced upon them by the exigencies of climate. And indeed, there is no reason to doubt that such was really the origin of the habit of winter rest. We have had at least one illustration, in the case of the winter rhubarb, of the readiness with which a plant resumes the habit of perennial activity. We suggested in that connection that perennial growth is the normal and primitive habit of the plant; and there is no occasion to modify that suggestion. But even though the winter sleep of the plant was forced upon it, there is reason to believe that the habit thus inculcated is of great utility in conserving the energies of the plant and promoting its vital efficiency. The experiments that justify this conclusion have been made in recent years by a number of different botanists, and they have conclusively demonstrated that it is quite the rule for a plant to develop exceptional powers of growth immediately after it comes out of a period of dormancy induced artificially. Plants narcotized with the fumes of ether or chloroform, for example, are rendered quite incapable of growth while subjected to the fumes. They are seemingly stupefied and their condition of dormancy or lack of vital activity is curiously analogous to the unconsciousness of the narcotized human subject. But so soon as the closed case in which plant and narcotizing fumes are confined is removed and the plants resume normal relations with soil and air, they take on at once a relatively prodigious and quite unprecedented capacity for growth, shooting upward at a rate that soon sends them far above their companion plants that have not been similarly put to sleep. This obviously suggests that the rapid growth of the young shoots of herbs and trees in the springtime is probably enhanced greatly by the period of rest out of which the buds have just come. And the further corollary suggests itself that the period of rest forced upon a seedling that is, for example, dug up in Japan and shipped half round the world may ultimately prove of benefit to the seedling, stimulating it to such growth as it would not have found possible had not the period of dormancy been forced upon it.

FREEZING "RESTS" ANIMAL TISSUES

An analogy from the animal world which seems to have application is furnished by the recent experiments made at the Rockefeller Institute in New York by Doctors Montrose W. Burrows and Alexis Carrel. In the course of their extraordinary tests in the growing of animal tissues in an artificial medium, they discovered that such tissues might retain their vitality and capacity for growth not merely when cut from a living animal but when they were taken from the tissues of an animal recently killed. And if the body of an animal was placed in cold storage from the moment of death, the tissues were found to retain their vitality and capacity for growth for many days, instead of for an hour or so only, as would have been the case had they not been placed in cold storage. Moreover, the growing tissues themselves, which under proper conditions could be kept alive for weeks and even months, could be placed in cold storage at a freezing temperature and kept there for days without interfering with their subsequent capacity for growth. Yet, if the slides containing these same tissues were kept for half an hour outside the incubator in a room at ordinary temperature, they would inevitably die. In Dr. Carrel's phrase freezing seemed to "rest" the tissues and give them new powers of growth. When we recall that vegetable protoplasm and animal protoplasm are fundamentally of the same constitution, built of the same elements and subject in large part to the same rules of growth and decay, the conclusion seems unavoidable that plant tissues also must benefit from "rest." The application of these various experiments to the case of our seedling plums seems obvious and fairly convincing. The force of the analogy is emphasized by the reflection that the seeds of plums germinate far more rapidly after freezing. It may be recalled also that certain plants to be forced in the greenhouse in an off season will not respond well unless their roots are first frozen for a brief period. Such is the case, for example, with ordinary rhubarb.

SUCCESS AT THE OUTSET

But, of course, I would not be understood as implying that the rest gained by these little plum seedlings in the course of their long journey was the primary cause of the extraordinary vitality that they manifested. For the full explanation of that, we must of course look to their ancestry, and we shall have occasion to make inquiry as to this in another connection. Nor need we here raise the issue as to precisely what share the new conditions of climate and soil may have had in stimulating the strangers. Let what has already been said suffice for the moment as to this, and let us examine the notable members of the company more in detail as to the exceptional qualities that they presently manifested. After all, it is more important to know just what the little seedlings achieved than to attempt to say just what share different causes had in the achievement. In view of the very remarkable results, it should perhaps be explained that the Japanese plums are in general subject to great variation; the reason being that it has been the custom, which still prevails pretty largely, to raise the fruit from seed instead of propagating it by grafting, as is done in this country and in Europe. So the little seedlings that came to me were doubtless of mixed heritage. In a word they had been produced by cross-fertilization between races not thoroughly fixed. In dealing with them I profited by experiments that had been made, doubtless quite unwittingly, and with the aid only of insect pollenizers, in Japan in the preceding plant generation. In any event, it was demonstrated in due course that the seedlings were a very remarkable lot. Each of the twelve produced fruit of interesting character, and two of them showed a product altogether out of the ordinary. Both of these were introduced in 1889, and met with immediate and permanent success. The one first offered to the public bore fruit in 1886, the summer after its importation. In my year book I described this fruit as "very large, conical, heart-shaped, red with white bloom; very good." In point of fact the appearance of the plum, its size, and its delightful flavor and aroma at once proclaimed it as an exceedingly valuable acquisition. Naturally I was pleased with it, and showed it to a number of prominent horticulturists who visited my experiment orchard during the next two or three years. Among these visitors was Professor H. E. Van Deman, Pomologist, U. S. Department of Agriculture. Professor Van Deman was much interested in this new fruit and suggested that it should be introduced immediately. After talking over its qualities thoroughly, he requested that upon its introduction it be given the name of "Burbank." Accordingly in 1889 this new fruit was offered to the public as the Burbank Plum.

THE CAREER OF AN IMMIGRANT

The story of the ultimate success of this fruit will be told statistically in another connection. Suffice it here that the Burbank plum presently outranked all others as a California shipping plum, and at the present time in the east is the most popular and most generally offered for sale in the markets. Last year 125 carloads of this fruit were shipped to the eastern market from California. Of course the career of this plum, like that of every other young fruit, has been subject to vicissitudes. Some who have attempted to grow it in climates to which it is not adapted have considered it of small value. Yet there are few climates where it does not thrive; and for every orchardist who has tried it and found it wanting there are scores, throughout the world, who have been astonished and delighted at its value and have planted large portions of their orchard with this variety. Although there are certain latitudes, certain conditions of humidity, and certain conditions of temperature under which it will not thrive, the Burbank has been able to adapt itself to more varied conditions than any other plum. By way of illustration, I may cite a letter from an extensive grower at North East, Pa., who states that his orchard of Burbank trees survived the extreme cold of the winter of 1912-1913, during which the thermometer registered as low as thirty degrees below zero, and at the usual time in the spring put forth blossoms abundantly that bore their habitual good crop of fruit. Compare with this the opposite conditions of climate in some of our more southern states, and in some sections of Africa where the Burbank is extensively grown-and we have a story of remarkable adaptability on the part of this plum.

THE BLOOD-PLUM SATSUMA

The other notable plant among the twelve seedlings was a representative of the race about which the sailor had written and about which I had read with such interest years before in the San Francisco Library. This was, in short, a plum with red flesh, something hitherto unknown among the plums of Europe or America. Red flesh in a plum is a character so conspicuous that it is not likely to escape attention even of the least observing. And my red plum had other qualities that made it well worthy of introduction. It first came into bearing in 1887, and two years later it was introduced under the name of Satsuma-the name being suggested, as was that of its companion the Burbank, by Professor H. E. Van Deman. The name seemed highly appropriate because it was the name of the province from which the plum had come. Satsuma and its greatly improved hybrid descendants have been most welcome additions to the fruits of America. The original Satsuma is especially popular in Southern California and in the more eastern of the Gulf States as well as in the Southern hemisphere. It is a good healthy tree with rather narrow pointed leaves of medium size. It is not so adaptable to varying climates or conditions as the Burbank, being better suited to temperate and semi-tropical climates. Nevertheless it fruits well in some parts of New England. It is not large enough for general shipping, but is grown mostly for home use. The fruit is globular and usually averages nearly two inches in diameter. The skin is red, covered with a thick pale blue bloom. The flesh is a dark purplish red, firm and of excellent quality when thoroughly ripe, though not to be compared with some of the hybrids which have been produced from it. It is esteemed for the table when fresh and for making jellies and jams. Such peculiar interest attaches to this unique plum that I will quote an account of it given in "The Plums of New York," published in 1910: "There is a group of several varieties of Triflora plums unique in having the flesh deep red in color and very firm and juicy. Of these red-fleshed plums, Satsuma was the first to be introduced into fruit-growing America and is one of the parents of most of the others. While the fruit is not as large nor as handsome in color as in some of its offspring, it is still one of the best varieties for quality of fruit and its trees are possibly as good as those of any of the other sorts of red-fleshed Trifloras. "Satsuma, besides being one of the best of its class in quality for either dessert or culinary purposes, keeps and ships very well, and if the plums are of sufficient size and have been allowed to color properly, the variety makes a good showing on the markets. Too often, however, it is so unattractive as it reaches the market that it does not sell well. In the South the plums are said to be much attacked by brown-rot, but they are not more susceptible here than other plums. The trees are rather above the average for the species in size, habit, health, hardiness, and productiveness though they bear sparingly when young. "They bloom early in the season and are distinguished from other Triflora sorts by having many spurs and short limbs along the main branches. "In 1887 Burbank's tree was the only one bearing in America, but since then it has been tested in all of the large plum regions, having been introduced by Burbank in 1889. In 1897 it was added to the fruit catalog list of the American Pomological Society. "Even though this plum is very distinct, with its solid red flesh, it is much confused with other sorts. A Japanese in a letter to J. P. Berckmans says 'Beni-smomo comprises a group of red-fleshed plums. In Satsuma, my native home, Hon-smomo and Yone-smomio are the most noted and familiar fruits of this group; the first is the smallest in size and deepest in color, while the second is the largest and most highly esteemed. In some districts, plums in this group are called Uchi-Beni, which means red inside.' "Tree medium to large, vigorous, upright-spreading, usually quite hardy, moderately productive, bearing heavier crops as the trees become older. "Fruit mid-season or later; one and seven-eighths inches by two inches in size, variable in shape, ranging from roundish-cordate to somewhat oblate, flattened at the base; color dark dull red, with thin bloom; dots numerous, of medium size, russet, somewhat conspicuous, clustered about the apex, stem slender, three-eighths inch long, glabrous; skin of medium thickness and toughness, semi-adherent; flesh dark purplish-red, juicy, tender at the skin, becoming tough at the center, sweet, with an almond-like flavor; of good quality; stone semi-clinging or clinging, seven-eighths inch by five-eighths inch in size, oval, strongly pointed, rough, tinged red; ventral suture narrow, winged, dorsal suture grooved."

DESCENDANTS OF THE SATSUMA

The red-fleshed plums because of their unique appearance have found a place especially in home orchards. On some markets, particularly in the northern part of the United States and Canada, there is a good demand for them as shippers. Eastern markets of the United States prefer plums of a lighter colored flesh. So far as known, no one else has taken up the work of the production of red-fleshed plums. Nine others, however, in addition to Satsuma, have been introduced from my farms. These include Delaware, Santa Rosa, Beauty, Apple, Duarte, Hermosillo, Rubio, Prize, and Sultan. The quality of some of the red plums is unexcelled by any others, and they are especially liked for making jellies, jams, etc. They add a richness of color which is not obtainable with any other tree fruit. Often the red-fleshed plums are added to other fruits for the purpose of producing an attractive color and desirable flavor. They also serve a useful purpose in furnishing a pleasing variety of fruits. The Satsuma and Burbank were the only two among my twelve seedlings that were directly introduced, although sundry of the others subsequently had a share in the production of hybrid races. It should be recalled also that I had somewhat earlier introduced three plums of Oriental origin, namely, the Abundance, Chabot, and Berckmans, that were also the direct product of Oriental stock, grown and fruited by me from seedlings purchased from other importers. I have not dwelt at length on them here because they seem of relatively less importance in retrospect than they appeared at the time when they were introduced. Together with the Burbank and Satsuma they make up a group of five plums that were grown from imported seedlings, without hybridization, that ultimately came to be known wherever plums are grown. But the Satsuma was the last plum introduced by me that was grown without hybridization from imported stock. My next and all subsequent introductions were new races produced by crossing and hybridization, combining the heredities of widely varying species, and selecting the best from among thousands of seedlings. The story of the experiments through which these new races were developed belongs to the next chapter.

This text is from: Luther Burbank: his methods and discoveries and their practical application. Volume 5 Chapter 1