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Section 3: Division and Arrangement of the Experiments

Experiments in Plant Hybridization (1865)
by Gregor Mendel

Division and Arrangement of the Experiments

If two plants which differ constantly in one or several characters be crossed, numerous experiments have demonstrated that the common characters are transmitted unchanged to the hybrids and their progeny; but each pair of differentiating characters, on the other hand, unite in the hybrid to form a new character, which in the progeny of the hybrid is usually variable. The object of the experiment was to observe these variations in the case of each pair of differentiating characters, and to deduce the law according to which they appear in successive generations. The experiment resolves itself therefore into just as many separate experiments are there are constantly differentiating characters presented in the experimental plants.

The various forms of Peas selected for crossing showed differences in length and color of the stem; in the size and form of the leaves; in the position, color, size of the flowers; in the length of the flower stalk; in the color, form, and size of the pods; in the form and size of the seeds; and in the color of the seed-coats and of the albumen [cotyledons]. Some of the characters noted do not permit of a sharp and certain separation, since the difference is of a "more or less" nature, which is often difficult to define. Such characters could not be utilized for the separate experiments; these could only be applied to characters which stand out clearly and definitely in the plants. Lastly, the result must show whether they, in their entirety, observe a regular behavior in their hybrid unions, and whether from these facts any conclusion can be reached regarding those characters which possess a subordinate significance in the type.

The characters which were selected for experiment relate:

  1. To the difference in the form of the ripe seeds. These are either round or roundish, the depressions, if any, occur on the surface, being always only shallow; or they are irregularly angular and deeply wrinkled (P. quadratum).
  2. To the difference in the color of the seed albumen (endosperm). The albumen of the ripe seeds is either pale yellow, bright yellow and orange colored, or it possesses a more or less intense green tint. This difference of color is easily seen in the seeds as their coats are transparent.
  3. To the difference in the color of the seed-coat. This is either white, with which character white flowers are constantly correlated; or it is gray, gray-brown, leather-brown, with or without violet spotting, in which case the color of the standards is violet, that of the wings purple, and the stem in the axils of the leaves is of a reddish tint. The gray seed-coats become dark brown in boiling water.
  4. To the difference in the form of the ripe pods. These are either simply inflated, not contracted in places; or they are deeply constricted between the seeds and more or less wrinkled (P. saccharatum).
  5. To the difference in the color of the unripe pods. They are either light to dark green, or vividly yellow, in which coloring the stalks, leaf-veins, and calyx participate.*
  6. To the difference in the position of the flowers. They are either axial, that is, distributed along the main stem; or they are terminal, that is, bunched at the top of the stem and arranged almost in a false umbel; in this case the upper part of the stem is more or less widened in section (P. umbellatum).
  7. To the difference in the length of the stem. The length of the stem is very various in some forms; it is, however, a constant character for each, in so far that healthy plants, grown in the same soil, are only subject to unimportant variations in this character. In experiments with this character, in order to be able to discriminate with certainty, the long axis of 6 to 7 ft. was always crossed with the short one of 3/4 ft. to 1 and 1/2 ft.

Each two of the differentiating characters enumerated above were united by cross-fertilization. There were made for the

   1st trial   60 fertilizations on 15 plants.
   2nd trial   58 fertilizations on 10 plants.
   3rd trial   35 fertilizations on 10 plants.
   4th trial   40 fertilizations on 10 plants.
   5th trial   23 fertilizations on  5 plants.
   6th trial   34 fertilizations on 10 plants.
   7th trial   37 fertilizations on 10 plants.

*One species possesses a beautifully brownish-red colored pod, which when ripening turns to violet and blue. Trials with this character were only begun last year.

From a larger number of plants of the same variety only the most vigorous were chosen for fertilization. Weakly plants always afford uncertain results, because even in the first generation of hybrids, and still more so in the subsequent ones, many of the offspring either entirely fail to flower or only form a few and inferior seeds.

Furthermore, in all the experiments reciprocal crossings were effected in such a way that each of the two varieties which in one set of fertilizations served as seed-bearer in the other set was used as the pollen plant.

The plants were grown in garden beds, a few also in pots, and were maintained in their natural upright position by means of sticks, branches of trees, and strings stretched between. For each experiment a number of pot plants were placed during the blooming period in a greenhouse, to serve as control plants for the main experiment in the open as regards possible disturbance by insects. Among the insects which visit Peas the beetle Buchus pisi might be detrimental to the experiments should it appear in numbers. The female of this species is known to lay the eggs in the flower, and in so doing opens the keel; upon the tarsi of one specimen, which was caught in a flower, some pollen grains could clearly be seen under a lens. Mention must also be made of a circumstance which possibly might lead to the introduction of foreign pollen. It occurs, for instance, in some rare cases that certain parts of an otherwise normally developed flower wither, resulting in a partial exposure of the fertilizing organs. A defective development of the keel has also been observed, owing to which the stigma and anthers remained partially covered. It also sometimes happens that the pollen does not reach full perfection. In this event there occurs a gradual lengthening of the pistil during the blooming period, until the stigmatic tip protrudes at the point of the keel. This remarkable appearance has also been observed in hybrids of Phaseolus and Lathyrus.

The risk of false impregnation by foreign pollen is, however, a very slight one with Pisum, and is quite incapable of disturbing the general result. Among more than 10,000 plants which were carefully examined there were only a very few cases where an indubitable false impregnation had occurred. Since in the greenhouse such a case was never remarked, it may well be supposed that Brucus pisi, and possibly also the described abnormalities in the floral structure, were to blame.

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