Plant World

Introduction and Historical Background

Who developed plant breeding into a modern science?

Materials of plant origin are found in a wide variety of industries including paper, food, textile, and construction. Chocolate is made from cocoa seeds, specifically seeds of the species Theobroma cacao. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) contains cardiac glycosides used to treat congestive heart failure. The berries obtained from the plant Piper nigrum produce black pepper. The berries are dried, resulting in black peppercorns, which can then be cracked or ground. Tea can be made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. Fiber taken from the stem of flax plants (Linum usitatissimum) has been used to make linen, while the flax seeds are commonly consumed and are a source of linseed oil. Paper money is even made from flax fibers.

Luther Burbank (1849–1926) developed plant breeding as a modern science. His breeding techniques included crosses of plant strains native to North America and foreign strains. He obtained seedlings that were then grafted onto fully developed plants for an appraisal of hybrid characteristics. His keen sense of observation allowed him to recognize desirable characteristics, enabling him to select only varieties that would be useful. One of his earliest hybridization successes was the Burbank potato, from which more than 800 new strains and varieties of plants—including 113 varieties of plums and prunes—were developed. More than 20 of these plums and prunes are still commercially important today.


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