Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
Chapter IX. Hybridism
Reciprocal dimorphism and trimorphism
This subject may be here briefly discussed, and will be found to throw some light on hybridism. Several plants belonging to distinct orders present two forms, which exist in about equal numbers and which differ in no respect except in their reproductive organs; one form having a long pistil with short stamens, the other a short pistil with long stamens; the two having differently sized pollen-grains. With trimorphic plants there are three forms likewise differing in the lengths of their pistils and stamens, in the size and colour of the pollen-grains, and in some other respects; and as in each of the three forms there are two sets of stamens, the three forms possess altogether six sets of stamens and three kinds of pistils. These organs are so proportioned in length to each other that half the stamens in two of the forms stand on a level with the stigma of the third form. Now I have shown, and the result has been confirmed by other observers, that in order to obtain full fertility with these plants, it is necessary that the stigma of the one form should be fertilised by pollen taken from the stamens of corresponding height in another form. So that with dimorphic species two unions, which may be called legitimate, are fully fertile; and two, which may be called illegitimate, are more or less infertile. With trimorphic species six unions are legitimate, or fully fertile, and twelve are illegitimate, or more or less infertile.
The infertility which may be observed in various dimorphic and trimorphic plants, when they are illegitimately fertilised, that is by pollen taken from stamens not corresponding in height with the pistil, differs much in degree, up to absolute and utter sterility; just in the same manner as occurs in crossing distinct species. As the degree of sterility in the latter case depends in an eminent degree on the conditions of life being more or less favourable, so I have found it with illegitimate unions. It is well known that if pollen of a distinct species be placed on the stigma of a flower, and its own pollen be afterwards, even after a considerable interval of time, placed on the same stigma, its action is so strongly prepotent that it generally annihilates the effect of the foreign pollen; so it is with the pollen of the several forms of the same species, for legitimate pollen is strongly prepotent over illegitimate pollen, when both are placed on the same stigma. I ascertained this by fertilising several flowers, first illegitimately, and twenty-four hours afterwards legitimately, with pollen taken from a peculiarly coloured variety, and all the seedlings were similarly coloured; this shows that the legitimate pollen, though applied twenty-four hours subsequently, had wholly destroyed or prevented the action of the previously applied illegitimate pollen. Again, as in making reciprocal crosses between the same two species, there is occasionally a great difference in the result, so the same thing occurs with trimorphic plants; for instance, the mid-styled form of Lythrum salicaria was illegitimately fertilised with the greatest ease by pollen from the longer stamens of the short-styled form, and yielded many seeds; but the latter form did not yield a single seed when fertilised by the longer stamens of the mid-styled form.
In all these respects, and in others which might be added, the forms of the same undoubted species, when illegitimately united, behave in exactly the same manner as do two distinct species when crossed. This led me carefully to observe during four years many seedlings, raised from several illegitimate unions. The chief result is that these illegitimate plants, as they may be called, are not fully fertile. It is possible to raise from dimorphic species, both long-styled and short-styled illegitimate plants, and from trimorphic plants all three illegitimate forms. These can then be properly united in a legitimate manner. When this is done, there is no apparent reason why they should not yield as many seeds as did their parents when legitimately fertilised. But such is not the case. They are all infertile, in various degrees; some being so utterly and incurably sterile that they did not yield during four seasons a single seed or even seed-capsule. The sterility of these illegitimate plants, when united with each other in a legitimate manner, may be strictly compared with that of hybrids when crossed inter se. If, on the other hand, a hybrid is crossed with either pure parent-species, the sterility is usually much lessened: and so it is when an illegitimate plant is fertilised by a legitimate plant. In the same manner as the sterility of hybrids does not always run parallel with the difficulty of making the first cross between the two parent-species, so that sterility of certain illegitimate plants was unusually great, while the sterility of the union from which they were derived was by no means great. With hybrids raised from the same seed- capsule the degree of sterility is innately variable, so it is in a marked manner with illegitimate plants. Lastly, many hybrids are profuse and persistent flowerers, while other and more sterile hybrids produce few flowers, and are weak, miserable dwarfs; exactly similar cases occur with the illegitimate offspring of various dimorphic and trimorphic plants.
Altogether there is the closest identity in character and behaviour between illegitimate plants and hybrids. It is hardly an exaggeration to maintain that illegitimate plants are hybrids, produced within the limits of the same species by the improper union of certain forms, while ordinary hybrids are produced from an improper union between so-called distinct species. We have also already seen that there is the closest similarity in all respects between first illegitimate unions and first crosses between distinct species. This will perhaps be made more fully apparent by an illustration; we may suppose that a botanist found two well-marked varieties (and such occur) of the long-styled form of the trimorphic Lythrum salicaria, and that he determined to try by crossing whether they were specifically distinct. He would find that they yielded only about one-fifth of the proper number of seed, and that they behaved in all the other above specified respects as if they had been two distinct species. But to make the case sure, he would raise plants from his supposed hybridised seed, and he would find that the seedlings were miserably dwarfed and utterly sterile, and that they behaved in all other respects like ordinary hybrids. He might then maintain that he had actually proved, in accordance with the common view, that his two varieties were as good and as distinct species as any in the world; but he would be completely mistaken.
The facts now given on dimorphic and trimorphic plants are important, because they show us, first, that the physiological test of lessened fertility, both in first crosses and in hybrids, is no safe criterion of specific distinction; secondly, because we may conclude that there is some unknown bond which connects the infertility of illegitimate unions with that of their illegitimate offspring, and we are led to extend the same view to first crosses and hybrids; thirdly, because we find, and this seems to me of especial importance, that two or three forms of the same species may exist and may differ in no respect whatever, either in structure or in constitution, relatively to external conditions, and yet be sterile when united in certain ways. For we must remember that it is the union of the sexual elements of individuals of the same form, for instance, of two long- styled forms, which results in sterility; while it is the union of the sexual elements proper to two distinct forms which is fertile. Hence the case appears at first sight exactly the reverse of what occurs, in the ordinary unions of the individuals of the same species and with crosses between distinct species. It is, however, doubtful whether this is really so; but I will not enlarge on this obscure subject.
We may, however, infer as probable from the consideration of dimorphic and trimorphic plants, that the sterility of distinct species when crossed and of their hybrid progeny, depends exclusively on the nature of their sexual elements, and not on any difference in their structure or general constitution. We are also led to this same conclusion by considering reciprocal crosses, in which the male of one species cannot be united, or can be united with great difficulty, with the female of a second species, while the converse cross can be effected with perfect facility. That excellent observer, Gartner, likewise concluded that species when crossed are sterile owing to differences confined to their reproductive systems.