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Grape Hybrids

As early as 1822, Nuttall, a noted botanist, then at Harvard,
recommended "hybrids betwixt the European vine and those of the United
States which would better answer the variable climates of North
America." In 1830, William Robert Prince, Fig. 48, fourth proprietor
of the then famous Linnean Botanic Nursery at Flushing, Long Island,
grew 10,000 seedling grapes "from admixture under every variety of
circumstance." This was probably the first attempt on a large scale to
improve the native grapes by hybridizing, although little seems to
have come of it. Later, a Dr. Valk, also of Flushing, grew hybrids
from which he obtained Ada, the first named hybrid, the introduction
of which started hybridizers to work in all parts of the country where
grapes were grown.

Soon after Valk's hybrid was sent out, E. S. Rogers, Fig. 49, Salem,
Massachusetts, and J. H. Ricketts, Newburgh, New York, began to give
viticulturists hybrids of the European Vinifera and the American
species which were so promising that enthusiasm and speculation in
grape-growing ran riot. Never before nor since has grape-growing
received the attention in America as given during the introduction of
Rogers' hybrids. It was the expectation of all that we were to grow in
America, in these hybrids, grapes but little inferior, if at all, to
those of Europe.

A statement of the difference between European and American grapes
shows why American viticulturists have been so eager to grow either
pure-breds from the foreign grape or hybrids with it.

European grapes have a higher sugar-and-solid content than the
American species; they, therefore, make better wines and keep much
longer after harvesting and can be made into raisins. Also, they have
a greater variety of flavors, which are more delicate, yet richer,
with a pleasanter aroma, seldom so acid, and are always lacking the
disagreeable, rancid odor and taste, the "foxiness," of many American
varieties. There is, however, an unpleasant astringency in some of the
foreign grapes, and many varieties are without character of flavor.
American table-grapes, on the other hand, are more refreshing, the
unfermented juice makes a pleasanter drink, and lacking sweetness and
richness, they do not cloy the appetite so quickly. The bunches and
berries of the European grapes are larger, more attractive and are
borne in greater quantities. The pulp, seeds and skins are somewhat
objectionable in all of the native species and scarcely so at all in
the Old World sorts. The berries of the native grapes shell from the
stem so quickly that the bunches do not ship well. The vines of the
Old World grapes are more compact in habit and require less pruning
and training than do those of the native grapes; and, as a species,
probably through long cultivation, they are adapted to more kinds of
soil, to greater differences in environment and are more easily
propagated than the American species.

Because of these points of superiority in the Old World grape, since
Valk, Allen and Rogers showed the way, American grape-breeders have
sought to unite by hybridization the good characters of the Old World
grape with those of the American. Nearly half of the 2000 grapes
cultivated in eastern America have more or less European blood in
them. Yet, despite the efforts of the breeders, few of these hybrids
have commercial value. Whether because they are naturally better
fixed, or long cultivation has more firmly established them, the vine
characters of Vitis vinifera more often appear in varieties arising
as primary hybrids between that and the native species, and the
weaknesses of the foreign grape, which prevent their cultivation in
America, crop out. Hybrids in which the vinifera blood is more
attenuated, as secondary or tertiary crosses, give better results.

Several secondary hybrids now rank among the best of the cultivated
grapes. Examples are Brighton and Diamond. The first is a cross
between Diana-Hamburg, a hybrid of a Vinifera and a Labrusca, crossed
in its turn with Concord, a Labrusca; the second is a cross between
Iona, also a hybrid between a Vinifera and a Labrusca, crossed with
Concord. Both were grown from seed planted by Jacob Moore, Brighton,
New York, in 1870. Brighton was the first secondary hybrid to attract
the attention of grape-breeders, and its advent marked an important
step in breeding grapes.

The signal success achieved by hybridizers of the European grape with
native species quickly led to similar amalgamations among American
species. Jacob Rommel, of Morrison, Missouri, beginning work about
1860, hybridized Labrusca and Vulpina grapes so successfully that a
dozen or more of his varieties are still cultivated. All are
characterized by great vigor and productiveness; and, although they
lack the qualities which make good table-grapes, they are among the
best for wine-making. Rommel has had many followers in hybridizing
native species, chief of whom was the late T. V. Munson, Fig. 50,
Denison, Texas, who literally made every combination of grapes
possible, grew thousands of seedlings and produced many valuable

Improvement by selection.

Selection, continued through successive generations, so important in
the improvement of field and garden plants, has played but small part
in the domestication of the grape. The period between planting and
fruiting is so long that progress would be slow indeed were this
method relied on. Moreover, selection, as a method in breeding, is
possible only when plants are bred pure, and it is the experience of
grape-breeders that in pure breeding this fruit loses in vigor and
productiveness and that the variations are exceedingly slight and
unstable. Many pure-bred grapes have been raised on the grounds of the
New York Agricultural Experiment Station under the eyes of the writer,
of which very few have surpassed the parent or have shown promise for
the practice of selection.

New varieties from sports.

Bud-sports or mutations now and then arise in grapes. But not more
than two or three of the 2000 varieties now under cultivation are
suspected of having arisen in this way. It is true that mutations
seem to occur rather often in grapes, but they are easily confused
with variations due to environment and are usually too vague to lay
hands on. Until the causes of these mutations are known and until they
can be produced and controlled, but little can be hoped for in the
amelioration of grapes through mutations.

Next: Hybridizing The Grape

Previous: Grape-breeding

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