John Evelyn, on the Variability of Kernels

If the kernels of natural Apples (or of ungraffed Trees) should produce the same, or some other variety of Apples, (as sometimes it succeeds) yet would this care be seldom operae pretium, and at best but a work of Chance, the disappointment falling out so often through the fickleness of the Soil : Or admit that the most proper and constant, yet would the very dews and rain, by various and mutable Seasons, and even by the Air itself, (which operates beyond vulgar perception, in the very changes as well of the mould as of the feeds and fruit) create almost infinite alterations : And the choice having been in all places (apparently for some thousands of years) by propagating the most delicate of Fruits by the Graffs, ’tis almost a desperate task to attempt the raising of the like, or better Fruit from the rudiments of the Kernel.

John Evelyn, quoting John Beale, Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-Trees, Annexed Pomona (1664)

This is another good example of the basic level that pomological knowledge had reached by the 17th century: observation and deduction had allowed fruit growers and pomologists to correctly conclude that trees grown from kernels (seeds) seldom grow true to their parent types (although this was already well known by the likes of Leonard Mascall 90 years earlier and indeed by many others long before).

The sexual theory of plant reproduction had not yet been developed and codified; Rudolf Jakob Camararius is often credited as a major pioneer, publishing De Sexu Plantarum Epistola in 1694. Observers therefore assumed that those factors which they were familiar with must be the ones responsible for variation in a fruit tree’s offspring.

Here we see the conclusion that the “fickleness of the Soil”, the rain, the dew, “mutable Seasons” and even “the Air itself” must be responsible. As such it represents the interim stage between the magical thinking of Dodoens, Estienne and many others and the basic building blocks of today’s scientific botanical knowledge that were laid down in the late 17th and 18th centuries.

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