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Fairchild’s Mule: Early English Hybridizing

I am continuing my discussion of London garden center owner Thomas Fairchild (1667-1729).

He was an early advoate of the process of hybridizing.

I am grateful to David at the Gardens Trust for more information about Fairchild from the Gardens Trust Blog. It was only a few years ago that David gave the Fairchild lecture.

David writes,

“The principles of pollination and hybridization and even plant anatomy were only just being understood in Fairchild’s adult lifetime.”

That did not however keep him from experimenting with plants.

David writes,

“What we do know is that sometime in the 1710s, although the results were not published by Bradley until 1717, Fairchild became the first person known to have tried to put Grew and Camerarius’s theories into practice, when he deliberately tried to hybridize a plant.”

Fairchild crossed two flowers, a Sweet William with a carnation.

The result bears the name, which will never be forgotten, ‘Fairchild’s Mule.’ You see, It was a sterile plant.

David concludes with these words, “While they might seem petty or pointless, such experiments are significant becauuse they show Fairchild was trying to define the limits of the scientifically and horticulturally possible.

“However, they also highlight many philosophical challenges to the contemprary understanding of the natural world.”

Thomas Fairchild (c.1667-1729)

Two of  ‘Fairchild’s Mule’ have survived as dried flowers in the herbaria of Oxford University and the Natural History Museum, London. [below]

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