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Wheat has been cultivated from remote antiquity. In a wild state it is practically unknown. It is alleged to have been found growing wild between the Euphrates and the Tigris; but the discovery has never been authenticated, and unless the plant be sedulously cared for, the species dies out in a surprisingly short space of time. Late 19th century experiments in cross-fertilization in Lancashire by the Garton Brothers, trading as Gartons Limited of Warrington from 1898, have evolved the most extraordinary sports, showing, it is claimed, that the plant has probably passed through stages of which until the present day there had been no conception. The tales that grains of wheat found in the cerements of Egyptian mummies have been planted and come to maturity are no longer credited, for the vital principle in the wheat berry is extremely evanescent; indeed, it is doubtful whether wheat twenty years old is capable of reproduction. The Garton artificial fertilization experiments have shown endless deviations from the ordinary type, ranging from minute seeds with a closely adhering husk to big berries almost as large as sloes and about as worthless. It is conjectured that the wheat plant, as now known, is a degenerate form of something much finer which flourished thousands of years ago, and that possibly it may be restored to its pristine excellence, yielding an increase twice or thrice as large as it now does, thus postponing to a distant period the famine doom prophesied by Sir W. Crookes in his presidential address to the British Association in 1898.
In the raising of the standard of farming to an English level the volume of the worlds crop would be trebled, another fact which Sir William Ciookes seems to have overlooked. The experiments of the late Sir J. B. Lawes in Hertfordshire have proved that the natural fruitfulness of the wheat plant can be increased threefold by the application of the proper fertilizer.