Sunday, January 06, 2013

South Carolina 5: Rice and Roses

When South Carolina congressmen became more vociferous about the supposedly false theories of modern science, I began to wonder how Charleston had ever produced the important innovations in botany that underlay its lifestyle: the selection of new types of rice and roses. Periodically, I’ll be publishing the result of my inquiries into the lives of two innovative growers, Hezekiah Maham (rice) and John Champneys (roses). Previous entries can be found under “South Carolina” in the index at the right.

Maham and Champneys were not part of the social elite who are remembered in family histories. The previous entries covered what little is known about their lives. This one provides what is known about their major achievements.

Weather: Snow from New Year’s Eve has been protecting the land since morning temperatures fell to their post-solstice lows; last snow 12/31/12; 9:54 hours of daylight today.

What’s still green: Few rose stems; juniper, pine, and other evergreens; yucca, garlic. Snow covered most beds.

Most seeds have been dispersed, but some are still being released. Many heads survive as ghosts of themselves, some still surprised that death came so quickly. The older ones, of course, knew and had prepared their shrouds. The skeletons reveal family likenesses.

What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot and sandbar willow branches.

What’s grey or blue: Snow-in-summer, winterfat, golden hairy aster leaves.

What’s yellow: Globe willow branches.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunias.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds.

Weekly update: Hezekiah Maham and John Champneys are an unlikely pair to be the ones responsible for Charleston’s antebellum wealth and beauty. It’s even odder, given South Carolina’s current reputation for fundamentalism, that the actions of the two contributed to the growing body of experience that led people to accept Charles Darwin’s 1859 suggestion that natural selection was the operative cause of evolution.

After the war, Maham needed seed rice for his Pineville area plantation. He died four years later. In the years since he had been so deeply in debt, he must have had some success, because the next year, his younger daughter, Mary’s husband, George Haig died and left the slaves he’d acquired from Maham to his wife for her life.

In 1800, Joshua John Ward was born at Brook Green plantation to Maham’s niece, Elizabeth Cook, and John Ward. Thirty-seven years later, his overseer, James C. Thompson, noticed part of a rice head that was larger than any other Ward had seen.

Ward saved the seed, and planted it the next year on the margins of an old field where it was nearly destroyed by standing water and rats. The following year, he and Thompson planted the seed they’d been able to salvage in a large tub in Thompson’s yard, only to have a slave leave the gate open and a hog eat most of the crop. They transplanted the survivors, and most of the rice was sterile.

In 1840, they took what had survived the hog and rot, and planted half an acre. The next year, Ward planted 21 acres at Brook Green, which his factor sold above the market price. In 1842, Ward tried 400 acres, and the following year planted nothing but the new large grain.

In 1844, Ward made Carolina Gold available commercially. From then until the civil war, the Brook Green rice “commanded the highest price of any rice on the world market in Paris and London.”

Ward claimed his 1838 seed was descended from that planted by his great-uncle in 1785.

Sometime in the early 1800's, either 1802 or 1810 or 1811, John Champneys found a new rose growing on his plantation, which appeared to be a cross between a white musk, cultivated in Europe since the Crusades, and Parson’s Pink, which had been introduced to England from China in 1759.

Philippe Noisette, a son of the head gardener to the future Louis XVIII, had moved to Charleston in 1795 with his Haitian wife after the revolution there. He experimented with the rose, now called Champneys’ Pink Cluster, and in 1814 sent either seeds or plants to his brother who had a nursery in Paris. Either Philippe or Louis Claude crossed the plant with another rose. The hybrid was introduced in Europe as Blush Noisette in 1819.

Meantime, plant stock of some kind was sent to William Price, Jr., who had the best known American nursery on Long Island, and traded plants with his English suppliers. Two years before Champneys died, the Loddiges Nursery outside London offered a new rose, Champigny, in 1818.

Noisettes were the first roses to introduce the recessive gene for reblooming isolated by the Chinese into a fragrant European species. A number of new varieties appeared in France in the 1820's and 1830's. By the 1840's, they were crossed with tea roses, which led in 1867 to La France, the first hybrid tea released by Jean-Baptiste André Guillot the younger.

At the time, Louis Claude Noisette and other French growers were becoming aware of the mechanics of plant reproduction. When Rudolph Jacob Camerarius had argued in 1694 that plants had sexual organs, and pollen was the male agent of fertilization, most ignored him.

In 1729 a 22-year-old Carl Linnaeus expanded his ideas to suggest a method of classifying plants in Introduction to the Floral Nuptials. He continued his work to make reproduction the basis for his description of the natural world and external characteristics, the morphology, the criteria naturalists would use to distinguish species.

The most important work for breeders appeared in 1793, when Christian Konrad Sprengel described his practical experiments with pollination. Still, more than a generation passed before the first controlled rose hybrid was introduced by Beauregard in Angiers in 1839. Safrano, a grandparent of La France, combined a yellow China with a Bourbon, itself a spontaneous hybrid of Parson’s Pink and a damask found on La Réunion in 1823 by Edouard Perichon.

At the time Maham acquired his gold husked seed and Champneys bought his pink shrub rose, observation and selection were the only methods available to farmers to improve their crops. In 1843, Ward’s relative through his mother’s sister, Robert Allston complained that poor rice came from the “commingling of the grain” which happened when different varieties were planted in adjacent fields, and planters were “careless” in selecting their seed stock.

The year before Ward introduced Carolina Gold, Allston described the types of rice then growing in the state. His classification criteria were morphological: seed husk color, size, shape, and awns, also called beards.

The most important variety, which he attributed to Maham, had a gold shell. This coexisted with white rice, which had a creamy hull; guinea rice, which he said looked like guinea corn, a form of African sorghum or millet, and proud rice, a red grain with a white husk and awn like gold seed.

Allston contrasted these with attempts to improve the quality of the crop, either through introducing new seed or careful selection. His example of the first was a bearded variety brought from the East Indies the year before. As an illustration of “improvement” through “a long-continued, careful selection of the seed,” he mentioned the long grain rice about to be introduced by Ward.

At the time Carolina Gold and Safrano were introduced in 1844 and 1839, Darwin was back in England from his five year voyage on the Beagle and working out an explanation for the endemic species he’d seen in the Galapagos islands.

It’s his name we associate with the revolution in plant breeding, even though he drew on the work of men like Sprengel. Similarly, while J. J. Ward and Louis Claude Noisette received the credit and profits for developing new plant varieties, they needed the experience of Hezekiah Maham and John Champneys, and the support of men like Robert Allston and Philipe Nosette.

Innovation can only come from a combination of shared interests and special individuals.

Notes: Mary Charlotte Cook, Ward’s maternal aunt, married Benjamin Allston Sr. Allston’s uncle was William Allston, the father of Robert Francis Withers Allston.

Allston, Robert. A Memoir of the Introduction and Planting of Rice in South Carolina, 1843, reprinted in several other publications, including James Dunwoody, The Industrial Resources, Etc., of the Southern and Western States, volume 2, 1852.

Camerarius, Rudolph Jacob. Epistolae de Sexa Plantarum, 1694.

Carolina Gold Rice Foundation. “Searching the Origins of Carolina Gold,” The Rice Paper, November 2009; the “highest price” quotation.

Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species, 1859.

Hurst, C. C. “Notes on the Origin and Evolution of Our Garden Roses,” 1941, reprinted in Graham Stuart Thomas, The Old Shrub Roses, 1955.

Linnaeus, Carl. Praeludia sponsaliorum plantarum, 1730.

_____. Systema Naturae, first edition 1735.

Spengle, Christian Konrad. Das entdeckte Geheimnis der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen, 1793.

Ward, Joshua John. Letter to Robert Allston, 16 November 1843, incorporated in later editions by Allston and reprinted by the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, The Rice Paper, November 2009.

1. Tahoka daisy, empty seed heads, 1 January 2013, composite family.

2. Zinnia, flower head, 1 January 2013, composite family.

3. Coral bells, flower stalk, 1 January 2013, saxifrage family.

4. Heavenly Blue morning glory, seed capsule, 1 January 2013, convolvus family.

5. Datura, seed head, 1 January 2013, convolvus family.

6. Oriental poppy, seed head, 1 January 2013, poppy family.

7. Sensation cosmos, flower head with some seeds visible, 1 January 2013, composite family.

8. Garlic chives, some seeds have dropped, but not all; 1 January 2013, allium family.

9. Creeping baby’s breath, seed capsules, 1 January 2013, pink family.

10. Mexican hat, seed had disintegrating, 1 January 2013, composite family.

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