Work of Bureau of Plant Industry
I will talk to you this afternoon in a wholly informal way and have made no attempt at preparation, but simply want to tell you in a few words something of the work that the Department of Agriculture is doing, and something of the work of the Bureau of Plant Industry, the bureau over which I have the high honor to preside, in its direct application to your own work.
As to the work of the department proper, I will say that we have under way many kinds of investigations, some of which are in very direct relation to your work. Briefly; we are spending in the aggregate about $6,000,000 a year in investigation. These investigations cover practically everything from the weather to the insects that destroy trees and plants and the insects that affect people. The Department of Agriculture was organized about forty years ago and in earlier days was a branch of the Patent Office. In the earlier days most of its work was in the distribution of seed, mainly Congressional seed. The department proper, fifteen years later, was made into a coordinate branch of the general Government. In 1888 it was made still higher and the Commissioner of Agriculture was made Secretary. The first Secretary was the Hon. J. M. Rusk. Since the organization of the Department in the form of a cabinet position, it has grown very rapidly, especially so during Secretary Wilson's incumbency, which has lasted eight years and is going on into the third term; something which has never happened before.
The Weather Bureau is concerned, as you probably know, with meteorological affairs and the weather. Some of the matters of the Weather Bureau are of interest to you more or less, but it is hardly necessary to dwell upon them here.
Animal Industry is another branch.
The Bureau of Forestry, which has been very greatly developed during the last six years, is another department. This bureau is doing work which some of you may be interested in, mainly in investigations relating to temperate zone forestry.
The purely horticultural work comes under the Bureau of Plant Industry, which I have the honor to represent.
Besides these we have the Bureau of Entomology, of which Dr. Howard has charge. This has relation to insects.
Dr. Howard this past summer has been working with a view to finding a parasite to turn loose in connection with the foot and mouth investigation in the New England States.
The Bureau of Soils studies the soils; the physical parts of the soils; the relation of fertilization to plant growth, etc. These are the principal branches of the Department of Agriculture.
Taking up the work of the Bureau of Plant Industry proper, I will say that we cover a great many fields. We have something like a million dollars which we devote to investigation work and perhaps twenty-five percent of that is devoted almost exclusively to horticultural investigation. Coming within the scope of the Bureau is the Congressional seed distribution. That is a part of our work and as the Secretary sometimes puts it, one of our chores. I will tell you more about that later.
Now with reference to some lines of investigation that may be of interest to you, I will say that for the last six or eight years we have been making a special effort in regard to importing new plants, which will be of value. We ate looking for new trees, new grains, new shrubs and new plants of all kinds. A man has gone into China for the purpose of securing if possible new shrubs and trees. There are possibilities of production in this line which we have not grasped, especially in that part of the country. These men will go up into the mountains around Pekin and other sections of the country, where we expect to find many new varieties which can be brought into this country. We have also men in certain parts of temperate Africa and Japan. All these men are engaged in these investigations. They are all looking out constantly for new crops, new plants, suitable for lawn making. We have a number of such things which, of course, are of interest to the majority of you gentlemen and to those of you who are from the extreme West I will say that we are looking for crops which will make a covering for the ground and for trees which will be suitable.
Passing to another line of work, I will call your attention to the investigations we are making in studying the diseases of plants. These investigations have been carried on for years. We have devoted a great deal of attention to the study of the diseases of trees. We have in St. Louis a laboratory which is devoting its entire time and attention to the diseases of timbers, primarily forest trees, but also cultivated trees such as are found in our lawns, parks and grounds. We have published bulletins on these subjects and have issued several bulletins on tree diseases. Many of these tree diseases are produced by parasitic fungi-small organisms which attack trees mainly through imperfect methods of pruning trees and some of these things you are doubtless, familiar with. These mushrooms that grow out of these wounds and we are making efforts to find methods of prevention by better attention to pruning and in other directions. Some of the most serious diseases the trees have are not produced by things of this kind. These disturbances are often very puzzling and sometimes require constant study to discover the real cause. I was struck in coming down, here to see about two blocks south of here where there is a beautiful row of oaks. It is now one of the most beautiful avenues in the city. It was put out twenty years ago. I saw two of these which were dying. I saw that there had been some disturbance on the streets and I suppose the gas pipes are leaking. Such causes are always arising. Also difficulties arise from malnutrition, improper feeding of trees. In all of our public parks we have had for a series of years trees becoming more or less starved, manifested by the branches dying back from the tips, which is an evidence, of improper food. The question of proper feeding of trees is very important and very, little is known about it and that is an investigation we are now carrying on, what is the proper feeding where the natural droppings must be taken away every year for the purpose of giving the proper appearance to the cemeteries and parks.
Passing from this subject you will find many wounds that have been produced by mutilation. Unfortunately it is not always possible to handle trees by the right men. Men are sent out who are not familiar with the best methods and they slash and cut and wound the trees in a way that is barbarous. These wounds are the very best medium for the ingress of these microscopic fungi.
Another line of work we are interested in that will interest you is the best method of handling lawn making. Lawn making, as everyone knows, there is a vast deal of difference of opinion about. What we need here would not be applicable to other parts of the country. We have had all sorts of experiences. We have under way a series of feeding experiments of lawns with a view of finding some method of keeping up the grass supply without a great expense and without the disfigurement that is sometimes necessary where it has become necessary to use stable manure. One of our chief reliances of course in this direction is well ground bone meal and here we depend on lime. We use it once in five or six years. It is wonderful what .an effect it has on clover. If we get a mixture of white clover we can keep up the lawn for years without reseeding. Our chief enemy is crab grass and it is in all parts of the country. Our gardeners ate absolutely convinced that we set out this crab grass. Wherever they throw the hose on there is at once developed a luxuriant growth of crab grass. It is not the seed in the water that does the work, but rather watering at certain times of the day. One of our men a few years ago took the hose and put his initials in the grass by mere watering. In four weeks you could see the initials plainly standing out in the crab grass. So to overcome this we water at night. We simply put a man on and keep the water going all night and we now have no difficulty with crab grass.
These are some of the principal points. Another line of investigation that may be of interest to you is the work we are carrying on, on our own grounds with a view of calling the attention of people who come here to simple methods of home ornamentation: We do not attempt to go into anything elaborate, but only to follow the simple, natural system with our hardy perennials and simple groups of shrubs so that people coming through the grounds can see for themselves the opportunities of producing such effects for home ornamentation. We have all of our trees labeled and also all of our shrubs. That is a matter that has given us constant thought and we have finally devised a label that is suitable. It is very difficult to keep from having them carried away as souvenirs. People think they are perfectly justified in taking them away. We have tried all sorts of schemes. Now we have them screwed on the trees, so that they can only be taken off by a screw driver. We tried labeling them in the green house with small zinc labels and they were nearly all taken off as souvenirs. Now we use the common wooden label with the name put on in pencil so that if they take them away we put on another.
As to the grouping of plants the grounds were laid out about thirty-five years ago and the plants there are put in botanical groups. We have probably one of the finest collections of lindens, one of the finest collections of magnolias and at one time we had one of the finest collections of English yews.
Passing through another line of work, which I have been very much interested in. It is a line of work which means the encouragement of home ornamentation in all parts of the country. The school children have been much interested in school garden work. Three or four years ago we made an arrangement with the normal schools of which there are two to take all the teachers and give them special instruction on the agricultural grounds as to horticulture and now these young women come down every year and learn the grafting of trees and shrubs and everything of the sort and these young women put their experience into actual operation by designing plans for the city and then with the help of the children they ornament these grounds. The plants are propagated by the girls themselves. The last two or three years we have had these young women gathering seeds throughout the city. These seeds are valuable for another reason than the fact that they are from valuable types. These young women have gathered quite a number of seeds from Arlington and the Capitol grounds and Mount Vernon and we have given them two or three acres of land down on the flats--very rich ground which has been made by filling up from the sedimentation of the river--and from that seed we are raising trees and are sending them out throughout the country so as to inaugurate not only a love of tree planting but each tree has some sentimental value aside from its other value.
The school garden work has progressed now so that it is reaching out into other cities; Baltimore and Philadelphia are doing a great deal in this direction, especially Philadelphia.
In addition to the work in tree planting, we are inaugurating the love of horticulture, the love of home ornamentation, by sending out every year to the school children many thousand packages of seed. This is where the Congressional distribution has been turned to good account. The city representatives are encouraged to take these special kinds of seed for school ornamentations. We have distributed in the past five years probably ten million packages of these seed.
I think I have gone over this work so far as it relates to horticulture perhaps and so far as it relates to the lines in which you are more or less interested.
Our grounds here are at your disposal. We hope you will come over there. We have a number of greenhouses in which we are conducting many lines of investigation. You will find two which are devoted to plant diseases.
At the Arlington farm, which is located just below Arlington Cemetery, which you will visit before you leave, we have five hundred acres devoted to various lines of work. There is a great deal of horticultural work going on there. We have lines of work which are being conducted looking to the prevention of diseases from insects to plants and trees. We have made investigations in the methods of spraying which I need not call attention to as many bulletins have been issued on this subject. We are conducting investigations every year on the treating of plants by the application of germicides and insecticides.
I do not know as I can add anything. As I indicated in the beginning, my remarks are entirely informal. I simply want to close by extending a hearty invitation for you to come and see us and if I am not there some of our people will be and will be glad to show you all there is to see.
From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 19th Annual Convention
Held at Washington, DC
September 19, 20, 21 and 22, 1905