Story of the Month
The Retired Botanist
1 “What does a girl have to do to get some attention around here? Discover a new species, or what?” The Mount Holyoke lecture hall fell suddenly quiet, and all eyes turned towards the speaker. Abbie Chipman was on her feet and had her hands set firmly upon her hips prepared for the confrontation that was about to take place. Below her, looming over his lectern, stood tenured Professor of Economic Botany, Professor Richard S., foremost world authority on the socio-cultural uses of medicinal plants by tropical indigenous peoples. Though he had not yet looked up from his notes he had a good idea who had spoken. He stole a quick glance at Abbie over the rim of his glasses and took a deep breath before speaking. “Miss Chipman, if you please. I am in the middle of what some here take to be an important presentation of some of the more interesting botanical artists in history who have made the tropics their studio of choice. As professor of this class, I am not in the habit of being interrupted.” Abbie shifted her weight from one leg to another. But she remained standing. “But now that I have been interrupted,” continued Prof. S., “I can only assume it is for some important reason. Is there something you would like to say, Miss Chipman?” There was a sprinkle of laughter around the lecture hall. About fifty women were in attendance that sparkling bright morning in April, 1877. “I only wish to ask why you have made no mention in your dissertation of any female artists who have worked in the tropics? Really, what does a woman have to do to be taken seriously in the sciences these days?” “Miss Chipman, while I will grant there are fine artists of the fairer sex the world over, alas, none have been botanists. It’s as simple as that. Now, may I continue with my lecture?” “Marianne North…” Abbie more-or-less whispered as though she were afraid of her own voice. “I beg your pardon?” Prof. S. said. “Marianne North,” Abbie answered more clearly. “British; born 1830; expeditions so far to: Jamaica, North America, Brazil, Japan, Sarawak…” “Miss Chipman,” Prof. S. cut her off. He was red in the face now. “I know very well who Marianne North is, where she has painted, and even what she has painted.” He paused to catch his breath, or for effect, who could tell exactly? “And I repeat,” he said forcefully, “‘alas, none have been botanists.’ Now sit down, Miss Chipman. Please.” Abbie did as she was told. She had made her point and knew when it was time to retreat and cut her losses. She hadn’t liked the angry look on Prof. S.’s face either. She knew his work well and greatly respected the famous scientist from Harvard University. Prof. S. continued his lecture and Abbie found her thoughts drifting back a few years in time. Now in her final year of undergraduate school at Mount Holyoke, Abbie Chipman had entered the prestigious women’s college in 1873. The daughter of whaling captain Barnabus Chipman- whose mysterious death in the Galapagos Archipelago she had unravelled while still a teenager growing up on Cape Cod- she had come to Mount Holyoke principally to study zoology and marine biology at the invitation of zoologist Cornelia Clapp. She had met Miss Clapp at biologist Louis Agassiz’s (short-lived) school of natural history on Penikese Island just below Cape Cod in South-eastern Massachusetts the year after an expeditionary voyage with Agassiz aboard the ship, Hassler. In Prof. S. Abbie had found her latest mentor after her Cape Cod schoolteacher Chet Ranlett, and the recently deceased Professor Agassiz. The new discipline of ethnobotany that Prof. S. was developing cast light upon an aspect of the plant kingdom few had ever considered. Prof. S. saw plants- not as decorations or simple foodstuffs- but as medicinal anecdotes which, when considered in a social context, could define and explain entire societies. Perhaps our own western society could be better understood by studying our economic, social, and cultural use of plants too, Prof. S. suggested. Prof. S. was forever saying that everything on our planet depended on plants. He had made his name first amidst the Pre-Columbian ruins and lost gardens of the Incas in Peru and most recently amongst the Guariba Indians in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. By 1877 he was a weakened, if still lucid, man of 75, and was finally considering retirement and the occupation of beekeeping of all things as soon as the current school year was through. Abbie Chipman knew it was an honour to be in one of his last classes and, when the end-of-class bell finally rang that morning, she stayed behind to apologize to the doctor for what she now saw had been a rude and uncalled for outburst. “Abbie,” Prof. S. said, once she had finished apologizing. “I’ve come to know you well this year. I believe you are destined to become something special in life but sometimes, gal, you’ve got to know when to hold your tongue. Sit down for a moment and hear me out on this. “You’re about to graduate from Mount Holyoke as one of the first female zoologists ever to do so. Or so I hope. Because believe me there are people here- yes, even here in a woman’s college- that would do everything they can to see you don’t graduate. There are folks round here that will use any excuse they can to find fault in what we professors are doing in order to prevent a woman like you from completing the course of pioneering studies we have compiled for you these past four years. “Girl, you have got to keep your emotions under control. You fought hard to get in here. Now fight hard to get out. That little outburst today was not only unwarranted; it was personally embarrassing. People are watching us, Abbie. They’re waiting for one little slip up…hoping to see you fall.” Abbie listened respectfully to her professor and felt her cheeks flush red and hot. “But, Prof. S., if you know Marianne Moore is a botanical artist of equal standing to all the other male artists you’ve taught us about during this course, why didn’t you include her in your lecture today? You were being so obviously- I don’t know- chauvinistic.” Now it was Prof. S.’s turn to feel embarrassed. He sat down beside Abbie and took her hands in his own. “Abbie, I’m sorry, but like it or not we still live in a man’s world…even here at Holyoke. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I want you to know that I am not quite the all-powerful professor you take me to be.” “What do you mean, Prof. S.?” “I mean, I too must answer to someone higher than myself. My lectures here are constantly reviewed and, if necessary, corrected (shall we say) before I am even allowed to present them.” Abbie was shocked. “You mean, you were told not to mention Marianne Moore? But why? Because she’s a woman? But that’s outrageous.” The retired Botanist sat back in his chair laughing. Abbie was confused. “Professor, I don’t see anything funny here. I feel I’ve been blind all these years. To think, despite the charter and everything, this place is just a front, a place for women to just play at dreams they’ll never be able to realize. Is that it?”The professor composed himself. “Now steady on, young lady. Hold your horses. It isn’t anything like that at all. You’re running away with yourself again. See what I mean? Yes, my lectures ARE reviewed but they are never censored, if you want to know the truth. I’m not even sure that’s the word to use for it. To be politically correct let’s just say they’re edited a little now and again. I’m Old School after all; remember that. I can’t be seen to be too much of a Romantic or I’ll be out of what I at least consider to be a pretty good job.” Abbie couldn’t resist. “Politically correct? What about blatant prejudice and chauvinism? I’m sorry, I can’t accept that.” “Now stop this, Abbie. Control yourself and remember who you’re talking to here. You really think that, if I thought Marianne North’s example would further my discussion, I would have let someone, anyone, tell me I had to omit that for the sake of maintaining the status quo. Poppy-cock!” “Then why, Prof. S.? Why did you not list Marianne Moore?” “I told you in class, Abbie. For the simple reason that Marianne Moore is not a trained botanist, that’s all. I just want you and your fellow students to understand the necessity for professional training in all you do and hope to do. Despite her great talent Moore is only an exceptionally gifted artist, and therefore not a good example for my lecture. There’s a difference, and you should know that. As well, though less importantly, she has still not visited the Amazon which to me represents the tropics more than any other place on earth. You’ll see that for yourself one day, I’m sure.” They looked at each other. And, though she remained silent a long moment, Abbie eventually smiled and spoke first. “Oh, what the heck. Friends again?” “Of course, Abbie,” Prof. S. said, embracing her. “Friends again. And forever!” 2 As soon as the letter from Mrs. Agassiz arrived Abbie ran straight to Prof. S. to consult with him. In a cluttered office by the Herbarium, piled high with papers, books and plant parts, Prof. S. read the letter out loud. “My dearest Abbie, “Believe it or not but I have been following your progress at Holyoke since we parted ways a few summers ago at Penikese. Thank-you, belatedly, for the flowers after Professor Agassiz’s death. Since that time Doctor S., your tutor at Holyoke, has kept me abreast of your developments and assures me that you have always displayed only the strictest mannerisms of Agassiz. Please do not be cross at Doctor S. for the work he has done on my behalf. It was Prof. Agassiz’s wish, you see, that you not know about our investment in your education so as not to prejudice your studies in any way. They say you have a hard head for the facts, my dear, but that your heart is obviously pure. Agassiz worried you might have felt inhibited by our surveillance had you known of it. In any event Doctor S. has done a splendid job preparing you for what lies ahead, and that is what I am writing to you about today. But first, please, take a breath and forgive your professor for his part in this little conspiracy.” Abbie looked up at Prof. S., and smiled, despite herself. Her thoughts had unexpectedly taken her back to the scientific lectures she had enjoyed aboard the Hassler with Professor and Mrs. Agassiz, and the now all-but-forgotten debates about Creationism and Evolutionism she had shared with the crew below decks on that same ship. Her busy years at Holyoke, and regular church attendance, had established her as what she called, a neo-creationist. Mrs. Agassiz’ letter now suggested she been all but brainwashed. Without realizing it she had rejected one camp- and it had been a very appealing one at the time, she remembered- in favour of another. Her surprise and momentary anger passed, however. “Of course, I forgive you. Read on, please” “Abbie, you will recall from your voyage aboard the Hassler what a favourite Agassiz was of the Brazilian emperor, Dom Pedro II. The emperor wrote Professor Agassiz often and consulted him on all manner of questions, mostly about natural history of course. Well, not so long ago I received a summons from his majesty that, in light of Agassiz’s passing, compels me to now contact you. I would like to nominate you to take his place as leader of a voyage of investigation which I believe you are supremely qualified for. You may not think so when you read the assignment I am asking of you, however my friend Doctor S. supports my decision and has agreed to act as your advisor throughout the course of your enquiries. “Tropical rainforests contain more plant species than the rest of the world’s temperate forests combined. And no plant is currently as economically important both to the Brazilians and other great nations of the world than that which is known scientifically as HEVEA and popularly as SERINGEIRA. In English the tree is called Rubber- after India rubber- because it produces a soft, pliable material first commercialized in the Far East. “Brazil currently controls the world’s market for latex rubber, the sticky, milky sap exuded from the bark of the Hevea tree. Everyone else wants it. Without having to spell it out to you, His Majesty the Emperor is interested in protecting what he sees as his nation’s patrimony from the scheming, thieving hands of competitors around the world. His Majesty realizes, and correctly so, that rubber will one day soon be cultivated in picture-perfect plantations in distant countries much like pineapple, quinine, tea, and coffee have been already. Yet rather than worry himself to death about how to prevent the unpreventable the emperor wishes to take action. He wants to plant extensive rubber plantations in Brazil. The greatest obstacle to this though is an incredibly persistent leaf blight which has brought disaster to large Amazon plantations already established. “What I am therefore asking you, Abbie- or what the Emperor of Brazil is asking of us- is to help the Brazilians help themselves to grow more of their own rubber in plantations that up till now have proved impossible to create in tropical America. In closing, while I wish you to work closely with Doctor S. on this little project of ours, at the same time I want you to make every effort possible to keep the true nature of your work a secret once you get started. We owe as much to our distinguished friend, the emperor, and to his aspiring country, Brazil. Congratulations on your graduation- with special honours someone has told me- and I look forward to seeing you to discuss things further at the museum in Cambridge after your much-deserved summer holidays on Cape Cod. Ever yours, Elizabeth Agassiz”3 Just as the Agassizes before her, on their first journey to Brazil, Abbie sailed from New York to Rio de Janeiro aboard the steamship “Colorado” owned by the Pacific Mail Company. At New York, Mrs. Agassiz presented Abbie with an inscribed copy of Professor Agassiz’s, A Journey to Brazil, as a going-away present. Earlier in Boston Professor S. had helped Abbie to buy a small library which now filled half her Vuitton travel locker: Alfred Wallace’s Narrative of Travels… (1853), W.H. Edwards’ A Voyage up the River Amazon (1847), Lt. Herndon’s Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon (1854), Henry Bates’ The Naturalist on the Rivers Amazon (1863), M.F. Maury’s Valley of the Amazons (1853), Charles Waterton’s Wanderings in South America (1825), and Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal Narrative of Travels…(1815). In preparation for her trip Abbie had also visited Asa Gray’s so-called “vegetable museum”, as the Botanical Museum at Harvard was fondly called, before her departure. The famous American botanist had given her a well-thumbed copy of Bentham & Hooker’s Handbook of British Flora as an introduction to the discipline of Botany. As the ship Colorado rounded Ellis Island and the Stature of Liberty passed behind them Abbie returned to her cabin to write her first set of notes concerning Hevea, the source of natural rubber. She began with several small sheets of handwriting Gray had given her with instructions to read them through as soon as she was on her way. Abbie knew little about Hevea. She knew the name Rubber came from the small blocks of resin fabricated in India by the English chemist Joseph Priestly to “rub out” pencil marks. She knew what Macintosh jackets and Wellington boots were. It was a most interesting natural substance, certainly, but why all the fuss? On both sides of the Atlantic important men were busying themselves with the development of products made from rubber. Dom Pedro II, the emperor of Brazil, had requested urgent assistance from his old friends, the Agassizes, to help him grow rubber as well as he already grew coffee and sugar cane. No one it seemed wanted to miss the boat now known as “white gold”. Abbie felt a huge weight of responsibility upon her young shoulders. She was, after all, no Louis Agassiz or Asa Gray. As well, she had been trained as a zoologist and not a botanist. Now she was being called upon to represent one of the greatest scientific minds her country had ever produced in a classroom far, far away from home. With only a handful of traveller’s narratives for reference, and a single term’s worth of botanical notes from a class with Prof. S., she was expected to search the vast, unexplored forests of Brazil by herself in search of a plant whose scientific name she could hardly pronounce. Abbie gazed through the porthole window of her cabin at the darkening seas around the ship. Despite everything she took comfort in the kind words and support of her friends and teachers back home: Mrs. Agassiz and Asa Gray in Boston, Professors. S. and Cornelia Clapp at Holyoke, dear Chet Ranlett at home on Cape Cod, and of course, her mother Mrs. Chipman. They supported her. They encouraged her. And if they all saw something in her that was good then she had no option but to strike out and see what that something might be. Beneath the jittery feelings of insecurity and apprehension Abbie sensed another feeling. What was it? Nervousness? No. Hunger? Not quite. Excitement? Yes, yes, that’s what it was. Excitement. Once more she was off on an adventure of unimagined dimensions. She was at sea once again in search of mystery and adventure, and this time she travelled armed with a whole new arsenal of knowledge acquired through four years of college education. As the Colorado bore away south and nightfall closed around her, Abbie bent over her books in earnest. 4 With only a few stops it was a three-week voyage from New York to Rio de Janeiro. Abbie used her time well. Not only did she read her entire library once, but she read through it a second time with an eye open for any, and all, references to rubber in the Amazon. Always in the back of her mind were Louis Agassiz’s words. “The time of the great discoverers is past”, he had written. “The work of the naturalist now is to investigate.” In counselling the next generation Agassiz had stressed that in order to understand the workings of nature “the naturalist must [first] ascertain the geographical distribution of the present animals and plants”. Then one would know something of a thing’s true identity and worth. Abbie would soon put this theory into practice in seeking to map out the “geographical distribution” of the genus Hevea, popularly known as Rubber in Brazil. Not only would she be helping the Brazilians, as she had been ordered, but she would also be honouring her mentor, Louis Agassiz, and his dedication to revealing God’s “ceaseless artistry in nature”. Abbie’s time in Rio de Janeiro was deliberately short. At an obligatory visit to the Royal Court, she enjoyed a short audience with the emperor who confirmed his desire to plant blight-resistant rubber in plantations along the coast and assure Brazil and her allies an uninterrupted supply of the best rubber they could produce. At the Botanical Gardens she met with several Brazilian botanists and discussed the business of cultivating rubber. All agreed nothing could be done without seeds and seedlings of the hardiest wild rubber there was. And where was the best rubber located? That, it seemed, was the great question. And no one expected the task of finding it would be a simple one. Once more Abbie set sail, first to Para at the mouth of the mighty Amazon River and then 1000 miles upriver to the newly named capital of the state of Amazonas, Manaos. With her she carried several letters of introduction. In Manaos, her first stop was the home of the United States consul, Mr. James Fish. Asa Gray had told her Mister Fish would introduce her to the director of the city’s Botanical Museum, Doctor Joao Barbosa Rodrigues, who was, by all accounts, the living authority on the subject of Rubber.5 The palatial mansion on Ramos Ferreira Avenue- just beyond the famous Amazonas Theatre- is popularly known as the Benjamin Constant Institute and is the site of the city’s botanical gardens. Here Doctor Joao Barbosa Rodrigues reigned over as wild a kingdom of plants- both living and dead- as Abbie had ever seen. The place seemed more warehouse than museum and it did not surprise the young American that the place seldom saw visitors. Doctor Rodrigues was happy to receive Abbie in Manaos, especially as she was a former student of one of his greatest friends, Louis Agassiz. Taking her immediately by the arm the old man walked her around the cavernous halls of the museum as though he’d been looking for an excuse to get up and move around. Here and there he stopped to point out some odd plant or another to Abbie. And all the while he kept up a running dialogue about his passion, rubber. Much of this Abbie already knew from her studies though she was thankful for the doctor’s introduction all the same and impressed by his enthusiasm. “Columbus may be credited with first noting the existence of rubber in the Americas during his voyages of discovery in the 15th century, but we also know from more recent archaeological study that the Mayas of Central America had been playing ball games with rubber long before 1492. In any event the real history of rubber- as far as economic botany is concerned- begins with Charles Marie de la Condamine, the first European scientist to travel through Amazonia between 1735 and 1743. He described something called hevé in Ecuador and brought the first seeds back to Europe for description and classification. From the Spanish word for milk, leché, he coined the term “latex”. After Condamine the Brazilian naturalist, Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira, travelled through Amazonia between 1783 and 1792. He observed how the Indians waterproofed their weapons with this same latex and even constructed crude rubber shoes from it to protect their feet. The Portuguese word for rubber, seringa, comes from the Indian use of a small rubber blow pipe to ingest hallucinogenic drugs and gives us the modern word “syringe”. The French word for rubber, cautchouc, comes from another Indian term, cau-chu, which means “the tree that weeps”. The director of the Berlin Botanical Gardens, Carl Ludwig Willdenow, finally gave rubber the scientific name, Hevea brasiliensis, in 1807.” Arriving at Doctor Rodrigues’ small, cramped office adjacent to the museum’s herbarium Abbie dropped into the chair she was offered and pulled out her notebook. “Doctor, is it fair to say that there are a number of varieties, or subspecies, of rubber such as H. brasiliensis and H. spruceana, and that some are considered better or, should I say, hardier than others?” “Yes, that’s so. The best rubber for manufacturing is taken to be H. brasiliensis. However, as you know, this particular subspecies is extremely fragile and easily contaminated by leaf blight and other pests. Other, perhaps hardier, subspecies simply do not produce as much liquid latex by weight as H. brasiliensis. These other subspecies are also much harder to identify in the forest.” “So would plantations based upon a hardier stock of rubber, even a cross-fertilized species, stand up better to the scourge of leaf blight than H. brasiliensis?” “Yes, no doubt about it. Though dependence on a hardier species will not satisfy the global market which continues to grow. It would produce an inferior type of latex, as I have said. And, as it would only be found farther away and in smaller numbers, it would be much more difficult to collect. Hybridizing, or cross-fertilizing, as you call it, is an idea…though I have never known it to work. Tree-by-tree selection by seringueiros (“rubber tappers”) still seems to be the only way to get the best rubber there is and to avoid leaf blight.” “Finally, Doctor, if we were to map out the geographical range of the numerous subspecies of Hevea that you know, would we be able to determine where the species first originated and where it might be found in its wildest and hardiest state?” “Yes, Abbie, we could do that. I can help you find the mother of all rubber trees if that’s what you’d like. May I ask what you’re after though?” “I can’t tell you everything, Doctor Rodrigues, though I’d like to. But, for the time being, let’s just say that I am keen to promote the study of the geographic distribution of species with the intention of furthering our understanding of the process of natural selection as laid out by Charles Darwin. And in this part of the world rubber seems as good a species to begin with as any.” “Then forgive me for prying, Abbie. I’m surprised that someone as steeped in the teachings of Louis Agassiz, as you must be, would want more proof of the theory of evolution that destroyed him. Can you really still say that despite everything you are not still a Creationist like your mentor?” “Perhaps, for the time being, I am neither Creationist nor Evolutionist. What I am though, without doubt, is one of God’s creatures and I seek to illuminate his workings here on earth. I am no man’s man. I am, in fact, my own woman.” “Yes, Abbie Chipman, that you are. Shall we step into the herbarium then and have a look at the rubber species I’ve collected? Then afterwards we can return to my map room to plot out the next leg of your journey.” The herbarium was a large, cavernous room crowded with row after row of high bookcases full of filing cabinets. Along one wall was a long table scattered with papers, bits of plant parts and a couple of microscopes. Doctor Rodrigues opened one cabinet to show Abbie how the plants were sorted. It was one of the Heliconia flower, often called the “bird of paradise”. The plant was thoroughly dried and had lost its colour. Now it was a drab brown. Still the complete form of the plant was easy enough to appreciate: the stems, a branch, several sprocket-like petals, seeds, and some small fruit samples. All had been meticulously cut, dried, and mounted on a large piece of what seemed most like thick water-colour paper measuring some 10 by 14 inches. Besides several bits of information written in pencil around the plant parts there was also a filing card affixed to the page where the most important information about the plant had been written in a much neater hand. Doctor Rodrigues pointed to several large pieces of fruit on the table nearest him. “Obviously we can’t press and dry every plant for mounting like the Heliconia,” he told Abbie. “We have separate cabinets for the larger fruits, samples of bark and that sort of thing.” Abbie followed Doctor Rodrigues to another table. “In anticipation of your visit I’ve dug out all the rubber samples I could find. Perhaps we can narrow down your search for the origin of rubber.” For the next several hours Abbie and Doctor Rodrigues looked over countless rubber samples and compared them with notes Abbie had taken from her extensive reading. By the end of the afternoon, Abbie was thoroughly familiar with rubber in its more than a dozen forms. But the two scientists were no closer to knowing where it all came from than when they had begun. “Doctor, we’ve got rubber from all over the Amazon here and I can’t tell which is better than which. Wallace’s specimens come from the Xingu River Valley, Agassiz’s from the Tocantins. Bates’s come from the Madeira River and Spruce’s from the upper Negro. Waterton’s even come from Guiana. Where could we possibly start?” “I think we can write off Waterton upfront and probably Bates as well,” Doctor Rodrigues offered. “Most of the rubber now being collected is coming from the headwaters of the Madeira River, in the southern state of Acre, but this is exactly the rubber the emperor is most worried about. It may be high yielding, but it seems easy prey for the leaf blight known as Dothidella utei. It might grow better somewhere else in the world- far from the blight- but it would be the last species I’d try growing in plantations here in Brazil. “Basically, there are three high-yielding varieties of rubber: Hevea spruceana, which grows abundantly on the Negro River, in particular amidst the islands of two massive archipelagos found there. The second variety is commonly recognized as the best rubber there is, Hevea brasiliensis. It grows in many parts of the Amazon as I have shown you here today. The last variety is called Hevea guianensis which I have collected but have not fully described yet. Now, if we group all these varieties together, and mark up this map here, we should see over what area the species overlay; within that area would more than likely be where they all spring from originally.” In a few minutes they had drawn a dozen wide circles over a large topographical map of the continent. And while there were four areas where more than two varieties converged it was plain to see that most of the overlapping- 9 of 13 varieties- occurred over an area of the upper Negro River between the Vaupes River to the south and the Orinoco River to the north. “Well, how about that?” “Most enlightening, Doctor Rodrigues. It’s still a broad area, and those other foci suggest other possible fonts for rubber. But it brings to mind a manuscript the emperor showed me in Rio de Janeiro before I sailed up here. It was about the planting and cultivation of India rubber in this very area and written by a fellow named Wickham.” Doctor Rodrigues let out an audible gasp. A startled look passed over his face. “Wickham? Was that Wickham you said?” “Yes, Doctor. Wickham. Do you know the man?” “No, not personally, but I know that only a week or two ago an Englishman by that name chartered a boat here loaded with botanical samples before sailing for Para. He must be half-way across the Atlantic by now.” There obviously wasn’t much Abbie could do about this Wickham character though she was sure his cargo was something much more valuable than mere botanical specimens. The man obviously had rubber aboard that boat. And while that fact alone only led to further speculation Abbie now felt more certain than ever the imperative nature of her work there in Manaos. If the English were on the way to growing their own rubber elsewhere in the world- India would be Abbie’s educated guess- there was more reason than ever for her to complete her work and help the Brazilians produce more of their own crop. Abbie recalled Darwin’s experiments in crossbreeding in order to produce heartier species of selected livestock. Could the same principles be applied to plants? Could pollination itself be controlled by a scientist in a laboratory or was there a cruder way of achieving the same ends? In fact, hadn’t Darwin just written about just that very subject, the cross-fertilization of plants? Back in Doctor Rodrigues’s library she found the material she was looking for: Darwin, Charles, The Various Contrivances by Which Orchids are Fertilized by Insects, (1862), and Darwin, Charles, Effects of Cross and Self-Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom (1878).After several hours reading together Abbie and Doctor Rodrigues had a plan. They would collect the best rubber seeds and seedlings from the various locations suggested in their studies, in particular the upper Negro. It would take some time, but it would be done. After that they would attempt cross-fertilizing the various species until they developed a blight-resistant variety that could be grown abundantly in plantations the emperor himself was preparing in Bahia and Sao Paulo states, places where already the best coffee and sugar in the world was being produced. Someone else, Abbie reasoned, might grow it first somewhere else but there was no reason why the Brazilians- if they applied themselves- couldn’t produce the best rubber in the Americas for their own and their allies use, now and forever more.