WJ Beal*s Long-Term Seed Viability Study

W.J. Beal’s Long-Term Seed
Viability Study:
Frank W. Telewski
Professor, Dept. of Plant Biology
Curator, W. J. Beal Botanical Garden & Campus Arboretum
Michigan State University
Professor William James Beal, born
March 11, 1833, Adrian, Michigan;
died 1924.
Attended Univ. of Michigan 18551859 (A.B. degree)
Taught natural sciences in Friend’s
Academy, Union Springs, NY 18951861
Attended Harvard 1861-1863 to study
with Asa Gray, Louis Agassiz and
Jeffried Wyman (S.B. degree)
Question: How long can seeds remain
viable in the soil?
• Farmers needed weed control
• Mechanical removal (cultivation)
• No herbicides!
• Labor intensive
Experimental Design
21 different species selected
50 seeds of each
Mixed in moderately moist sand
Twenty lots (1-pint bottles filled with mix)
Set upside-down, slanted, and buried uncorked on
• 2 species, oak and black walnut buried next to the
In 1879 Prof. Beal buried 20 bottles
containing 20 species of seed.
What was included in the bottles?
Agrostemma githago- corncockle
Amaranthus retroflexus- pigweed
Ambrosia artemisifolia- ragweed
Anthemis cotula- stinking
Brassica nigra- black mustard
Bromus secalinus- rye brome
Capsella bursa-pastoris-shepherd'spurse
Erechtites hieracifolia- American
Euphorbia maculata- spotted spurge
Lepidium virginicum- peppergrass
Malva rotundifolia- Round-leaved
Plantago major- broadleaved plantain
Polygonum hydropiper- marshpepper
Portulaca oleracea- Common Purslane
Setaria glauca- yellow foxtail
Stellaria media- chickweed
Trifolium repens- white clover
Verbascum thapsus- common mullein
(Verbascum blattaria- moth mullein)
Oenothera biennnis- evening primrose
Rumex crispus- curly dock
Thuja occidentalis- eastern white cedar
Time Periods
Professor Beal (five years)- 1884-1909
Professor Darlington (five years)- 1914-1920
Professor Darlington (ten years)- 1930-1960
Drs. Kivilaan and Bandurski- (ten years) 19701980
• Drs. Telewski and Zeevaart- (20 years) 2000
What Germinated?
• After first 5 years, 13 species germinated
• Remained fairly constant until 30th year
• By 60th year, only Verbascum was germinating
• In year 100, both Verbascum and Malva
What Germinated in 2000?
25 Verbascum blattaria (50%)
1 Malva rotundifolia (2%)
5 more bottles left.
Next bottle to be extracted?
122 year-old biennials
In 1998, 125th
anniversary of the
founding of the W. J. Beal
Botanical Garden, a new
garden logo using the
moth mullein flower to
symbolize the
contribution and
longevity of Prof. Beal’s
work, was adopted.

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