Science: Weedy Legacy

Germination after generations

In 1879 the famed botanist William Seal, a pioneer in the development of high-yield corn hybrids, began a bizarre experiment. He buried 20 pint-size bottles, each containing 1,000 seeds of 20 weed varieties, near his lab in East Lansing, Mich. His aim, in that age before weedkillers: to find out how long plowed-under seeds could survive, and thus, how long fields needed to be left fallow, to ensure a weed-free crop when replanted.

A very long time, it appears. After five years Beal unearthed one of his botties and, lo, the...

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