With the recent news that some barley and oat varieties collected by Vavilov had been repatriated to Sardinia, it become obvious that this blog needed to just get on with it and bring itself back to life. An obvious way to do so would be to recount Vavilov’s travels on the island. Alas, he has very little to say on the matter, to whit:
Part of my expedition also studied Sardinia rather thoroughly.
Five Continents is very sketchy on Italy — just a page and a half — much of it devoted to the joys of Rome and the rice research station at Vercelli. OK, then, how about something about the repatriated varieties?
Easier said than done. The news report from VIR said nothing about them, beyond that they were samples of oats and of barley. We know enough by now to know that merely Googling will not be all that helpful. VIR’s holdings aren’t yet in GBIF, but the USDA’s are, and a couple of those — PI 258569 and PI 258570 — were collected in Sardinia and donated (in 1959) by the VIR.  Eurisco, another hellish database, shows 6 barleys and 7 oats from Sardinia, all apparently collected in 1998 and all housed at the IPK Gatersleben genebank in Germany. Eurisco shows 11858 results for Avena (oats) at the VIR, and with a little further poking can be prompted to reveal that 72 of them were collected in Italy between 1 January 1926 and today.  A bit more work, and I can reveal that 44 (or 45?) were collected in 1927. Vavilov was there in 1926. Ah well.
Why does any of this matter? I suppose it doesn’t. Not in the greater scheme of things. But surely, if it is worth sending stuff back to Sardinia, other than as an empty gesture of goodwill, it is worth saying somewhere what that stuff is. There may, after all, be interesting stories one could tell about it. Who knows, it could even be, or have been, useful.