Discusses the ranges of alpine species in U. S. and considers the possible migration routes of such species from Europe.
Lists those U. S. genera which he considers protean and describes the U. S. character of some genera which are protean in Europe.
Describes how he distinguishes introduced and aboriginal stocks of the same species.
My Dear Mr. Darwin
I meant to have replied to your interesting letter of the
There is another Japanese collection I shall have a chance to look over, presently, that made by Charles Wright. When that comes to be studied, it will be worth while to compare the Japanese & N. American Floras rather critically.
Your anecdote of Agassiz, “Nature never lies” is most characteristic. Instead of learning caution from experience A. goes on faster than ever, in drawing positive conclusions from imperfect or conjectural data, confident that he reads Nature through and through, and without the least apparent misgiving that anything will turn up that he cannot explain away.
—Well, I never meant to draw any conclusions at all, and am very sorry, that
the only one I was beguiled into should “rile” you, as you say it
does:—that on p. 73 of my
If, however, you say—as you may have very good reasons for saying that the existing species got their present diffusion before the glacial epoch, I should have no answer. I suppose you must needs assume very great antiquity for species of plants in order to account for their present dispersion, so long as we cling—as one cannot but do, to the idea of the single birth place of species.
I am curious to see whether, as you suggest, there
would be found a harmony or close similarity between the geographical range in this
country of the species common to Europe and those strictly representative or strictly
congeneric with European species. If I get a little time I will look up the
facts,—though as D
— I wish you would tell me why you were led to conclude a priori, that trees would have a stronger tendency to be mono-diœcious than herbs.
As to your P.S.— If you have time to send me a longer list of your Protean genera, I will say if they seem to be Protean here.— Of those you mention—
Salix, I really know nothing about.
Rubus: the N. American species, with one exception, are very clearly marked indeed.
Mentha. We have only one wild species! that has two pretty well-marked forms, which have been taken for species: one smooth, the other hairy.
Saxifraga, gives no trouble here.
Myosotis: only one or two species here, and those very well-marked.
Hieracium: few-species; but pretty well-marked.
Rosa: putting down a set of nominal species, leaves us 4: two of them polymorphous, but easy to distinguish.
Our genera which I take to be most Protean (restricting myself to those of Bot. N. U. States) are—Ranunculus, Viola, Lechea, Vitis, Ceanothus, Polygala, Amorpha, Lespedeza, Lathyrus, Cratægus, Amelanchier, Calycanthus, Œnothera, Ribes, Zizia, Viburnum, Galium, Oldenlandia , VERNONIA, Liatris, Eupatorium, ASTER, Erigeron, Solidago, Silphium, Xanthium, Echinacea, Helianthus, Coreopsis, Bidens, Artemisia , SENECIO, Cirsium, Nabalus, Mulgedium, Lobelia, Vaccinium, Azalea, Pyrola, Bumelia, Plantago, Dodecatheon, Lysimachia, Gerardia, Dipteracanthus, Verbena, Lycopus, Pycnanthemum, Monarda, Scutellaria, Stachys, Phlox, Gentiana, Apocynum, Fraxinus, Polygonum, Euphorbia, Acalypha, Celtis, Carya, Quercus, (Salix & Populus, because not well known) ABIES, Sparganium, POTOMAGETON, Sagittaria, Spiranthes, Iris, Smilax, Lilium, Juncus, Commelyna, Tradescantia, Xyris, CYPERUS, Scirpus, Eriophorum, Rynchospora, Scleria, Carex, Agrostis, Panicum, Andropogon.— I have given you both large & small genera—and have marked the worst by underscoring, according to their degree of badness.
It is not so easy to answer the question in your last P.S.— How I distinguish the introduced & aboriginal stocks of the same species in this country. We have yet a great extent of country in a state of nature,—especially woods. When a plant grows there widely there is no doubt.— While our weeds in cult. lands &c are so generally introduced plants that there is a strong tendency to view them all as such. We have, however, a considerable number of indigenous species becoming weeds. I mean to catalogue them: also some time or other the question will be reared whether they were indigenous to this country. Œnothera biennis, Erigeron annuum & strigosum & Canadense (if really indigenous at the north). Antennaria margaritacea, Asclepias Cornuti, &c—&c
Generally the wild and the introduced stocks look different, more or less, e.g. Triticum repens & caninum, etc—
Sometimes it is mere guess-work, but generally I feel sure, tho' I could not always tell perfectly well why.
A great many plants came with seed-grain—with cattle, &c—just as they have been carried to various parts of the world— Now these (take Dandelion & Agrostis vulgaris for examples)—these were none the less likely to come here in this way because they were already a part of the indigenous flora!
But I will not ask you to read more of my blind handwriting now. I will not leave your welcome letters so long unnoticed again, if I can help it.
Ever Yours | Asa Gray
- f1 2053.f1A. Gray 1857a was a text-book designed for school students.
- f2 2053.f2Gray refers to the collection made by James Morrow during Matthew Galbraith Perry's expedition to Japan, 1852–4 (see Dupree 1959, pp. 208–9).
- f3 2053.f3A. Gray 1857b. Although Perry's report was already in the hands of the printers, he instructed them to include Gray's botanical descriptions, but the illustrations were not included (see Perry 1856–7, 2: 299–301).
- f4 2053.f4Thunberg 1784 and 1794. Carl Peter Thunberg had collected plants near Nagasaki and Tokyo. Gray concluded his description of this Viburnum species by stating: ‘This adds another to the interesting list of species peculiar to Eastern North America and to the Chino-Japanese region.’ (A. Gray 1857b, p. 313).
- f5 2053.f5Alphonse de Candolle felt that the uniqueness of the distribution of Phryma leptostachya could not be explained by continental extension and appeared to favour the multiple centres of creation hypothesis (A. de Candolle 1855, 2: 1328).
- f6 2053.f6Charles Wright, who had previously collected plants in Texas and Mexico for Gray, was the botanist to the United States North Pacific expedition, 1853–6, which visited the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate in Japan (Dupree 1959, pp. 209–10).
- f7 2053.f7Gray's paper on the relationship between the Japanese and North American floras (A. Gray 1859) was described by Gray's biographer as ‘the most important paper he ever wrote’ (Dupree 1959, p. 210). In it Gray discussed Phryma leptostachya, stating that so many species were known to be common to eastern North America and eastern and northern Asia ‘that De Candolle would now explain these cases in accordance with the general views of distribution adopted by him, under which they fall,— so abandoning the notion of a separate creation.’ (A. Gray 1859, pp. 444–5).
- f8 2053.f8See letter to Asa Gray, 1 January .
- f9 2053.f9See letter to Asa Gray, 1 January  and n. 6.
- f10 2053.f10See letters to J. D. Hooker, 1 December  and 10 December .
- f11 2053.f11See letter to Asa Gray, 1 January .
- f12 2053.f12Gray's underscoring has been typographically reproduced as italics for one underline, bold type for two underlines, and small capitals for three underlines.
- f13 2053.f13The annotation refers to a later occasion when CD forwarded the last sheet of Gray's letter (paragraph sixteen onwards) to Hewett Cottrell Watson for his comments (see letter from H. C. Watson, 10 March 1857).