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Letter 2864

Darwin, C. R. to Hooker, J. D.

12 July [1860]

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    Summary Add

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    Floral anatomy; pistil curvature and pistil movement. CD's rule that bent pistils occur in "gangway" into nectaries.

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    The book JDH is planning, which he and CD discussed at Kew, should deal with plant reproduction.


Miss Wedgwood's | Hartfield | Tonbridge Wells

July 12th

My dear Hooker

Many thanks for newspaper. I have had a little, but very interesting, note from Falconer; he tells me how capitally things went on at Oxford.

Poor Etty, I find, very little better; but what shade of difference there is, is certainly on the right side. It is most disheartening to us.—

I did so thoroughily & greatly enjoy my little visit to you.— I want two questions answered; I know how busy you are. Do you think Mr Oliver would think me unreasonable, if I asked him to answer them? If he would, pray tell him, I shd. be very much obliged.

Firstly name of enclosed Saxifrage    it is often kept in pot in Houses    on account of slightly curved pistil towards nectar-secreting surface.—& impregnation by Diptera

Secondly the name of that wonderful hot-house flower, with rectangularly-bent pistil, which has been falsely said to turn round. This flower has stuck in my throat ever since: I was a fool not to have accepted your offer of taking it home to examine.— I want to know whether a sort of fold at base of each petal secretes nectar: a closely similar fold at base of 2 upper petals in an orange-coloured Alstrœmeria does secrete nectar. I care for this case because it is strongest apparent exception to my rule of bent pistil & gangway into nectary.

Is not this position of parts? Instead of the pistil revolving, would not large insect successively visiting the supposed nectaries, brush over anthers & stigma; so that the pistil is bent into the circular gangway to the nectaries?

(N.B I find common Martagon Lily with curved pistil so like in all respects that I can make out above points.)

I have been examining Orchis pyramidalis, & it almost equals, perhaps even beats, your Listera case: the sticky glands are congenitally united into saddle-shaped organ, which has great power of movement & seizes hold of bristle (or proboscis) in admirable manner, & then another movement takes place in pollen-masses, by which they are beautifully adapted to leave pollen on the two lateral stigmatic surface.—   I never saw anything so beautiful.—

Ask your scientific gardener to have another try at fertilising Leschenaultia & mark the flowers; for the ovaria of two flowers of which I stirred up the pollen in indusium before going to Sudbrook have swollen to twice diameter of any other ovaria: hence I feel pretty sure that I am on the right road.—

I have been thinking a bit about your Book & the more I think of it the more awfully difficult it seems, & therefore the more worthy of your attempting. One of the first points seems naturally to occur viz difference between plant & animal! And then, as I suppose you will allude to unicellular plants, what makes an individual!! And thirdly the difference between propagation by gemmation & sexual generation! Nice simple little subjects to discuss!—

Yours ever affectionately | C. Darwin

Do not you answer; if you do not like to ask Mr. Oliver, let this note sleep, for everything will keep.

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 2864.f1
    See letter from Hugh Falconer, 9 July [1860].
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    f2 2864.f2
    CD visited Hooker on his way to Down from Edward Wickstead Lane's hydropathic establishment at Sudbrook Park, Richmond, Surrey. See letters to J. D. Hooker, [2 July 1860], [3 July 1860], and [4 July 1860].
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    f3 2864.f3
    Daniel Oliver was an assistant botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
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    f4 2864.f4
    CD added the phrase `it is often kept in pot in Houses' in pencil above the line (see Manuscript alterations and comments).
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    f5 2864.f5
    The text from `This flower' to `the circular gangway to the nectaries?' was deleted by CD. It has been included in the transcription because the following sentence `(N.B I find common Martagon Lily … above points.)' relates to it.
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    f6 2864.f6
    CD refers to his visit to Hooker at Kew (see n. 2, above).
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    f7 2864.f7
    CD presumably deleted the passage preceding this sentence when he realised that his questions had been answered through his examination of the martagon lily (Lilium martagon).
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    f8 2864.f8
    CD refers to Hooker's paper on Listera (Hooker 1854b). For a summary of CD's findings, see the letter to Asa Gray, 3 July [1860].
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    f9 2864.f9
    See letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 April [1860].
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    f10 2864.f10
    CD was encouraging Hooker to write a general book on botany. See letters to J. D. Hooker, 8 February [1860], 14 February [1860], and 12 March [1860].
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