Thanks for specimen of Drosophyllum.
Describes capacity of various plants to catch flies.
Cannot name fern specimen.
Laugher pigeon descended from Columba livia.
Discusses tailless dogs.
Believes astronomical phenomenon responsible for oscillation of level of earth's crust.
Would WCT like copy of Orchids?
Expected plants [Drosophyllum] have arrived.
Down, Bromley, Kent. S.E.
March 12, 1869
I have received your two letters of Mar. 2nd and 5th; and I really do not
know how to thank you enough for your extraordinary kindness and
energy. I am glad to hear that the inhabitants notice the power of the
Drosophyllum to catch flies, for this is the subject of my studies. I have
observed during several years the manner in which this is effected, and
the results produced in several species of Drosera, and in the wonderful
American Dionæa, the leaves of which catch insects just like a steel
Hence I was most anxious to learn how the Drosophyllum would
act, so that the Director of the Royal Gardens at Kew wrote some years
ago to Portugal to obtain specimens for me, but quite failed. So you see
what a favour you have conferred on me. With Drosera it is nothing less
than marvellous how minute a fraction of a grain of any nitrogenised
matter the plant can detect; and how differently it behaves when matter
not containing Nitrogen of the same consistence, whether fluid or solid, is
applied to the glands. It is also exquisitely sensitive to a weight of even
With the most sincere thanks for your very great kindness I remain dear Sir | yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin
P.S. 2nd. Did you ever see my little Book on the Fertilisation of Orchids by Insect Agency: the facts are really curious. If you have it not, shall I send you a copy? Do you think you would care about the Nat. Hist. and wonderful spontaneous movement of Climbing Plants. I wrote a little pamphlet on this subject— should you care for it?
My dear Sir
I have been anxiously expecting the plants for several days, but I suppose the ship was delayed by northern winds. At last they have just arrived; but most unfortunately the weather for the last week has been very cold, and the soil in the pots had become as dry as dust on a road, and the poor plants have suffered greatly. Some, however, look so green in the centre that I fully expect that they will recover; if only 2 or 3 leaves will grow, and the glands secrete the viscid fluid, I shall be able to make my observations, to which I look forward with great interest, for the whole structure is very different from Drosera.— I have had long consultations with my gardener, & we mean to treat them in different ways, & carefully observe what suits best.— I have hopes of deep pot kept dry in upper part, but standing in shallow saucer with water. I have put them in greenhouse, & will then try a warmer house on a few, & so on, for I have 4 Houses of different temperatures. I do hope that some will revive: if 2 or 3 revive I will give one to the Royal Bot. Garden at Kew, where it will be treasured. How wonderfully kind you have been, & what trouble you have taken in packing them. Not one pot broken!! This dreadful cold frost has been most unfortunate.—
Yours most truly obliged | C. Darwin
- f1 6661.f1See letters from W. C. Tait, 2 March 1869 and 5 March 1869.
- f2 6661.f2CD had carried out a series of experiments on Drosera and Dionaea between 1860 and 1862 (see Correspondence vols. 8--10); however, he decided to postpone this line of research until after Variation was completed (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Edward Cresy, 15 September ). The genus Dionaea has only one species, Dionaea muscipula, the Venus fly-trap.
- f3 6661.f3For CD's request to Joseph Dalton Hooker, see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 November .
- f4 6661.f4There is an undated rough draft in the Darwin Archive--CUL (DAR 61), with the title `On the movement of the leaves of the Drosera; & on their power of detecting nitrogenous compounds'.
- f5 6661.f5See letter from W. C. Tait, 2 March 1869.
- f6 6661.f6See letter from W. C. Tait, 2 March 1869 and nn. 14 and 15. CD confused the laugher pigeon (a variety of Columba livia) with the bird Tait had mentioned, the laughing dove (Streptopelia senegalensis).
- f7 6661.f7See letter from W. C. Tait, 2 March 1869 and n. 10. CD had considered the problem of beauty in Origin 4th ed., pp. 238--40.
- f8 6661.f8The fifth edition of Origin was published in May 1869 (Publishers' Circular, 1 July 1869, p. 386).
- f9 6661.f9See letter from W. C. Tait, 2 March 1869.
- f10 6661.f10See letter from W. C. Tait, 2 March 1869. CD had written to James Croll, `I wish that you would turn your astronomical knowledge to the consideration whether the form of the globe does not become periodically slightly changed, so as to account for the many repeated ups & downs of the surface in all parts of the world' (see letter to James Croll, 31 January ).
- f11 6661.f11CD refers to Orchids and Climbing plants.
- f12 6661.f12CD probably refers to Henry Lettington.
- f13 6661.f13Half of the last paragraph of the letter, from `interest' (line 7), and the valediction, have been transcribed from a facsimile in a sale catalogue; the rest has been transcribed from a copy made for Francis Darwin (DAR 147: 541).