skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. G. More   17 July 1861

2 Hesketh Crescent, Torquay.

July 17, 1861

My dear Sir

If you are quite well and take walks, and if you are not utterly sick and weary of me and my requests, I should be very glad of 3 or 4 spikes of O. latifolia and O. maculata, with a few of the lower flowers withered. The point is this, that I find in the Kentish specimens that the O. latifolia is far less visited by insects than O. maculata; and as some Botanists doubt whether they are distinct species it would be rather curious to show them insects distinguish them.1 The specimens might be sent in brown paper, without trouble of Box, by putting them in water I could easily count the flowers with pollen-masses in and out. You will see that it is not worth much trouble. I am now writing my paper and I fancy that the points are sufficiently curious to make you not regret having with so much patience and kindness helped me.

I found the other day a lot of Bee Ophrys with flowers nearly all withdrawn, and with the glands of the pollinia all in their pouches. All facts point clearly to eternal self-fertilisation in this species; yet I cannot swallow the bitter pill.2 Have you looked at any this year?

Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

Footnotes

CD believed that the method of pollination of an orchid was a good indicator of specific identity (see letter to George Bentham, 22 June [1861] and n. 8). Although CD was unable to find conclusive evidence distinguishing Orchis latifolia from O. maculata on the basis of the number of pollinia removed by insects, he continued to consider them distinct species (see Orchids, p. 42).
In appearing to be an ‘eternal hermaphrodite’, the bee orchis, Ophrys apifera, challenged CD’s ‘law’ that all organic beings are occasionally fertilised by other individuals. CD conceded that this species was ‘specially adapted for self-fertilisation’. Nevertheless, he did not ‘swallow the bitter pill’, arguing that although he had never observed an instance in which a plant’s pollen masses had failed to reach its own stigmas, the morphology of the flower parts suggested to him that the bee-orchis might occasionally be cross-fertilised (see Orchids, pp. 65, 70, and Orchids 2d ed., p. 57).

Summary

Asks for specimen of Orchis latifolia and O. maculata. " … as some Botanists doubt whether they are distinct species it would be rather curious to show them insects distinguish them".

Found a lot of bee orchids. "All facts point clearly to self-fertilisation in this species; yet I cannot swallow the bitter pill."

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-3211
From
Charles Robert Darwin
To
Alexander Goodman More
Sent from
Torquay
Source of text
DAR 146
Physical description
4pp1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3211,” accessed on 23 February 2019, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-3211

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9

letter