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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. T. Moggridge   12 December 1869

Maison Gastaldy | Mentone | (Alpes Maritimes)

Dec. 12 1869.

Dear Mr. Darwin

I have obained a few seeds of Lathyrus Clymenum L. & Lath: Ochrus DC. to send you, & these I enclose.1

I find that my botanical friends generally have never thought of collecting seed of such common plants as these for growing, so that I fear I shall not be likely to obtain more for you before next year.

I hope however that these may germinate. Some weeks ago I collected the small quantity of seed of Lath: Clymenum L. which I send, by looking under the low bushes which were still covered with the dead haulm & gaping pods of this plant. I was much struck by the scarcity of the seeds when compared with the abundance of the pods, &, as the few seeds which I secured were obtained by searching in the thickest & thorniest places, I feel sure that they have been eaten for the most part by birds & mice.—

This fact serves to point out an additional advantage which climbing plants gain, beside support & abundance of light, namely the opportunity of shedding their seeds, or some of them, in places secure from the depredation of animals.

I now remember that I obtained last year a good supply of fallen seed from the cruelly-spiny Astragalus Tragacantha L. by searching underneath the matted branches, which act as protection from all ordinary intruders .... .... …

I have now, in my little plot of garden here, two seedling plants of Ophrys aranifera Huds., which sprang the self-sown seed of capsules produced by the artificial fertilization of a plant which I had moved from the wild ground last spring.2

I am much surprised to find that the seedlings are nearly as large as the thriving parent plant, thus indicating an extremely rapid growth— —.

I find some difficulty in reconciling M. Delphino’s statement as to the sterility of Oph: aranifera Huds. with the fact that it is abundant in all this region, the plant being one which can only be propagated by seed—3 Moreover, whenever I have attempted the fertilization of this subspecies, fine capsules have been developed.

There are, no doubt, a great many obstacles to the germination of the seed; & this the example of my solitary pair of seedlings tends to shew, for I fertilized a considerable number of plants in the same plot of garden-ground; & the two fine capsules of the successful plant must have furnished seed enough to sow the whole garden, yet only the two seedlings appeared—

My tiny plot of garden was left absolutely untouched during the months from May to October, & I returned to find it a jungle of weeds. This may have injured the chances of the Ophrys seeds; but, on the other hand, I find that very few plants have been materially injured, & some have certainly gained by the shade which was afforded by the tall, much-branched intruders.

A plant of Convolvulus sabatius Viv, a perennial of somewhat woody growth, & which does not twine in its native habitat, was curiously affected, the branches being greatly lengthened & ‘drawn’, so that in several instances they twined round one another, one pair of stems making 8 complete turns—!

I have been able to carry on & to extend my observations on Arbutus, & hope to get some good results from them…4

I have satisfied myself that the offspring do in some cases closely reproduce the details of the parents, but I still think that close resemblance is rare. I have obtained a curious record of the difference between the individuals in respect of their season of flowering, differences which, reckoned as they are by months, must expose the plants to very different conditions.

That these & similar differences of condition are either secondary in their influence, or without influence, I have now gathered some evidence to shew.

I am now collecting the details of variation in seedling plants, & in luxuriant shoots springing from trees which have suffered from cutting .... … My general observations lead to the conclusion that there is in Arbutus Unedo L. a great amount of variability, but that among these variable forms a peculiar type of fruit—the globose-depressed—prevails— But as on the same tree the fruits do not always present the same shape, three forms being sometimes found together, I cannot avoid speculating whether there may not have been, or may not be, a selective process at work among the individual fruits, as there has been or may be among the individual trees; for these polymorphic individuals always have one predominant type of fruit, the three forms not being found together in equal or nearly equal numbers.

These differences among the fruits of one branch, are certainly not due to any circumstance such as position, crowding or the like, & there is great reason to suppose that they are due to independant variation—

I must, however, apologise for the liberty I take in troubling you with details which are, I fear, too incomplete to be of interest   I hope, if my health continues to improve, to get my notes into order for publication before the summer; trusting that the Linnean Society will not reject them on account of the minute, &, to some, perhaps tedious, details, & the cost of reproducing a large series of illustrations.5

Believe me | yrs. very sincerely | J. Traherne Moggridge.

I hope that you will not scruple to give me any commissions which you think I can do for you— I esteem all such as favours recieved.

CD annotations

1.1 I have … intruders .... .... … 5.3] crossed blue crayon
13.1 I have … conditions. 13.5] scored blue crayon


See letter from J. T. Moggridge, 18 September 1869. Lathyrus ochrus is the cypress vetch; L. clymenum the Spanish vetchling.
For Moggridge’s earlier work on Ophrys aranifera (the spider orchid), and CD’s interest in it, see Correspondence vols. 13 and 14.
Moggridge evidently refers to Federico Delpino’s statement in Delpino 1868–75, part 1: 177, that in Liguria hardly one flower of Ophrys aranifera out of 3000 set a capsule; see Orchids 2d ed., pp. 50–1. See also Delpino 1867b, pp. 19–20, and ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 144 (Collected papers 2: 141).
On Moggridge’s earlier observations of an Arbutus (madrone) species, see the letter to J. T. Moggridge, 7 June 1869, and letter from J. T. Moggridge, 16 September [1869].
The Linnean Society did not publish a paper by Moggridge on Arbutus.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Delpino, Federico. 1868–75. Ulteriori osservazioni sulla dicogamia nel regno vegetale. 2 parts. Milan: Giuseppe Bernardoni. [Originally published in Atti della Societa Italiana di Scienze Naturali Milano 11 (1868): 265–352; 12 (1869): 179–233; 13 (1870): 167–205; 17 (1874): 266–407.]

‘Fertilization of orchids’: Notes on the fertilization of orchids. By Charles Darwin. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 4 (1869): 141–59. [Collected papers 2: 138–56.]

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.


Sends seeds of Lathyrus and suggests an advantage of climbing plants is to shed their seeds in places secure from animals.

Contrary to F. Delpino, in JTM’s experience Ophrys aranifera is not sterile. However, seed germination is poor.

In a densely overgrown plot Convolvulus sabatius, not normally a twiner, becomes one.

Continues his extensive study on variability in Arbutus, and speculates on selection in fruit shape.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Traherne Moggridge
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 214
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7027,” accessed on 19 November 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17