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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Burdon Sanderson   12 June 1874

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

June 12 1874

My dear Dr Sanderson

I have just read your article in Nature. It is very interesting, & in my opinion cd not be better done. I look forward to the next number, in which you will give your discovery; which the more I think of, seems to me the more important.1

I hear from Frank that your illustrations were capital.2 I did not answer your last note, as I had then much to do.3

I hope after a week or so to receive an account of your digestive experiments.

I must add that I have found another plant (Pinguicola) which catches flies & can also digest—4

yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. I read several years ago a paper in (I think) Report of Brit Assoc. by (I think??) Dr. Crum Browne or Dr Fraser on the physiological action of various salts & acids, when injected into the blood of animals. I think isomeric or isomorphous substances acted in nearly the same manner.5

I remember I though the paper extremely curious, but I never thought that it wd. concern me, so read it only for amusement.—

I have now tried so many acids & salts on Drosera, I shd. much like to read the paper again.

Ch. D.

A card with reference wd be amply sufficient.


Burdon Sanderson’s article ‘Venus’s fly-trap (Dionæa muscipula)’ appeared in Nature, 11 and 18 June 1874 (Burdon Sanderson 1874a). The article was the text of a lecture delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on 5 June 1874. In the first part Burdon Sanderson described the plant and discussed its digestive powers; in the second part he described his discovery of a nerve-like response in the leaf to electrical stimulation (Burdon Sanderson 1874a, p. 128).
Two illustrations accompanied the second part of Burdon Sanderson’s article; one was a diagram of his experiments, and the other was of electrical apparatus attached to a leaf of Dionaea (Burdon Sanderson 1874a, p. 128). Francis Darwin was studying medicine at St George’s Hospital, London, and was familiar with Burdon Sanderson’s physiological research.
The most recent extant letter from Burdon Sanderson is that of 26 May [1874], which CD answered in his letter of 27 May [1874].
CD had recently begun to investigate the digestive ability of plants of the genus Pinguicula (butterwort); see letter to Asa Gray, 3 June [1874] and n. 8.
Alexander Crum Brown and Thomas Richard Fraser’s ‘Report of the committee on the connexion between chemical constitution and physiological action’ was published in Report of the 39th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1869): 209–13. Brown and Fraser had concluded that the action of salts of ammonium bases on the motor nerves was always the same. In chemistry, isomeric compounds are those with the same material components but different crystalline forms, while isomorphic compounds are those with different material components but similar structure.


JSBS’s article in Nature ["Venus’s fly-trap", 10 (1874): 105–7, 127–8] could not have been better done.

Has found another plant, Pinguicula, which can catch and digest flies.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9489,” accessed on 19 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22