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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Volney Rattan to Asa Gray   29 March 1880

San Francisco, Cal.,

March 29, 1880.

Dear Doctor Gray,—

I received your letter of the 17th. inst Saturday afternoon (the 27th.) and went immediately out to Lone Mountain where, on a sandy hill side, I found blossoming Megarrhiza climbing over shrubby Quercus agrifolia. Under the vines were germinating seeds growing in almost pure sand. I put a few of the flowers and seeds into a cigar box which is now on its way across the continent.

Having just returned from botanizing near Niles, twenty five miles south of here, I happened to have in my plant case Brodiae-a with forming bulbs, as well as bits of Pellae-a &c, which I thought might be more interesting packing than moss. The two long racemes came from vines on which I could find no fertile flowers. The stem with fertile flowers must have grown from a root whose last year’s growth produced, at least, two of the accompanying seeds. The seeds which have not begun to grow were found in a drift of oak leaves. The germinating seeds were covered to a depth of from one to three inches in sand as is shown by the appearance of the stems. In a few instances the seed was one or two inches to one side of the place where the sprout appeared above ground; but generally the plumule, preceded by the radicle, seems to have been pushed directly downward four to six inches by the elongation of the united cotyledon petioles, and these were split apart by the subsequent upward growth of the plumule. During the Christmas vacation I observed the germination of the same species(?) of Megarrhiza in the Live Oaks of the Mokelumne River on the line of the Central Pacific R.R. None of the dozen or more seeds examined had sprouts more than four inches in length. All the seeds were lying on the surface of the ground (a sandy loam), and were lightly covered with leaves. In every case the sprout went directly down into the ground, and the plumule was found undeveloped near the end of the sprout which showed no signs of splitting. One seed, not so well covered as the rest, had its sprout blackened and wilted by the frost at the surface of the ground, but the underground portion seemed fresh and I doubt not the plumule would have lived. The seeds begin to grow soon after the first heavy rains; and if the plumule appeared as soon as the radicle had obtained a two or three inch hold upon the soil, as is the way with acorns, it would surely be killed by the frosts.

Some seeds which I planted a year ago in a crayon box and another shallow box invariably grew as represented in my botany; i.e., the growth was horizontal and the plumules came up four or five inches away from where the seeds were planted. Possibly the nearness of the bottom of the box—though they did not touch it—caused the sidewise growth. Possibly, too, a downward growing sprout might, when stopped by an obstacle, by its elongation push the cotyledons above ground. I cannot say certainly that the seeds I experimented with last year were of the same species as those I send you, but I think they were. Last summer, for the first I made a little effort to clear up my uncertainties regarding the several species of Megarrhiza but I was not successful. I then determined to begin early this season and study thoroughly. I shall secure seeds from many different localities from vines which shall have previously furnished blossoms and leaves. I shall send you specimens of all I collect.

I shall try to find a bit of root in condition to grow and send it to you.

With this I send a package of Lepidium which puzzles me.

I collected it in San José a week ago. It seems to grow only on alkaline or salt flats. I found the same last year near Antioch. By-the-way I sent you in 1878 a package of Lepidium oxycarpum, Var. Strictum, Wat. of the Cal. Bot. collected in San Francisco. You did not acknowledge its receipt. I had previously sent specimens collected in San Joaquin Co. (Live Oaks) which were considered to be a possible variety of L. Menziesii. Isn’t it a well marked species?

Yours truly | V. Rattan.

Volney Rattan, | Girls’ High School, | San Francisco, | Cal.


Germination of Megarrhiza.

Letter details

Letter no.
Volney Rattan
Asa Gray
Sent from
San Francisco
Source of text
DAR 209.6: 206
Physical description
8pp †(by CD), 2 sketches

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12553,” accessed on 14 December 2017,