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Darwin Correspondence Project


To Daniel Oliver   8 October [1861]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Oct 8th

My dear Sir

I am perfectly ashamed to trouble Hooker again.— Would you have kindness to look at well-opened flower of Stanhopea saccata & see whether any nectar is in hollowed out base or cup of Labellum; or in other species of Stanhopea, if they have hollowed out base or cup to Labellum.—

I have particular reason to enquire; but I daresay the plant will have none, though it ought to have some.—2 But Nature, as Agassiz says, does not lie,3 & therefore it must have nectar,—else a theory of mine is wrong which is clearly impossible!—

In Haste | Ever yours | C. Darwin


The year is given by the relationship to the letter to J. D. Hooker, 6–7 October [1861] and to the letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 October [1861].
The idea that Stanhopea flowers ‘ought’ to have nectar in the base of the labellum is explained in Orchids, pp. 282–3: ‘As in Epipactis the cup at the base of the labellum serves as a nectar-receptacle, I expected to find that the analogous cup in Stanhopea, Acropera, &c., would serve for the same purpose; but I never could find a drop of nectar in it.’
CD was fond of quoting this aphorism attributed to Louis Agassiz. See, for example, Correspondence vol. 6, letter to Asa Gray, 1 January [1857].


Asks DO to look for nectar in Stanhopea saccata labellum. CD’s theory predicts nectar should be present, but afraid there is none.

Letter details

Letter no.
Darwin, C. R.
Oliver, Daniel
Sent from
Source of text
Down House (MS 10: 31)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3279,” accessed on 24 October 2016,