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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Berthold Carl Seemann   24 April 1862

22. Canonbury Square | London N.

April 24, 1862

Dear Sir.

That passage to which you allude in your letter I have copied out for your information. It is found in Botany of the Voyage of H.M.S. Herald. p. 67. (4to. London. 1852–57.).1

I also enclose a prospectus of a new work I am going to bring out, if a sufficient number of subscribers be forthcoming.2 I understood Dr. Hooker to say that you were deeply interested in an exploration of the Sandwich or Hawaiian Islands; and had offered to give £50 to anyone attempting it in a thoroughly scientific manner.3 It has always been my ardent wish to investigate the Flora of the South sea, and publish a good synopsis of it, and I have made up my mind to do, as soon as I have placed all the information accumulated during my last trip upon record, which I find some difficulty in doing as I have no assistance from Government, and was so ill paid during the time I was engaged in the Fiji’s that I lost a good deal of money by my trip.4

As a preliminary to a Flora of Polynesia I am preparing a list of all the plants known from there.5

Yours very truly | Berthold Seemann.

More than five years ago I adopted as my motto a passage from your book. ‘A traveller should be a botanist, for in all views plants form the chief embellishment’.6

I adopted it my Botany of the Herald,7 and many people have agreed with you in thinking that without botanical knowledge it is impossible to describe scenery with any approach to correctness. | B S


“Mountains exceeding 2000 feet in elevation, situated principally in Western Veraguas, possess a vegetation which resembles in many respects that of the Mexican highlands;9 one in which the forms of the torrid region are harmoniously blended with those of the temperate. Alders and Blackberries are found with Fuchsias and Salvias; the common Brake10 grows in company with Lupins and Ageratums; Oaks and Palms are intermigled; fine large flowers are abundant. The genera represented are: Styrax, Rondeletia, Salvia, Lopezia, Fuchsia, Centradenia, Ageratum, Conostegia, Lupinus, Hypericum, Freziera, Galium, Smilax, Euphorbia, Rhopala,11 Equisetum, Clematis, Chorisia,12 Verbena, Condaminea, Inga, Solanum, etc. The Oaks, like most tropical ones, are scarcely higher than 30 feet, resembing neither in size nor in grandeur those which our heathen forefathers worshipped; their branches are smooth and devoid of that rugged appearance which renders those of the northern species so picturesque.”

Extracted from Berthold Seemanns Botany of the Voyage of H.M.S. Herald. p. 67. (London. 1852–1857. Quarto. 484 pages, and 100 plates.).13

NB. The oaks here alluded to are: Quercus Seemanni, Lieb., Q. bumelioides. Liebm., and Q: Warscewiczii14 Liebm.

CD annotations

Top of enclosure: ‘April 25—1862’ ink
Bottom of enclosure: ‘As in Himalaya, Fernando Po & here, temperate forms get mingled with Tropical, apparently from neighborhood of Temperate forms. so it would have been in Glacial Period’ ink15


[The text of this letter was published in Correspondence vol. 10 and the enclosure in Correspondence vol. 13; the footnotes from both have been combined and amended here.] CD’s letter has not been found.
The enclosure has not been found, but probably related to Seemann’s Flora Vitiensis, which was published by subscription (see Seemann 1865–73, p. ii, and n. 4, below).
In 1860, Seemann had travelled to Fiji as naturalist with a mission of inquiry to advise the British government about an offer of cession by the islands’ king. His official report, ‘On the resources and vegetable products of Fiji’, was presented to parliament and later published (Seemann 1862). In addition, Seemann had been led to expect government assistance with the costs of publishing a flora of the islands, but none was forthcoming, and he was obliged to finance his Flora Vitiensis from his own resources (Seemann 1865–73, pp. i–ii).
In an ‘Advertisement’ on the paper wrapper of the first part of Seemann 1865–73, Seemann stated: In working up this ‘Flora Vitiensis’ I have gone through the whole Polynesian plants found between lat. 30o N and 30o S., and it is my intention to publish the results of this investigation in a separate form. Seemann died before the last part of the Flora Vitiensis was published, and his projected ‘Flora of Polynesia’ never appeared.
Journal of researches, p. 604.
The quote to which Seemann refers is printed on the title-page of Seemann 1852–7.
The passage is taken from a description of the flora of the isthmus of Panama. The extract, copied by hand with minor alterations and spelling errors, is from Seemann 1852–7, p. 67.
Veraguas is a province in west central Panama that extends across the entire isthmus from Mosquitos Gulf in the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
The printed version does not have ‘common’.
A synonym of Roupala.
Now included within Ceiba.
See n. 2, above.
The correct spelling is Q. warszewiczii Liebm.
In Origin, pp. 365–82, CD discussed the migration of plants during a former glacial period. He proposed that during such periods plants from temperate zones could have migrated towards the equator and, in many cases, become naturalised in tropical areas. He suggested that mountain ranges such as the Himalayas could have acted as ‘lines of invasion’ for temperate species (ibid., p. 378); see also this volume, Supplement, letter to J. D. Hooker, [14 November 1858]. Joseph Dalton Hooker provided CD with information about temperate plants found on Clarence Peak, Fernando Po, off the coast of West Africa; these plants showed an affinity to the vegetation of Abyssinia, 1800 miles distant (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, [5 May 1862] and n. 4, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 May [1862] and n. 6). CD added Hooker’s information, which he considered to be further proof of migration, to Origin 4th ed., pp. 445–50 (see also Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VIII and n. 47).


Encloses a passage from his book, The botany of the voyage of H.M.S. "Herald" [1852–7].

Discusses possibility of publishing work on flora of Hawaiian Islands.

Letter details

Letter no.
Berthold Carl Seemann
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Canonbury Square, 22
Source of text
DAR 177: 130, DAR 50: E28
Physical description
4pp encl 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3518,” accessed on 25 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10 and 13 (Supplement)