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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   19 November [1862]1

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

Nov. 19th

Dear Sir

I am much obliged for your letter which is full of interesting matter.2 I shall be very glad to look at the capsule of the Acropera when ripe & pray present my thanks to Mr McNab.3 I shd. like to keep it, till I could get a capsule of some other member of the Vandeæ for comparison; but ultimately all the seeds shall be returned in case you would like to write any notice on subject:4 It was as I said only “in desperation” that I suggested that the flower might be a male & yet occasionally capable of producing a few seeds.5 I had forgotten Gärtner’s remark;6 in fact I know only odds & ends of Botany & you know far more. One point makes the above view more probable in Acropera than in other cases,—viz the presence of rudimentary placentæ or testæ; for I cannot hear that these have been observed in other male plants. They do not occur in male Lychnis dioica;7 but next spring I will look to male Holly Flowers.—8

I fully admit difficulty of similarity of stigmatic chamber in the two Acroperas.9 As far as I remember the blunt end of pollen-mass would not easily even stick in the orifice of the chamber. Your view may be correct about abundance of viscid matter, but seems rather improbable.10

Your facts about female flowers occurring when males alone ought to occur is new to me: if I do not hear that you object, I will quote the Zea case on your authority in what I am now writing on the varieties of the Maize.—11

I am glad to hear that you are working on the most curious subject of Parthenogenesis.12 I formerly fancied that I observed female Lychnis dioica seeded without pollen.13 I send by this post a paper on Primula, which may interest you.14 I am working on this subject, & if you shd. ever observe any analogous case I shd be glad to hear. I have added another very clever pamphet by Prof. Asa Gray.—15 Have you a copy of my Orchis Book? if you have not, & would like one, I shd. be pleased to send one.—

I plainly see that you have the true spirit of an Experimentalist & good observer. Therefore I ask, whether you have ever made any trials on relative fertility of varieties of plants (like those I quote from Gärtner on the varieties of Verbascum)16   I much want information on this head, & on those marvellous cases (as some Lobelias & Crinum & Passiflora) in which a plant can be more easily fertilised by the pollen of another species than by its own good pollen.—17

I am compelled to write in haste. With many thanks for your kindness. | Dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin.


The year is established by the relationship to the letter from John Scott, 15 November [1862].
Letter from John Scott, 15 November [1862].
No publication by Scott on this subject has been found.
The reference to the remark by Karl Friedrich von Gärtner has not been identified; John Scott apparently referred to this remark in the missing portion of his letter of 15 November [1862].
CD had been interested in the ‘gradation in sexes’ in species of holly for some time, and had unsuccessfully sought assistance from Asa Gray earlier in the year (see letters to Asa Gray, 21 April [1862] and 10–20 June [1862], and letter from Asa Gray, 18 May 1862).
See letter from John Scott, 11 November 1862. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 [November 1862].
CD was preparing a draft of the part of Variation dealing with ‘Facts of variation of Plants’ (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)). The case to which CD refers was apparently described in the missing portion of the letter from John Scott, 15 November [1862]; see also letter from John Scott, [20 November – 2 December 1862]. Scott described this case, in which female flowers appeared on a male panicle of Zea mays, in Scott 1864a; CD referred to the paper in Variation 1: 321.
In April 1839, John Stevens Henslow had told CD that, while Lychnis dioica was generally dioecious, the male parts in female flowers (and vice versa) were only ‘very slightly abortive’, and that a ‘bed of female flowers will sometimes produce a few seeds’ (Notebooks, p. 434). However, although CD planned to examine the pollination mechanism in this species (see Notebooks, p. 499), and later carried out experiments on the effects of external conditions (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. S. Henslow, 16 June [1856]), no notes have been found describing the observation mentioned here. See also Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Daniel Oliver, 7 December [1861] and n. 5.
‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’.
A. Gray 1861.
‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’, p. 91 (Collected papers 2: 58–9). CD discussed Karl Friedrich von Gärtner’s experiments on Verbascum, in which crosses between differently coloured varieties of the same or of different species were found to produce less seed than the parallel crosses between similarly coloured varieties, in Origin, pp. 270–1. In September 1861, he told Joseph Dalton Hooker that he had decided to test Gärtner’s experiments, stating: ‘I do not think any experiment can be more important on Origin of species; for if he is correct, we certainly have what Huxley calls new physiological species arising’ (Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 28 September [1861]; see also Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI). CD unsuccessfully sought the requisite specimens from a number of botanical acquaintances (see Correspondence vol. 9, letters to J. D. Hooker, 18 October [1861], 23 October [1861], and this volume, letter to C. C. Babington, 20 January [1862]), and also attempted to use a wild specimen for the purpose (see letter to W. E. Darwin, 4 [July 1862] and n. 4). Scott carried out the suggested experiments in 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 11), publishing his results in Scott 1868; CD cited Scott’s work in Variation 2: 106–7.
See Origin, pp. 249–51.


Praises JS’s experimenting.

Has he ever studied the relative fertility of varieties? CD very interested in this subject.

Discusses Acropera.

Wants to quote JS on Zea [Variation 1: 321].

CD sends his Primula paper [Collected papers 2: 45–63].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott
Sent from
Source of text
AL & Copy
Physical description
AL 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3814,” accessed on 25 June 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10