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Darwin Correspondence Project

From P. H. Gosse   13 July 1863

Sandhurst. Torquay

July 13. 1863.

My dear Sir

I had not forgotten your former request about Ophrys apif.1 & having little time for searching, myself, I had put my young son into the service, who in his walks has collected me a few specimens.2 The results are as follows:—

Of 16 plants, 32 flowers were open: of these No. 1, with two fl. had the lower flower with one pollinium attached to stigma, the other poll. quite removed:—the upper flower had both poll. removed, but several of the cuneate pollen-masses were adherent to stigma. No trace of slugs or of gnawing visible on the plant.

No. 2, one fl. open; both pollinia removed, & no trace left. Upper sepal slightly gnawed: no trace of slugs.

No. 3— two fl. open, of which one had one pollinium removed: the other adherent to stigma

Thus out of the 32 flowers, two had lost both pollinia, & two had lost one each.3

I know not whether an experiment I tried has any value; it was to see if the wind were an agent in making the poll. come into contact with the stigma. Pollinia just escaped from anther cells, & still hanging unattached, I blew with my breath fitfully & strongly & in various directions; after many efforts I caused the poll. thus to adhere; & that in several instances.4

This is all I have been able to do in response to your first request.

On Saturday, after receiving your favour,5 I immediately went down to Petit Tor, where on former occasions we have found the Bee Ophrys; & spent some time in searching; but perhaps from the flowering being nearly over, & so the plants being inconspicuous in the rank herbage,—I could find but two plants. Each of these had one well-swollen ovary, & one recently opened flower— In each case the former showed both poll. adherent to stigma; the latter had the poll. still in the anther cells.

I will, however, pursue the search further; seeking plants in the slopes you mention, & other known habitats.

Will you be so good as to tell me whether you have a good collection of Orchids, & whether you have much in flower just now.

Believe me, dear Sir | Yours very truly | P. H. Gosse

Ch. Darwin Esqe

CD annotations

6.1 I know … request. 7.1] crossed pencil
9.1 I will … Gosse 11.1] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘Bee ’Ophrysink


CD had asked Gosse to observe whether insects ever removed pollinia from the bee ophrys, Ophrys apifera (see letter to P. H. Gosse, 2 June [1863] and nn. 12 and 13).
Edmund William Gosse was 13 years old.
Gosse’s observations were not included in the revised account of Ophrys apifera that appeared in the second edition of Orchids, pp. 52–9; however, CD observed (p. 55): From what I had … seen of other Orchids, I was so much surprised at the self-fertilisation of this species, that I examined during many years, and asked others to examine, the state of the pollen-masses in many hundreds of flowers, collected in various parts of England. For CD’s own observations of this species in 1863, see the notes, dated 9 July – 25 August, in DAR 70: 53–5 and 57.
CD had described observations similar to these in Orchids, pp. 64–5.
CD’s letter has not been found.


Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.


On CD’s request to observe bee Ophrys: PHG’s son collected 16 plants – of the 32 flowers, two had lost both pollinia, two had lost one each. He himself found two plants with pollinia adhering to the stigma.

Letter details

Letter no.
Philip Henry Gosse
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 78
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4240,” accessed on 22 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11