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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Alfred Newton   29 March [1864]

Down, Bromley | Kent

March 29th.

My dear Sir

Since receiving your letter of Oct. 21st.,1 I have been, & am still ill; but I managed to examine the partridges leg—2 the toes, & tarsus were frightfully diseased, enlarged & indurated. There were no concentric layers in the ball of earth, but I cannot doubt that it had become slowly aggregated, probably the result of some viscid exudation from the wounded foot.3 It is remarkable, considering that the ball is 3 years old, that 82 plants have come up from it—12 being monochot. & 70 dichot. consisting of at least 5 different plants—perhaps many more.4 The bird limping about during the autumn would easily collect many seeds on the viscid surface. I am extremely much obliged to you for sending me this interesting specimen.

I am, dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin


See Correspondence vol. 11, letter from Alfred Newton, 31 October 1863; CD was mistaken about the date of Newton’s letter.
These comments are evidently extracted from CD’s annotations attached to a portion of Newton 1863 that Newton had sent with his letter of 31 October 1863; this portion is in DAR 205.9: 366. CD’s observations read: ‘Earth broken open; no concentric arrangement— Whole tarsus crooked enormously enlarged & one toe cut off— probably viscous secretion. Three Oats were extracted from larger fragments   Leg clay weighed about 13 of oz.— Seeds planted Nov. 13th/63/’. In his letter of 31 October 1863 (Correspondence vol. 11), Newton wrote that when he exhibited the foot to the Zoological Society of London on 21 April 1863, John Edward Gray, who was keeper of the zoological collections at the British Museum, argued that the ball of earth had not accumulated gradually; for Newton’s argument to the contrary, see Newton 1863, pp. 128–9.
CD included this information in the fourth edition of Origin, p. 432, adding that the monocotyledons included the common oat (see n. 3, above), and at least one other kind of grass, and that the dicotyledons included at least three distinct species. These results supplemented his study of the geographical dispersal of seeds in the 1850s (see Correspondence vols. 5 and 6); he discussed this subject in Origin, pp. 356–65 (see also Origin 4th ed., pp. 425–35).


Eighty-two plants have germinated from earth on wounded partridge’s foot.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alfred Newton
Sent from
Source of text
CUL (Alfred Newton papers)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4440,” accessed on 19 August 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12