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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. H. Farrer   10 August [1869]1

Down. | Beckenham | Kent. S.E.

Aug. 10th.

My dear Mr Farrer

Your view seems most ingenious & probable; but ascertain in a good many cases that the nectar is actually within the staminal tubes. One can see that if there is to be a split in the tube, the law of symmetry, would lead it to be double & so free one stamen.2

Your view, if confirmed, would be extremely well worth publication before Linnean Soc.3 It is to me delightful to see what appears a mere morphological character proved to be of use; it pleases me the more as Carl Nägeli has lately been pitching into me on this head:4 Hooker, with whom I discussed subject, maintained that uses wd. be proved for lots more structures, & cheered me by throwing my own orchids into my teeth.5

All that you say about changed position of peduncle in bud, in flower & in seed is quite new to me, & reminds me of analogous cases with tendrils. This is well worth working out, & I daresay the brush of the stigma.—6

With respect to the hairs or filaments (about which I once spoke) within different parts of flowers.— I have a splendid Tacsonia with perfectly pendent flowers, & there is only a microscopical vestige of the corona of coloured filaments; whilst in most common passion-flowers, the flowers stand upright & there is the splendid corona which apparently wd catch pollen.—

On lower side of corolla of Foxglove there are some fine hairs, but these seem of not least use,—a mere purposeless exaggeration of down on outside,—as I conclude after watching the Bees at work, & afterwd covering up some plants; for the protected flowers rarely set any seed, so that hairy lower part of corolla does not come into contact with stigma, as some Frenchman7 says occurs with some other plants, as Viola odorata & I think Iris.

I heartily wish I could accept your kind invitation, for I am not by nature a savage, but it is impossible—8

Forgive my dreadful handwriting, none of my women-kind are about to act as amanuenses—

Pray believe me | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

I am going to publish some notes on Orchids & will send you a copy: I give, but with utmost brevity, your correction of my two errors.—9


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from T. H. Farrer, 8 August 1869.
See letter from T. H. Farrer, 8 August 1869. Farrer cited CD on symmetry in the double aperture in Farrer 1872, p. 501.
Although Farrer wrote up his observations on fertilisation in papilionaceous flowers in the autumn of 1869 and sent them to CD, he did not send them to the Linnean Society; they were published in Nature in 1872 (Farrer 1872; for the history of the paper, see ibid., p. 478).
Carl Wilhelm von Nägeli had criticised CD’s theories in Nägeli 1865; see letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 January 1869 and n. 1.
See Correspondence vol. 16, letters to J. D. Hooker, 25 December [1868] and 29 December 1868; see also this volume, letter from J. D. Hooker, 15 January 1869.
The French botanist has not been identified.
CD cited Farrer in ‘Fertilization of orchids’, pp. 144, 146, for the information that the pollinia of both Ophrys muscifera and Peristylus viridis underwent a movement of depression.


THF’s view, if confirmed, pleases CD in that what appears a mere morphological character is found to be of use. Carl Nägeli has been attacking him on this head.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Henry Farrer (1st Baron Farrer)
Sent from
Source of text
Linnean Society of London (LS Ms 299/8)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6859,” accessed on 24 May 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17