skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Brownen   30 January 1875

Jany 30th. 1875

Chas Darwin Esq MA, FRS. &c


Hearing from some friends that you were engaged on a work on “Carnivorous Plants” I have taken the liberty of calling your attention (if not already drawn) to the Hyoscyamus Niger as a plant of a peculiar & as I think carnivorous type.1 My attention was drawn to two large overblown plants about the middle of last August by the skeletons of insects & flies on & around them. Unfortunately it was too late in the season, the plants were too large, & I was far from my home on a journey so that my observations were few & indecisive— still I saw insects dead or dying amid the viscid (peptic?) hairs & this induced me to secure portions of the plants & a number of ripened fruits that I might be able to study the plant more carefully this year

As soon as it was convenient I removed some of the glandular hairs from the plant & placed them in a little water & added a small quantity of hard boiled white of egg in thin slices— these slices dissolved (digested?) after a few hours. If this plant requires a portion of animal food it is probably our largest British carnivorad and it explains somewhat why the Hyoscyamus is rather difficult to cultivate & that it luxuriates on rubbish, in corners & other unlooked for places—the haunts of insects.

I thought these notes might probably interest you— hoping however I may be forgiven if I have trespassed on your time or written on a subject already known to you as true or otherwise.

I am | yours respectfully | Geo Brownen FCS


CD published Insectivorous plants in July 1875 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). Hyoscyamus niger (henbane) can be toxic to animals. CD had tested Drosera rotundifolia (common sundew) with extract of hyoscyamus and concluded that it did not act on the plant as a narcotic or poison (Insectivorous plants, p. 206). He did not discuss Hyoscyamus as an insectivorous plant.


Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.


Suspects a plant he has found, Hyoscyamus niger, is insectivorous. Its hairs in water caused dissolution of egg-white.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Brownen
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, New Bond St, 143
Source of text
DAR 160: 336
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9835,” accessed on 28 January 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23