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Darwin Correspondence Project


7, Great Charles St. | Birmingham.

June 17

My Dear Sir,

The above was cut from a paper at a distance & sent me yesterday. I feel flattered at the bracketting 

I am so full of my insectivorous plants that I cannot keep from writing about them, their interest is so intense.

I have quite failed to obtain any evidence of a conclusive character that the leaves absorb after having digested: but I notice that my Dionoea leaves open after macerating a blue bottle for 12 or 14 days, full of fluid & that fluid containing abundance of nitrogenous matter, runs down a channel on the leaf stalk to the root

For manure? Fancy each Dionoea leaf a little patent manure manufactory!4 

Now I find that the Aldrovandra  is stated to float on stagnant waters in the South of Europe, but I have never seen it and can’t find any statement that it is either fly-catching or fly digesting.5 If it is either it would rather tend to upset my view

Can it be got? I have tried many places but cannot hear of any source

There are some very curious facts in support of my sewage notion about the Sarracenia,6  but I must wait & see & not trouble you too much, only this seems to me such a quaint notion that I could not help writing it.

Yours faithfully, | Lawson Tait


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Lawson Tait, 16 June [1875].
The newspaper clipping was pasted to the top of the letter; its source has not been identified. Bashaw: an alternative spelling of ‘pasha’ (OED).
The book was Anne Marsh-Caldwell’s well-known Two old men’s tales ([Marsh-Caldwell] 1834), which was reissued in June 1875 (see Publishers’ circular, 1 July 1875, p. 462), following her death in 1874. Tait’s lecture to the Birmingham Natural History Society on the function of tails, which included material quoted from CD’s letter to him of [13–15 March 1875], was delivered on 5 April 1875 and summarised in the Birmingham Daily Post, 8 April 1875, p. 6. It was reprinted in Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip, June 1875, pp. 126–7 (Tait 1875a; see letter from Lawson Tait, 12 March [1875]).
Dionaea muscipula is the Venus fly trap. Tait had isolated a pepsin-like substance in the glandular fluid of Drosera dichotoma (a synonym of D. binata, the forked-leaf sundew; see first letter from Lawson Tait, 12 June [1875]). Tait evidently hypothesised that the function of the leaf was solely to dissolve prey, while the solution obtained (‘manure’) would be absorbed by the roots.
Aldrovanda (the waterwheel plant) has one extant species, A. vesiculosa; it has traps similar to those of Dionaea.
Sarracenia is the genus of trumpet pitchers and is native to North America. As with Dionaea muscipula, Tait evidently suspected that the pitcher only dissolved prey, while the resulting fluid (‘sewage’) would be absorbed by the roots.


[Marsh-Caldwell, Anne.] 1834. Two old men’s tales: the deformed, and the admiral’s daughter. 2 vols. London: Saunders & Otley.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Insectivorous plants: the means and site of absorption of digested animal matter. [Newspaper clipping enclosed.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Lawson (Lawson) Tait
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 12
Physical description
3pp encl

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10022,” accessed on 1 March 2021,

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