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Darwin Correspondence Project

From M. T. Masters   24 January 1876

The Gardeners’ Chronicle Office, | 41, Wellington Street, Strand, W.C. | London

Jan. 24 1876

My dear Sir/

There is an article by a gardener of ability and intelligence in this week’s Chronicle àpropos of tendrils to which I venture to call your attention— the facts he adduces are very curious and I have no doubt they are accurately recorded—1

—At p. 72 of the “Origin” you allude to the inter-relations between plants living in association and to the changes in those relations consequent on slightly changed conditions &c—

As you allude to “many cases on record” I take the liberty of asking if you have any further note where such cases may be found?—2 I know of Dureau de la Malle’s paper3—scattered notices of Hooker’s4 and other botanists—and I am familiar with what Alph De Candolle says in his Geographie Botanique5   But I think there must be other cases wh. you had in view when you were writing the Origin— My object in putting the question is to see what has been written concerning the struggle for existence among pasture plants— As you know Mess Lawes & Gilbert have for years been trying the effects of various manures on grass land as well as on cereal & other crops—

The effects on the several grass plots are very remarkable the whole vegetation of the plot being in some cases altered  I have lately been engaged in tabulating and analysing the results obtained during the last twenty years and should like to co-relate the facts with others.6 If you can without inconvenience favor me with any reference to the literature of the subject which I am not likely to have seen I shall be greatly obliged—but pray do not put yourself to any trouble in the matter

faithfully yrs. | Maxwell. T. Masters


In his paper in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, ‘Bunches v. tendrils’ (Fish 1876), David Taylor Fish quoted extensively from the discussion of grape-vine tendrils in Climbing plants, pp. 137–9, where CD had concluded that they were modified flower peduncles. Fish described a method of increasing the yield in grape vines by weighing down flower-stalks, and suggested that when prevented from curling they could not degenerate into tendrils.
In his discussion of ‘mutual checks to increase’ (Origin, pp. 71–6), CD referred (p. 72) to the complex ‘checks and relations’ between organic beings that struggled together in the same country. He gave two examples, the colonisation by new species of an enclosed section of heathland planted with Scotch fir, and the indirect link between the size of local cat populations and the size of red clover populations (Trifolium pratense): if there were fewer cats to kill mice, the increased mouse population would result in increased destruction of the nests of the clover’s sole pollinators, humble-bees.
Adolphe Jules César Auguste Dureau de la Malle was one of the first to describe communities (sociétés) of plants, and to describe changes in local flora following the construction of new roads or the introduction of non-native species (Dureau de la Malle 1825; see especially pp. 359–60).
In the introduction to Flora Indica, Joseph Dalton Hooker discussed the effect of competition between plant species on their geographical distribution (Hooker and Thomson 1855, pp. 41–2). In his copy of the work, now in the Darwin Archive–CUL, CD marked the passage in which Hooker described the life of a plant as being ‘as much one of strife as that of an animal’. Hooker repeated much of the argument in his later paper ‘On the struggle for existence amongst plants’ (Hooker 1867).
In his Géographie botanique raisonée (A. de Candolle 1855), Alphonse de Candolle gave detailed observations of the factors affecting plant populations.
Joseph Henry Gilbert and John Bennet Lawes had been investigating the effects of different manures on meadowland at Rothamsted Agricultural Station since the 1850s and had sent CD a number of their research papers (see Correspondence vol. 23, letter from J. H. Gilbert, 24 July 1875). The first part of their account of their experiments, on the agricultural results, appeared in 1879; Masters co-authored the second part, on the botanical results (Lawes et al. 1879–99).


Candolle, Alphonse de. 1855. Géographie botanique raisonnée ou exposition des faits principaux et des lois concernant la distribution géographique des plantes de l’époque actuelle. 2 vols. Paris: Victor Mason. Geneva: J. Kessmann.

Climbing plants: On the movements and habits of climbing plants. By Charles Darwin. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green; Williams & Norgate. 1865.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Dureau de la Malle, Adolphe Jules César Auguste. 1825. Mémoire sur l’alternance ou sur ce problème: la succession alternative dans la reproduction des espèces végétales vivant en société, est-elle une loi générale de la nature? Annales des sciences naturelles 5: 353–81.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


He is surveying the literature on the struggle for existence among pasture plants. Asks CD for the "many cases on record" of changed relations among plants under slightly changed conditions alluded to in the Origin. [See M. T. Masters, J. B. Lawes and J. M. Gilbert "Agricultural, botanical, and chemical results of experiments on the mixed herbage of permanent meadow, conducted for more than twenty years in succession on the same land (pt 2, The botanical results)", Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 173 (1883): 1181–413.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Maxwell Tylden Masters
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Gardeners’ Chronicle
Source of text
DAR 171: 86
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10366,” accessed on 27 February 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24