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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles and Francis Darwin to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer   14 February [1876]1

Down | Beckenham | Kent

Feb 14. 1875

Dear Dyer

Will you be so kind as to tell me the name of the common greenhouse vars of Cinerarea such as the enclosed.2 They have thick stems which I think cannot be called woody. I want to know because they offer one of those curious cases of a plant absolutely sterile with its own pollen, but fertile with that on any other plant of the same or another variety.

Secondly—I have a great straggling bush 7 or 8 feet high of an unnamed sp of Pleroma from Kew. It bears large & really handsome purple flowers. Shall I return it; but if so I think it must be cut back. I enclose seeds of which if as is probable of no value may be thrown away.3

Thirdly: I hope that you & Hooker will read the second paragraph of a letter by Fritz Müller in next Nature about the little excrescences in Cecropia closely like those on the tips of the leaflets of the Bulls horn Acacia described by Belt. Müller speaks of them as containing albumen but Frank at present finds not much of this but on the other hand an abundance of oil globules.4 This production of food for the protective ants seems to me extremely curious, and Frank wishes to trace the developement & nature of these bodies. Would you therefore ask Hooker to get one of the bull’s horn acacias propogated for us. I have written to Müller to ask for seeds of the Cecropia; but if you can find time after you have read Müller letter, will you look at any Cecropias in your houses, to see whether you can find anything of the kind that he describes; and if so have a plant propagated for us.5 I must tell you an odd coincidence. I mistook in Müllers letter and read Ceropegia & so went & looked at my C. stephanotis and lo & behold at the place where the petiole joins the leaf I found five or 6 little conical bodies something like the excrescences on Cecropia but of a black colour.6

Believe me dear Dyer | Yrs sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S I received an uncommonly nice note from R. Lankester about Linnean Soc. affair.—7

I continue my fathers letter with, I am ashamed to say, one more request; pray forgive me for troubling you in this way. I enclose the papers in which Dr Hooker was so good as to send me some grass seeds, would you kindly let me have their names written on them clearly— I have failed to make them out with Steudel.8 Also would you let me know how morphologically to describe the awn of Stipa compared with that eg of Avena? I send one as a reminder— The twisting research has turned out v interesting I think & I have all but finished my paper & drawings—9 I was delighted at the collapse of the blackballers & at Lankesters triumphant entry10

Yours sincerely | Francis Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Thomas Moore to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 15 February 1876. Francis Darwin, the amanuensis, evidently wrote 1875 in error.
Florist’s cineraria (Pericallis x hybrida) is a hybrid of endemic species from the Canary Islands, P. cruenta and P. lanata, and possibly other species. The genus name Cineraria is now mostly restricted to South African species (Cron et al. 2006).
Pleroma is a synonym of Tibouchina, a neotropical plant genus of the family Melastomataceae. An entry in the Inwards book (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) for 21 February 1876 records the receipt of seeds of Pleroma from CD; the receipt of a plant of Pleroma is recorded on 3 March 1876.
Müller’s letter to CD of 25 December 1875 (Correspondence vol. 23) was printed in Nature, 17 February 1876, pp. 304–5. Müller had enclosed specimens of the small white bodies (now known as Müllerian bodies) found on the cushion-like structure (now called the trichilium) at the base of the petiole of leaves of Cecropia (the embauba or trumpet-tree). Francis was evidently studying their nutrient composition. Joseph Dalton Hooker had sent CD a specimen of bull-horn acacia in 1874 (see letter to Fritz Müller, [9 February 1876] and n. 2).
An entry in the Outwards book (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) for 17 February 1876 records the dispatch to CD of Acacia cornigera (bull-horn acacia) and Cecropia peltata (the embauba or trumpet-tree).
Ceropegia stephanotis is a synonym of Marsdenia floribunda (stephanotis or Madagascar jasmine).
Edwin Ray Lankester’s letter to CD has not been found. Lankester had been elected a member of the Linnean Society on 3 February 1876; CD and Francis had made a trip to London in order that they could attend the meeting and vote for Lankester (Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1875–6), p. iii; see letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, [4 February 1876] and n. 2).
Hooker had sent Francis grass seeds from India (see Correspondence vol. 23, letter from J. D. Hooker, 23 October 1875). There is an annotated copy of Ernst Gottlieb Steudel’s Nomenclator botanicus (Steudel 1841) in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 788–9).
Francis was studying the ability of some awned seeds to bury themselves in the ground; most of his research was based on observation of seeds of Stipa pennata (feather grass). Avena is the genus of oats; Francis used A. elatior (a synonym of Arrhenatherum elatius, false oat grass) in his experiments. His paper ‘On the hygroscopic mechanism by which certain seeds are enabled to bury themselves in the ground’ appeared in Transactions of the Linnean Society in June 1876 (F. Darwin 1876c).
When Thiselton-Dyer first proposed Lankester for membership in the Linnean Society in 1875, Lankester was blackballed by several members because the Council had proposed remission of his fees. See Correspondence vol. 23, letter from J. D. Hooker, 2 December 1875. See also n. 7, above.


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

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Steudel, Ernst Gottlieb. 1841. Nomenclator botanicus: seu: synonymia plantarum universalis, enumerans ordine alphabetico nomina atque synonyma, tum generica tum specifica, et a Linnaeo et a recentioribus de re botanica scriptoribus plantis phanerogamis imposita. 2d edition. 2 parts. Stuttgart and Tübingen: J. G. Cotta.


Asks for identification of a Cineraria which is self-sterile.

Fritz Müller’s letter on Cecropia [see 10384].

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10391,” accessed on 8 August 2020,

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