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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. T. Thiselton-Dyer   1 September 1876

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Sep 1. 76

Dear Dyer

I am very much obliged for the Catasetum, for it was new to me & I took great pleasure in examining it. But alas—it had quite lost its sensitiveness, though I kept it for many hours under a bellglass with a jug of hot water, which on other occasions has quite revived their sensitiveness1 I wish I had asked for the loan of the plant, though I doubt whether my hot-house is at present warm enough for the genus.

Gongora arrived in capital state and I ascertained the point about which I was curious.2 There was no Acropera in the box; but my gardener had overlooked a small plant which I possessed & it has just produced two flowers which have sufficed for my purpose.3 I can hardly make out Baron Reichenbach’s letter, but I hope he will not trouble himself to send me any specimens.4

I have been pleased to see the discs of the Vitis; & it is pretty to see how they have passed through the meshes & united on the other side5

With cordial thanks for all your great kindness— | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. | I will return the carnivorous pl⁠⟨⁠ants⁠⟩⁠ in two or three days6

Is the label tabulare?7 please answer on enclosed card


CD had asked Thiselton-Dyer for flowers of Catasetum in his letter of 3 August 1876. Flowers of the orchid genus Catasetum eject their pollinia when sensitive parts (the antennae) of the flower are touched. CD had described his experiments on the process in Orchids, pp. 222–7; he extended this discussion in Orchids 2d ed., pp. 185–90. Thiselton-Dyer may have sent a flower of C. tabulare (see n. 7, below).
In Orchids 2d ed., p. 170, CD described the difficulty he had trying to insert freshly removed pollen-masses into the narrow stigmatic cleft of a flower of the orchid genus Gongora; he noted that shrunken pollen-masses that had been left in the sun for several hours could be inserted without difficulty.
In his letter of 3 August 1876, CD had asked for racemes of Acropera, Acineta, or Gongora. Acropera is now a subgenus of Gongora. These genera are characterised by a narrow opening to the stigmatic chamber (see Orchids 2d ed., p. 169).
Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach, the director of the Hamburg botanic gardens, was an orchid specialist (ADB); the letter he wrote has not been identified.
CD discussed the tendrils of Vitis (the genus of grapes) in Climbing plants, pp. 79–83. He did not mention observing adhesive discs in Vitis, but described adhesive discs in Ampelopsis hederacea (a synonym of Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virginia creeper), also in the family Vitaceae (ibid., pp. 84–7).
The plants sent have not been identified.
Probably a reference to Catasetum tabulare, a species notable for the large triangular callus on the labellum or lip petal.


ADB: Allgemeine deutsche Biographie. Under the auspices of the Historical Commission of the Royal Academy of Sciences. 56 vols. Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot. 1875–1912.

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

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.


Thanks for Catasetum and other specimens.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Turner Thiselton-Dyer
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Thiselton-Dyer, W.T., Letters from Charles Darwin 1873–81: 45–6)
Physical description
LS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10585,” accessed on 15 July 2024,

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