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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Wilhelm Breitenbach1   11 September 1876

Hochgeehrter Herr Darwin!

Erlauben Sie mir, dass ich Ihnen meinen besten Dank ausspreche für Ihren freundlichen Brief vom 22ten August.2 Nachdem ich Ihre werthe Ansicht in Bezug auf meine Beobachtung an Orchis maculata kennengelernt habe, erachte ich es für passend, mit der Veröffentlichung derselben no〈ch〉 zu warten. Ich werde erst noch im nächsten Sommer weitere Beobachtungen derart zu machen suchen und die Sache an der Hand der in Ihrem “Fertilisation of Orchids” gegebenen Andeutungen genauer untersuchen.3  Bis jetzt besitze ich nur eine von mir selbst angefertigte handschriftliche Ubersetzung Ihres Werkes. Ich werde sehen, dass ich eine englische Ausgabe bekomme, in der ich die Sache dann genauer nachlesen kann.

Vor einigen Wochen hatte ich Gelegenheit, eine neue Bestätigung des schon von Lamarck gefundenen Gesetzes zu entdecken, dass bei andauerndem Nichtgebrauch die Organe geschwächt werden.4 Die Beobachtung wurde an Salvia officinalis gemacht. Bei den Blüthen von S. officinalis sind die unteren Staubbeutel viel kleiner denn die oberen, ja oft fehlen sie sogar gänzlich. Weder H. Müller noch John Lubbock haben eine Erklärung dieser Erscheinung gegeben.5 Die meinige ist folgende. Die besuchenden Hummeln berühren mit ihrem Kopfe die unteren Antheren. Mit dem Kopfe können diese Insecten aber niemals, wie sich aus einer Vergleichung der Blüthen und der Hummeln ergiebt, das Stigma berühren, wenigstens kann dies nur sehr selten vorkommen. Ich habe es niemals gesehen. Es würde also vollkommen nutzlos sein, wenn die unteren Antheren ebensoviel Pollen erzeugten wie die oberen. Die untern Antheren sind selten in Funtion, also können und müssen sie verschwinden, wenigstens aber an Grösse abnehmen. In der That finden wir alle möglichen Übergänge von fast vollkommen entwickelten Antheren bis zu gänzlichem Fehler derselben.

Aus allen Blüthen werden die unteren Anthern meiner Meinung nach niemals ganz verschwinden können, da doch dann und wann einmal ein Insect Pollen aus dieser Anthere auf das Stigma übertragen kann. Demnach ist die Anthere in einigen wenigen Ausnahmen allerdings noch von Nutzen; und daher erklärt es sich auch wol, wie ich annehme, dass die Antheren noch nicht ganz verschwunden sind.

Es freut mich sehr, dass Sie von meinen Beobachtungen an Primula elatior Gebrauch machen können.6 Ich werde in Bezug auf dimorphe und trimorphe Pflanzen diese Beobachtungen mit einem Freunde in ausgedehnter Weise fortsetzen.7 Nachdem wir eine Anzahl derartiger Beobachtungen gemacht haben, werde ich Ihnen dieselben mittheilen. Ich wollte ich könnte Ihre Schriften über dimorphe und trimorphe Pflanzen studiren.8 Bis jetzt kenne ich dieselben nur aus den Besprechungen in andern Büchern.

Bitte grüssen Sie mir Ihren Herrn Sohn Francis Darwin. | Inzwischen verbleibe ich Ihr ganz | ergebenster | Wilhelm Breitenbach

Lippstadt 11.9.1876.

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Appendix I.
The letter has not been found, but see the letter from Wilhelm Breitenbach, 26 July 1876.
In the event, Breitenbach did not publish observations on Orchis maculata (a synonym of Dactylorhiza maculata, the heath spotted orchid). For his preliminary observations, see the enclosure to the letter from Wilhelm Breitenbach, 26 July 1876. In Orchids, p. 19, CD had described the movement of the pollinium in Orchis mascula (the early purple orchid) not in Orchis maculata, but noted that the pollinia moved in roughly the same way in O. maculata.
The most detailed exposition of the transmutation theory of Jean Baptiste de Lamarck is in his Philosophie zoologique (Lamarck 1809). Lamarck called the rule that use or disuse caused structures to enlarge or shrink his first law; his second law stated that such changes were heritable (Lamarck 1809, 1: 235).
Hermann Müller had described the floral structure of Salvia officinalis (common sage) in Müller 1873, p. 323. Müller’s diagram (ibid., fig. 118) clearly shows the smaller size of the lower anther; he did not discuss the feature, but did refer to the more extensive description of the floral structure in Friedrich Hildebrand’s paper on fertilisation in Salvia (Hildebrand 1866). Hildebrand had observed that pollen from both anthers adhered to the abdomen and wings of the bee as it moved about within the flower (ibid., p. 464). John Lubbock had noted that the lower anthers sometimes contained no pollen, but that when the bee pushed against the lower anthers, the connectives of the stamens revolved on their axes, causing the upper anthers to brush the back of the bee (Lubbock 1875, pp. 149–50).
See letter from Wilhelm Breitenbach, 26 July 1876 and n. 8. CD added Breitenbach’s information on Primula elatior (the true oxlip) to Forms of flowers, pp. 34, 224, and 272 n.
Breitenbach’s friend has not been identified, however, at this time Breitenbach was a student of Hermann Müller at the Realschule in Lippstadt, so he was probably working with one of his fellow students (see Nöthlich 2009, p. 22). Breitenbach later published a paper on variability in Primula elatior (Breitenbach 1880).
Much of the material from CD’s earlier papers, ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria, and ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, was reworked in Forms of flowers, which was published in 1877.

Bibliography

Breitenbach, Wilhelm. 1880. Ueber Variabilitäts-Erscheinungen an den Blüthen von Primula elatior und eine Anwendung des ‘biogenetischen Grundgesetzes’. Botanische Zeitung, 20 August 1880, pp. 577–80.

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’: On the character and hybrid-like nature of the offspring from the illegitimate unions of dimorphic and trimorphic plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 20 February 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 10 (1869): 393–437.

Lamarck, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Antoine. 1809. Philosophie zoologique; ou exposition des considérations relatives à l’histoire naturelle des animaux; à la diversité de leur organisation … et les autres l’intelligence de ceux qui en sont doués. 2 vols. Paris: Dentu; the author.

Müller, Hermann. 1873. Die Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten und die gegenseitigen Anpassungen beider. Ein Beitrag zur Erkenntniss des ursächlichen Zusammenhanges in der organischen Natur. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann.

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.

‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’: On the sexual relations of the three forms of Lythrum salicaria. By Charles Darwin. [Read 16 June 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 169–96. [Collected papers 2: 106–31.]

Translation

From Wilhelm Breitenbach1   11 September 1876

Highly honoured Mr Darwin!

Allow me to thank you for your kind letter of 22nd August.2 Having acquainted myself with your valuable view regarding my observation on Orchis maculata, I thought it would be right to postpone publication. I will first try to make further observations of this kind next summer, and to study the matter more carefully, bearing in mind the suggestions in your “Fertilisation of Orchids”.3  So far, I have only a handwritten translation of your work that I produced myself. I shall endeavour to get hold of an English edition, so as to read up on the matter more carefully.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to discover a new confirmation of the law already discovered by Lamarck, that persistent non-use weakens organs.4 The observation was made on Salvia officinalis. In flowers of S. officinalis, the lower anthers are much smaller than the upper ones, often they are even missing altogether. Neither Müller nor John Lubbock have provided an explanation for this phenomenon.5 Mine is the following. Humble-bees that visit the flowers touch the lower anthers with their head. However, as can be seen by comparing the flowers with the humble-bees, these insects can never touch the stigma with their head, or at least this happens only rarely. I myself have never seen it happen. Therefore, it would be perfectly useless if the lower anthers produced as much pollen as the upper ones. The lower anthers are very rarely in operation, therefore they can and must disappear, or at least diminish in size. Indeed we find all kinds of transitional forms, from perfectly developed anthers to them being altogether missing.

In my opinion, the lower anthers will not entirely disappear from all flowers, since now and then an insect may transfer pollen from them onto the stigma. Accordingly, in a few exceptional cases the lower anther is after all still useful, and I assume that this is very likely why the lower anthers have not yet disappeared altogether.

I am very glad that you will be able to use my observations on Primula elatior.6 Regarding dimorphic and trimorphic plants, I shall continue my observations on an extended scale together with a friend.7 Once we have made a number of observations, I will pass them on to you. I wish I could study your papers on dimorphic and trimorphic plants.8 So far, I know them only from discussions in other books.

Please give my regards to your son Francis Darwin. | In the meantime, I remain Your | most devoted | Wilhelm Breitenbach

Lippstadt 11.9.1876.

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original German, see pp. 261–2.
The letter has not been found, but see the letter from Wilhelm Breitenbach, 26 July 1876.
In the event, Breitenbach did not publish observations on Orchis maculata (a synonym of Dactylorhiza maculata, the heath spotted orchid). For his preliminary observations, see the enclosure to the letter from Wilhelm Breitenbach, 26 July 1876. In Orchids, p. 19, CD had described the movement of the pollinium in Orchis mascula (the early purple orchid) not in Orchis maculata, but noted that the pollinia moved in roughly the same way in O. maculata.
The most detailed exposition of the transmutation theory of Jean Baptiste de Lamarck is in his Philosophie zoologique (Lamarck 1809). Lamarck called the rule that use or disuse caused structures to enlarge or shrink his first law; his second law stated that such changes were heritable (Lamarck 1809, 1: 235).
Hermann Müller had described the floral structure of Salvia officinalis (common sage) in Müller 1873, p. 323. Müller’s diagram (ibid., fig. 118) clearly shows the smaller size of the lower anther; he did not discuss the feature, but did refer to the more extensive description of the floral structure in Friedrich Hildebrand’s paper on fertilisation in Salvia (Hildebrand 1866). Hildebrand had observed that pollen from both anthers adhered to the abdomen and wings of the bee as it moved about within the flower (ibid., p. 464). John Lubbock had noted that the lower anthers sometimes contained no pollen, but that when the bee pushed against the lower anthers, the connectives of the stamens revolved on their axes, causing the upper anthers to brush the back of the bee (Lubbock 1875, pp. 149–50).
See letter from Wilhelm Breitenbach, 26 July 1876 and n. 8. CD added Breitenbach’s information on Primula elatior (the true oxlip) to Forms of flowers, pp. 34, 224, and 272 n.
Breitenbach’s friend has not been identified, however, at this time Breitenbach was a student of Hermann Müller at the Realschule in Lippstadt, so he was probably working with one of his fellow students (see Nöthlich 2009, p. 22). Breitenbach later published a paper on variability in Primula elatior (Breitenbach 1880).
Much of the material from CD’s earlier papers, ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria, and ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, was reworked in Forms of flowers, which was published in 1877.

Bibliography

Breitenbach, Wilhelm. 1880. Ueber Variabilitäts-Erscheinungen an den Blüthen von Primula elatior und eine Anwendung des ‘biogenetischen Grundgesetzes’. Botanische Zeitung, 20 August 1880, pp. 577–80.

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’: On the character and hybrid-like nature of the offspring from the illegitimate unions of dimorphic and trimorphic plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 20 February 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 10 (1869): 393–437.

Lamarck, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Antoine. 1809. Philosophie zoologique; ou exposition des considérations relatives à l’histoire naturelle des animaux; à la diversité de leur organisation … et les autres l’intelligence de ceux qui en sont doués. 2 vols. Paris: Dentu; the author.

Müller, Hermann. 1873. Die Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten und die gegenseitigen Anpassungen beider. Ein Beitrag zur Erkenntniss des ursächlichen Zusammenhanges in der organischen Natur. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann.

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.

‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’: On the sexual relations of the three forms of Lythrum salicaria. By Charles Darwin. [Read 16 June 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 169–96. [Collected papers 2: 106–31.]

Summary

His research on Orchis maculata.

Discusses effect of disuse of anthers in Salvia officinalis.

Pleased CD can use his observations on Primula elatior.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-10595
From
Wilhelm Breitenbach
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Lippstadt
Source of text
DAR 160: 292
Physical description
4pp (German) †(by Francis Darwin)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10595,” accessed on 6 April 2020, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-10595.xml

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

letter