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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alfred Grugeon   14 January [1877]1

3 Laura Cottages | Capworth St | Leyton.

Janry. 14th.

Dear Sir

Pardon this intrusion on your privacy, and appropriation of your time. A paragraph in the Times newspaper, taken from the Gardeners magazine and signed Charles Darwin, asserts positively that the Holly is a Dioicious plant, and that the writer had never seen an hermaphrodite flower.:2 Is there not a mistake 〈some〉where. Bentham and Lindley both 〈write〉 of it as hermaphroditic.3 My own observations also confirm theirs, especially in my own neighbourhood.

But I do recollect that in the year 63 or 64 examining some Holly trees in bloom in the hedges of a field opposite the Fox at Heston, where there is a blacksmiths forge that the flowers were developed in a very irregular manner, some having the pistil matured or beginning to swell as if already fertilized, while the stamens of the same flower were not visible but lay conce〈a〉led at the base of the corolla hidden by the swollen ovary   A farther examination shewed other flowers with the stamens perfect, but the pistil only in a rudimentary condition, while others seemed to have both organs complete. I must however remark that the essential organs were much larger when seperate.

In Lindleys Flora Medica it is stated that the earlier flowers are more or less imperfect?4 Is it not probable that this imperfection may be more pronounced some seasons than others, and not confined to the early flowers.

Feeling deeply how much you have done for Botany, and being grateful for the pleasure your labours have given to me and all l〈overs of〉 nature, I am painfully anxious that y〈ou〉 should not be misunderstood, even by so obscure and small a person as Your very grateful admirer | Alfred Grugeon

P.S. I hav〈e〉 not touched the subject of the fruiting of the Holly, would therefore observe that the blossoms in some seasons are very sparse, and such was specially so in 1876 while 74 and 5 were unusually abundant, but under the most favourable circumstances there must be a great mortality amongst them, for never does the fruit bear a near relation in quantity, to the flowers

CD annotations

Verso of last page: ‘Thanks— anthers always present—but in the ♀ tree no pollen— In the ♂ trees the pistil present, but rudimentary— | Systematic botanists rarely attend to function’5 ink


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 3 January [1877].
See letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 3 January [1877]. The letter was reprinted in full in The Times, 11 January 1877, p. 7.
John Lindley, in A synopsis of the British flora (Lindley 1835, p. 74), described the genus of hollies (Ilex) as having flowers that were sometimes polygamous; that is, with bisexual and unisexual flowers on the same or different plants. In Handbook of the British flora (Bentham 1858, p. 361), George Bentham had described the flowers of the common British holly (Ilex aquifolium), but he did not distinguish between male and female flowers.
See Lindley 1838, p. 393.
CD’s annotations were notes for his reply to Grugeon; the reply has not been found. CD evidently planned to argue that systematic botanists merely described whether organs of both sexes were present, without regard to whether both were functional.


Bentham, George. 1858. Handbook of the British flora; a description of the flowering plants and ferns indigenous to, or naturalized in, the British Isles. London: Lovell Reeve.

Lindley, John. 1835. A synopsis of the British flora, arranged according to the natural orders; containing Vasculares, or flowering plants. 2d edition. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman.

Lindley, John. 1838. Flora medica; a botanical account of all the more important plants used in medicine, in different parts of the world. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans.


Believes CD is in error in his notice on the scarcity of holly berries [Collected papers 2: 189–90] in asserting that holly is not a hermaphrodite.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Grugeon
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 237
Physical description
4pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10788,” accessed on 13 May 2021,