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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   18 January 1877

Royal Gardens Kew

Jay 18/77

Dear Darwin

I have just received Ed 2 of Fertilization of Orchids which is most welcome, as I had lent Ed 1. till I had lost it—& was hard up for a copy.1

The Hoya seeds have not germinated & were I expect imperfect as regards the Embryo— I wish I had examined them.2

Wheat brought by Nares from Smith’s sound when the Polaris left it some 5 years ago has germinated splendidly.3 I am now planting a lot of various seeds which I sent out & which have been exposed to cold of -60o – -70o. A grain of Maize that was with the Polaris wheat has also grown   this being properly a tropical plant is remarkable— What a rum thing living protoplasm must be, so quickly to decompose in some seeds & resist change in others. That the freezing of its watery constituent (if it water is a constituent) should not affect its vitality is very wonderful.— A good man might make a splendid thesis on “vitality” in the abstract.

Jas Salter has been writing to me about another series of experiments on burying seeds—but I do not think he is prepared to carry it out in any but a crude form—4 I should be disposed to attack the problem in another way—viz to experiment on means of prolonging vitality of seeds which are notoriously short-lived   I have just knocked off another Edition of Primer corrected & improved—(the third 10,000) & am busy at new Ed. of Student’s British Flora, a horrid job.5

It seems an age since I have heard of you all.

Ever affy yrs | Jos D Hooker


Hooker’s name is on CD’s presentation list for Orchids 2d ed. (see Appendix IV).
CD had asked Hooker to examine plants of the tropical genus Hoya (waxplants) for imperfect flowers, particularly young flowers (see Correspondence vol. 24, letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 October [1876], and letter from J. D. Hooker, 8 December 1876).
George Strong Nares led the British Arctic expedition of 1875–6 (ODNB). An American expedition had been made in the Polaris, a vessel donated by the US Navy, in 1871–3 (see C. H. Davis ed. 1876). Triticum is the genus of wheat; maize is Zea mays.
Samuel James Augustus Salter had written a paper on the vitality of seeds after submersion in sea-water (Salter 1856). Salter’s letter to Hooker of 29 December 1876, mentioning experiments to be carried out on Salter’s land, ‘Boxing Field’ in Hampshire, is in the archive at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Directors’ Correspondence 101/24).
The third edition of Botany in Macmillan’s Science Primers series was published in 1877 (J. D. Hooker 1877b). The second edition of The student’s flora of the British Islands was published in June 1878 (J. D. Hooker 1878; Publishers’ Circular, 2 July 1878, p. 462).


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

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

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


JDH discusses his and others’ experiments on survival of seeds. Impressed with resistance of some seeds and rapid decomposition of others. He wonders about "vitality" in the abstract.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 104: 74–6
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10802,” accessed on 23 June 2021,