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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. F. Cheeseman   23 October 1877

Museum, Auckland,

October 23, 1877

My Dear Sir,—

I forward to you a copy of a paper on the fertilisation of Selliera, one of the Goodeniaceæ, which perhaps you may care to glance over.1 When I wrote it I did not know of your notes on Leschenaultia, published in the Gardener’s Chronicle for 1871.2 In both plants the pollen is shed before the expansion of the flower, and neatly collected in the indusium, but in Selliera the stigma is situated within the indusium, and by its gradual upward growth after the flower expands slowly forces out the pollen, which is then transferred by insects to older flowers. When mature, the stigma protrudes considerably beyond the indusium. This appears to differ entirely from what takes place in Leschenaultia.

I have recently been much interested with the curious irritability displayed by the stigma of Glossostigma elatinoides, one of the Scrophularineæ.3 The style is dilated towards its apex into a broad spoon-shaped stigma, which, when the flower expands, is closely doubled over the four stamens, entirely concealing them from view. If the front of the bent part of the style is touched it at once springs up, uncovering the stamens, and moves back to the upper lobe of the corolla, to which it becomes closely applied. In this position it remains for a few minutes, and then slowly moves back to the stamens and curves over them as at first. It appears to me that this irritability of the stigma is simply a contrivance to insure cross-fertilisation, for an insect crawling into the flower must inevitably touch the stigma, which would then uncover the stamens. On withdrawing, the insect would be certain to dust itself with pollen, but it would not by this effect the fertilisation of the flower, for the stigma would be then closely applied to the upper lobe of the corolla, entirely out of its way. If the insect were, however, to visit another flower it is evident that it must come into contact with the stigma at its first entrance and would doubtless leave some pollen thereon. The movement of the stigma is remarkably rapid, and its apex must pass through an angle of at least 180o. I have been unable to find a record of a similar case, or of so pronounced a degree of irritability in the stigma of any plant. The movement of the lobes of the stigma in Mimulus is much weaker, and is through a much less angle.4

Yours faithfully | T. F. Cheeseman

Charles Darwin Esq., F.R.S.


Cheeseman’s paper ‘On the fertilization of Selliera’ (Cheeseman 1876) has not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL. Selliera is a New Zealand and Australian swampweed belonging to the family Goodeniaceae, which contains twelve genera.
CD’s paper ‘Fertilisation of Leschenaultia’ was published in Gardeners’ Chronicle, 9 September 1871, p. 1166. See also Correspondence vol. 19, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [31 August 1871]. Leschenaultia (a synonym of Lechenaultia) is in the family Goodeniaceae.
Glossostigma elatinoides is a New Zealand aquatic plant in the family Scrophulariaceae (figworts).
The genus Mimulus (monkey-flower), formerly in the family Scrophulariaceae, is now in the family Phrymaceae (lopseeds).


Cheeseman, Thomas Frederick. 1876. On the fertilization of Selliera. [Read before the Auckland Institute, 3 July 1876.] Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 9: 542–5.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

‘Fertilisation of Leschenaultia’. By Charles Darwin. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 9 September 1871, p. 1166. [Shorter publications, pp. 371–3.]


Sends his paper on Selliera fertilisation [Trans. & Proc. N. Z. Inst. 9 (1876): 542–5]; contrasts it to CD’s description of Leschenaultia [Collected papers 2: 162–5].

Describes the irritability of Glossostigma elatinoides which he concludes is a mechanism to ensure cross-fertilisation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Frederick Cheeseman
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Museum, Auckland
Source of text
Nature, 27 December 1877, pp. 163–4

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11204,” accessed on 8 December 2023,