skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [c. 20 February 1878]1

The cotyledon of grasses is a puzzle. There are three theories.

1. That the scutellum is the cotyledon

2. That the upper part of the scutellum is the cotyledon

3. That the first growth from the uppermost plumule2 is the cotyledon & the scutellum is only a development of the axis (radicle).


According to A. Gray in annexed sketch of maize a = cotyledon b = plumule c = radicle.3


The objection to this theory is, That when b grows—the back of its first leaf is dos a dos to a

Wherefore Sachs says that a cannot be cotyledon for if it were b would face it.4

Van Tieghem gets over the difficulty by supposing b. to be the ligule of the undeveloped plumule of the cotyledon a—which is a wriggle worthy of yourself!5

Sachs of course considers b to be the cotyledon.

G Henslow wriggles out of the difficulty by supposing the 2d. cotyledon of all monocots to be suppressed, & assuming that the first plumular leaf of grasses faced the suppressed cotyledon.6


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the memorandum from George Henslow, [c. 20 February 1878].
In grasses, the plumule is the first shoot within the embryo.
See A. Gray 1857, p. 16.
For Julius Sachs’s views of the structures of grass seeds, see Sachs 1875, pp. 541–3.
See Tieghem 1872, pp. 265–7. Van Tieghem homologises the ligule of the vegetative leaf with the pileole (coleoptile) of the cotyledon, and views the scutellum, lobule (i.e. epiblast), and coleoptile as parts of the specialised cotyledon of grasses. CD and Hooker had a running joke in their correspondence about ‘wriggling’ in arguments; see, for example, Correspondence vol. 5, letter to J. D. Hooker, [3 November 1854].
See memorandum from George Henslow, [c. 20 February 1878]. On the disputed structures in the seeds of grasses, see also Rendle 1904–25, 1: 233–5. For a discussion of seedling organs in monocotyledons, see Tillich 2007.


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

Gray, Asa. 1857a. First lessons in botany and vegetable physiology, illustrated by over 360 wood engravings, from original drawings, by Isaac Sprague. To which is added a copious glossary, or dictionary of botanical terms. New York: G. P. Putnam; Ivison & Phinney.

Rendle, Alfred Barton. 1904–25. The classification of flowering plants. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sachs, Julius. 1875a. Text-book of botany: morphological and physiological. Translated and annotated by Alfred W. Bennett, assisted by W. T. Thiselton-Dyer. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Tieghem, Philippe van. 1872. Observations anatomiques sur le cotylédon des graminées. Annales des sciences naturelles (botanique) 5th ser. 15: 236–76.

Tillich, Hans-Jürgen. 2007. Seedling diversity and the homologies of seedling organs in the order Poales (monocotyledons). Annals of Botany 100: 1413–29.


Discusses the structure of grass embryos; states differing theories regarding which part of the seed corresponds to the cotyledon.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 209.4: 432
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11220,” accessed on 6 February 2023,