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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. T. Thiselton-Dyer   29 January 1878

Royal Gardens Kew

Jany. 29. 1878

Dear Mr Darwin

I have not got to the end of all the points on which you are so good as to allow us to help you. But this will be a first contribution to their solution.

Sir Joseph Hooker will have shown you some specimens of Cyclamen which Prof. Oliver very kindly looked out from our Herbarium for your inspection.1 The point they illustrate is very curious though not perhaps so interesting to you as you hoped might be the case.

The plant called “sowbread” is Cyclamen Europæum (see Enclosure A).2 In all the species of the genus except C. persicum the peduncles after flowering coil spirally so as to bring down the capsule to the level of the soil.3 They behave like Vallisneria see plate in Botanic Garden.4 Grenier & Godron very exact people say (B) de manière à enfouir la capsule.5 But Miller and Clusius (A & C) describe the capsules and probably with accuracy as only lying (incumbent) on the ground.6

Mr Bentham remarked to me that he thought this was likely to be of advantage to the capsules in more gradually maturing their seeds and kindly pointed out to me some observations made by himself nearly fifty years ago in his Catalogue des Plantes indigènes des Pyrénées on Helianthemum procumbens which he believed to be a variety of H. Fumana

si la variété les (graines) conserve plus long temps, c’est probablement parce que les branches étant étendues sur la terre, les capsules séchent moins vite. p. 857

He thinks that this is the probable origin of amphicarpic habits—a hint which may be worth consideration.8 Perhaps the accompanying note on Lathyrus setifolius may be useful.9

As to Arachis—I notice in your last book you speak of the peduncles drawing down the pods which I imagine must be an oversight. There is a fine plate of the plant in the Flora Brasiliensis and I notice that though the habit of the plant is decumbent the buried pods are produced from the lower two inches of the main stem so that it ought to be a matter of indifference whether the plant is trained on sticks or not.10

Next with respect to the names.

i The plant with a rosette of leaves “spiral” of which if I remember rightly the second example was dead is correctly named Echeveria pulverulenta, Nutt. and is from California. Baker having reduced Echeveria to Cotyledon it now becomes Cotyledon pulverulenta, Baker. It so happened, however, that another plant existed in gardens with the name Cotyledon pulverulenta. This was sent you & had decussateopposite” leaves, the successive pairs crossing   It is a native of the Cape and the name being apparently only a garden name it is best described as an unnamed form near C. orbicularis. I enclose Mr Baker’s memorandum D11

ii. The plant of which you so kindly gave me fruits is Araujia sericofera, Brot. The plant well known in gardens as Physianthus albens, Mart. appears to be the same species.12

iii. The Cactus is probably a garden hybrid. A plant in our Cactus house called Phyllocactus multiflorus seems to be identical. That name, however, seems to rest on no authority and if you are on that account dissatisfied with it you might call your plant a garden variety (of which there are many) of Cereus speciosissimus.13

iv. The Acacia with long narrow leaves = A. iteaphylla, Müll. This is a name with a little doubt attaching to it and Mr Bentham refers it to A. neriifolia, A. Cunn.14 The other Acacia “like A. cultriformis is A. buxifolia A. Cunn.

Mr Spencer Le Marchant Moore was so good as to determine these names.

v. The two ferns have been named by Mr Baker and to avoid confusion I enclose fragments in envelopes E & F15

It is a curious point as showing that “bloom” cannot have a very deep significance—that Polypodium aureum in its most general form is a virescent and not a glaucous species.16 The form with bloom has been seized upon by horticulturists as the most ornamental

vi. The “Lycopodium” is perhaps Selaginella Kraussii—but in a barren state they are difficult to determine with certainty.17

Returning to Cyclamen. You will notice some of Gay’s sketches of the Germination on the sheets brought by Sir Jos: Hooker.18 Also it will interest you to notice how excellent and keen an observer Clusius was.

Trattinick in his Archiv.19

[text missing]

dichotomy in leaves is almost unknown in phanerogams. In some of the large compound-leaved Aroids however the ultimate divisions of the leaf have a distribution of veins like Saporta’s sketch and I send a fragment (enclosed) of a remarkable plant which we have from West Africa which, size apart, has some similarity to the sketch20

[text missing]

[Enclosure 1]


Cyclamen Europæum — sowbread with an ivy leaf

after the flowers are fallen, the footstalks twist up like a screw, inclosing the germen in the center, and lay down close to the surface of the ground between the leaves, which serve as a protection to the seed

Miller. Gardeners’ Dictionary 6th. Ed. 1771

[Enclosure 2]


C. Europaeum

pédoncule ... se roulant en spirale après la fécondation de manière à enfouir la capsule

Grenier & Godrons, Flore de France ii, 459


Pédoncules roulés en spirale après l’anthèse (excepté dans le persicum)21

Grenier & Godron l.c.

[Enclosure 3]


Cyclamen europæum

ii (flores) marcescentes integri decidunt, capitulumque subsequitur, cum pediculo cui insidet in multas spiras se convolvens, donec terram attigerit, cui incumbens paulatim augescit, donec violæ martiæ seminarium vasculum magnitudine æquet, quod maturitate ab extremo mucrone aperitur, semenque ostendit in æquale, ex fusco fulvescens, quod terræ commissum, in germen non abit, sed in tuberculum aut radicalum convertitur, præter reliquorum seminum naturam, undea postea foliola promit.22

Clusius, Hist. i. 264

[Enclosure 4]

L. setifolius, L.

var amphicapos Gren. & Godron. Flore de Fr. 1. 491

Quelques gousses pliées sur elles-mêmes se développant à la base des tiges et s’enfoncant en terre23

[Enclosure 5]



This is not Cotyledon pulverulenta Baker, which is a native of California & belongs to § Echeveria but a Cape form, undescribed, near C. orbicularis, JGB


[Enclosure 6]


Nephrodium molle, Desv.24


CD annotations

1.1 I have … solution. 1.2] crossed pencil
4.2 capsules … kindly] underl red crayon
4.4 Helianthemum procumbens] underl red crayon
4.7 séchent moins vite 4.8] underl red crayon
8.1 i The plant … species. 9.3] crossed pencil
8.6 It … species. 9.3] ‘Names of Acacias & Ferns & Selaginella’ added pencil
10.3 you might … Cereus speciosissimus 10.4] double scored red crayon; ‘I traced the Nutation of this’ added pencil
11.1 iv. … Cunn. 11.3] scored red crayon
13.1 v. … ornamental 14.4] scored red crayon
15.1 vi. … Krausii] double scored red crayon
16.1 Returning … Archiv. 17.1] crossed blue crayon
Enclosure 2
2.1 C.] expanded to ‘Cyclamen’ pencil
4.1 Grenier] after ‘2’ ink circled ink
Top of enclosure: ‘Apoheliotropismpencil
Enclosure 4
1.1 L. setifolius, L.] ‘Lathyrus’ ink
Bottom of enclosure: ‘Dyer | Cyclamen lays its pods on the ground by the spiral curling of the petioles. | Form of Flowers’ ink
Enclosure 5
By 1st diagram: ‘A’ red crayon circled red crayon
By 2d diagram: ‘B’ red crayon
Verso: ‘A [red crayon] Cotyledon [above del ‘Echeveria’] pulverulenta Nutt: [interl] | B [red crayon circled red crayon] unnamed sp. from the Cape near to Cot. orbicularis’ ink
Enclosure 6
On envelope: ‘The fern of which I observed nutation whilst very young’ ink


CD had visited Joseph Dalton Hooker at Kew on 22 January 1878 (letter to Asa Gray, 21 [and 22] January 1878), and Thiselton-Dyer had visited Down from 26 to 28 January (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). Prof. Oliver: Daniel Oliver.
Cyclamen europaeum is a synonym of C. purpurascens.
Cyclamen persicum is florist’s cyclamen. CD described its movements in bringing the seed-pod to soil level in Movement in plants, pp. 433–5.
An engraving of Vallisneria spiralis (a synonym of Vallisneria americana, eelgrass) appears in Erasmus Darwin’s The botanic garden: a poem, part 2, facing p. 32 (E. Darwin 1789–91).
Charles Grenier and Dominique Alexandre Godron; see Grenier and Godron 1848–55, 2: 459. De manière à enfouir la capsule: so as to bury the capsule. See Movement in plants, pp. 433–5.
Carolus Clusius and Philip Miller; see Clusius 1601, pp. 263–6, and P. Miller 1771.
George Bentham; see Bentham 1826: ‘If the variety [procumbens] retains them [the seeds] for a long time, it is probably because, the stems being stretched on the ground, the capsules dry less quickly.’ Helianthemum procumbens is a synonym of Fumana procumbens (sprawling needle sunrose); H. fumana is an unresolved name.
Amphicarpic or amphicarpous: ‘having fruit of two kinds, either as to form, or time of maturation’ (OED).
See enclosure 4. Lathyrus setifolius is brown vetchling.
See Forms of flowers, p. 312 n. Arachis is a genus in the pea family (Fabaceae). The illustration of the peanut (A. hypogaea) in Martius ed. 1840–1906, 15.1: tab. 23 showed the development of the gynophore or stalk that buried the ovary in the ground, and this feature was noted in the key to the illustrations.
John Gilbert Baker considered Echeveria to be a subgenus of Cotyledon, but many authors treated it as a separate genus (see Refugium botanicum 1: t. 56 and preceding text). Echeveria is now considered to be a separate genus of the stonecrop family (Crassulaceae); many species formerly in Echeveria are now placed in the related genus Dudleya. Cotyledon pulverulenta (see Refugium botanicum 1: t. 66) is a synonym of Dudleya pulverulenta (chalk dudleya). CD had received a specimen of what was thought to be C. pulverulenta from Kew in 1877 (Correspondence vol. 25, letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 18 July [1877]). Cotyledon orbicularis: presumably C. orbiculata (pig’s ear), a species native to South Africa.
Physianthus albens is a synonym of Araujia sericifera (common moth-vine or cruel plant).
Cereus speciosissimus is a synonym of Heliocereus speciosus (sun cactus). CD referred to ‘Cereus speciosissimus (garden var., sometimes called Phyllocactus multiflorus)’ in Movement in plants, p. 206.
For Bentham’s suggestion that Acacia iteaphylla might be a synonym of A. neriifolia, see Bentham and Mueller 1863–78, 2: 363.
For envelope E, see enclosure 6; envelope F has not been found.
For CD’s interest in bloom, see the letter to Adolf Ernst, 16 January 1878 and n. 2. Polypodium aureum is a synonym of Phlebodium aureum (golden polypody).
CD discussed ‘Selaginella Kraussii (?) Lycopodiaceae’ in Movement in plants, p. 66. The name is now usually rendered as S. kraussiana (Krauss’s clubmoss); it is now in the family Selaginellaceae in the subclass Lycopodiidae.
Hooker visited Down from 9 to 12 February 1878 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). Gay: presumably Jacques Gay. The sketches have not been identified. Hooker purchased Jacques Gay’s herbarium in 1868 (L. Huxley ed. 1900, 1: 48).
Leopold Trattinnick; Trattinnick 1812–18 (Archiv der Gewächskunde: Archive of botany).
This text has been restored from CD’s quotation of it in his letter to Gaston de Saporta, 31 January 1878.
Grenier and Godron 1848–55, 2: 459, ‘Cyclamen europaeum: peduncle … turning itself in a spiral after fertilisation so as to bury the capsule. Cyclamen: peduncles turned in spirals after the flowering period (except in C. persicum).’
The passage, from Clusius 1601, may be translated as follows:

(the flowers), withering, fall down complete, and the head follows closely, twining itself in many spirals with the pedicel on which it sits, until they reach the ground, lying on which it begins to grow little by little, until it equals in size the seminal vessel of the March violet, and in maturity opens from the pointed end, and displays a uniform seed, the colour changing from dusky brown to tawny, which, when planted in the earth, does not develop a shoot, but is changed into a little tubercle or root, except for the residual property of the seed, from which it later produces little leaves.

Clusius refers to the plant as ‘Cyclamen with a scented purple flower’.
Grenier and Godron 1848–55, 1: 491, ‘some pods folded upon themselves extending at the base of the stems and sinking into the ground’.
See Movement in plants, p. 66, for CD’s observations and illustration of circumnutation of a young frond of this fern. The text is on an envelope containing a fern specimen, both sides of which are reproduced.


Bentham, George. 1826. Catalogue des plantes indigènés des Pyrènées et du Bas-Languedoc, avec des notes et observations sur les espèces nouvelles ou peu connues; précédé d’une notice sur un voyage botanique, fait dans les Pyrénées. Paris: Madame Huzard imprimeur-libraire.

Clusius, Carolus. 1601. Rariorum plantarum historia. Antwerp: Johannes Moretus.

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

Darwin, Erasmus. 1789–91. The botanic garden; a poem, in two parts. Pt 1. The economy of vegetation. London: J. Johnson. 1791. Pt 2. The loves of the plants. With philosophical notes. Lichfield: J. Jackson. 1789.

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

Miller, Philip. 1771. The abridgement of the Gardeners dictionary; containing the best and newest methods of cultivating and improving the kitchen, fruit, flower garden, and nursery; as also for performing the practical parts of husbandry: together with the management of vineyards, and the methods of making wine in England. 6th edition (abridged). London: the author.

Movement in plants: The power of movement in plants. By Charles Darwin. Assisted by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1880.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Refugium botanicum: Refugium botanicum; or, figures and descriptions from living specimens, of little known or new plants of botanical interest. Edited by William Wilson Saunders, descriptions by Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach and John Gilbert Baker. 5 vols. London: John Van Voorst. 1868–79.

Trattinnick, Leopold. 1812–18. Archiv der Gewächskunde. 2 vols. Vienna: the author.


Information on Cyclamen and other plants.

Identification of some plants.


Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11339,” accessed on 14 April 2021,