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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. S. Wilson   23 February 1878


Feb: 23. 1878

Dear Sir

I am obliged to you for having kindly sent me the first specimen ever manufactured of Ægilops flour.1 I suppose M. Godron’s explanation was correct, and that M. Fabre’s stock was hybridised by wheat.2 About 30 years ago I cultivated Ægilops, but could see no trace of change.3 If you could spare me a few grains in their husks I should much like to observe what you describe of the difficulty of the radicles in finding an exit.4 A dozen grains would amply suffice. I have read several of your papers with much interest, and hope that you will continue your experiments, as there are so few in Britain who experimentize on plants. I cannot avoid differing from you on some points, for instance on the pollen from the exserted anthers of wheat being useless.5 I was pleased to find the other day that Herr Rimpau concludes that the different varieties of wheat behave very differently with respect to self-fertilisation, and I think he has proved that some varieties are cross-fertilised; for this was the conclusion at which I roughly arrived many years ago.6 If you have not seen & would like to see Rimpau’s papers from a German periodical—giving the results of his experiments—I believe I could find them and should have much pleasure in lending them you.7

Pray believe me, dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Charles Darwin


In Variation 1: 313 n., CD had discussed the interpretation of Esprit Fabre’s conclusion in Fabre 1855, p. 175, that Aegilops ovata (a synonym of A. geniculata, ovate goatgrass) was the original ancestor of wheat (Triticum sativum). He referred to Dominique Alexandre Godron’s experiments, described in Godron 1859, 1: 169, which showed that Aegilops triticoides was a hybrid between wheat and A. ovata, and concluded: ‘The frequency with which these hybrids spontaneously arise, and the gradual manner in which the Æ. triticoides becomes converted into true wheat, alone leave any doubt on the subject’.
In 1856, CD had grown Aegilops from seeds obtained from John Stevens Henslow and reported, ‘it has not varied’ (see Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. S. Henslow, 6 August [1856], and Experimental notebook, p. 1 (DAR 157a)).
CD may have wanted to observe the radicles for his work on Movement in plants, but he discussed the splitting of the seed coat only in the case of Mimosa pudica (Movement in plants, p. 105).
A copy of Wilson’s two-part article ‘On the fertilisation of cereals’ (Wilson 1874–5) is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. Wilson had discussed the pollen from exserted anthers of wheat in Gardeners’ Chronicle, 21 March 1874, pp. 375–6 (see also Cross and self fertilisation 2d ed., p. 370 n.).
Wilhelm Rimpau discussed the varying degrees of self-sterility in different varieties of wheat in Rimpau 1877a, p. 199. For CD’s earlier conclusions, see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Journal of Horticulture, [before 9 July 1861], and Variation 1: 313–15 and 2: 104–5.
Rimpau’s papers on the cultivation of new grain varieties and the self-sterility of rye appeared in Landwirthschaftliche Jahrbucher (Rimpau 1877a and 1877b). Rimpau sent the papers to CD in 1877 (see Correspondence vol. 25, letters to Wilhelm Rimpau, 16 January 1877 and 13 December [1877]); copies are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.


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

Cross and self fertilisation 2d ed.: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1878.

Fabre, Esprit. 1855. On the species of Ægilops of the south of France, and their transformation into cultivated wheat. Translated from the French. Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England 15: 167–80.

Godron, Dominique Alexandre. 1859. De l’espèce et des races dans les êtres organisés et spécialement de l’unité de l’espèce humaine. 2 vols. Paris: J. B. Baillière.

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

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.

Wilson, Alexander Stephen. 1874–5. On the fertilisation of cereals. [Read 12 February 1874 and 11 February 1875.] Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh 12 (1876): 84–95, 237–42.


Thanks for specimen of Aegilops flour.

Comments on ASW’s papers.

Cites paper by Wilhelm Rimpau on self- and cross-fertilisation in wheat ["Die Züchtung neuer Getreide-Varietäten", Landwirtsch. Jahrb. 6

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alexander Stephen Wilson
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 148: 361
Physical description
C 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11372,” accessed on 20 September 2023,