skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. T. Thiselton-Dyer   16 July 1878

Royal Gardens Kew

July 16. 1878

Dear Mr Darwin

I was just on the point of writing to you to send inclosed seeds of Glossostigma just recd. from New Zealand. You may remember the account of the sensitive stigma of the plant in Nature.1

Diplacus glutinosus a near ally of Mimulus 〈has a〉 most splendidly sensitive stigma.2 My friend Prof. Church finds that it does not respond to a drop of water.3

He is working here in the laboratory on variegated leaves. He finds some extraordinary differences in the chemical constitution of the green and etiolated portions. The most singular is 〈the〉 high percentage of water in the living state. I inclose you some of his figures.4

We have no Thalia in flower just now but I have told Mr Lynch to look out.5 Most of the Marantaceæ seem to do something of the kind, and Mr Nicholson our Curator’s clerk has published some observations on Calathea in Gard. Chron. July 22, 76 p. 1126   There is also a paper which I daresay you know in the Botanische Zeitung for 1870 on Calathea7

Have you noticed in Gard. Chron. June 29. 78 p. 826 that Dr Masters mentions the revolving movement of the leading shoot of Abies Nordmanniana8

My conscience pricked me for having behaved rather churlishly but

CD annotations

4.5 on Calathea] after ‘p. 617’ interl pencil
5.1 Have … Nordmanniana 5.2] scored pencil; ‘611, 620 | 679’ added pencil, del pencil
6.1 My … but] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘See to Hermann Müller’ ink; ‘for any other References’9 pencil


Thomas Frederick Cheeseman had sent an account of the irritability of the stigma of the New Zealand aquatic plant Glossostigma elatinoides to CD in October 1877; CD had forwarded the letter to Nature for publication (see Correspondence vol. 25, letter from T. F. Cheeseman, 23 October 1877; Nature, 27 December 1877, pp. 163–4).
Diplacus glutinosus is a synonym of Diplacus aurantiacus ssp. aurantiacus (orange bush monkey-flower); its two stigma lobes close rapidly in response to touch. Mimulus is the genus of monkey-flowers.
Arthur Herbert Church was professor of chemistry at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.
Church carried out his research in the Jodrell Physiological Laboratory in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and presented the initial results of his work in a paper titled ‘A chemical study of vegetable albinism’ at the Chemical Society on 21 November 1878; the first part was published in 1879 (Nature, 28 November 1878, p. 90; Church 1879–86). The enclosure containing Church’s percentages of water in white and green leaves of the same age and grown in the same conditions has not been found, but his figures showing that white leaves contained more water than green ones were published in Church 1879–86, part 1, pp. 33–4.
CD had requested that he be sent any species of Thalia in flower at Kew (see letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 14 July [1878]). Richard Irwin Lynch was the foreman of the Kew propagation department.
George Nicholson was clerk to the curator at Kew, John Smith. Nicholson’s paper in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 22 July 1876, p. 112, was titled ‘On the fertilisation of the flowers of some Marantaceous plants’. Calathea is a genus of plants in the family Marantaceae.
Friedrich Hildebrand had described his own detailed observations of the structure of the reproductive organs of Maranta zebrina (a synonym of Calathea zebrina, zebra-plant) in a review of the first part of Federico Delpino’s work on dichogamy (Delpino 1868–75; see Hildebrand 1870, pp. 617–19 and table 10, figs. 2–9).
The Gardeners’ Chronicle, 29 June 1878, p. 826, reported that the movements of the leading shoot of the conifer Abies nordmanniana (Caucasian fir) were as vigorous in June 1878 as they had been when noticed the previous year: CD had asked whether Thiselton-Dyer could lend or give him any fir tree in a pot in his letter to Thiselton-Dyer of 18 June [1878]. Maxwell Tylden Masters was the editor of the Gardeners’ Chronicle.
Hermann Müller discussed Maranta zebrina in H. Müller 1873, pp. 86–7, and referred to Hildebrand 1870.


Church, A. H. 1879–86. A chemical study of vegetable albinism. Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions 35: 33–41; 37: 1–6; 49: 839–43.

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

Delpino, Federico. 1868–75. Ulteriori osservazioni sulla dicogamia nel regno vegetale. 2 parts. Milan: Giuseppe Bernardoni. [Originally published in Atti della Societa Italiana di Scienze Naturali Milano 11 (1868): 265–352; 12 (1869): 179–233; 13 (1870): 167–205; 17 (1874): 266–407.]

Müller, Hermann. 1873. Die Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten und die gegenseitigen Anpassungen beider. Ein Beitrag zur Erkenntniss des ursächlichen Zusammenhanges in der organischen Natur. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann.


Sends specimens.

Sensitive plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Turner Thiselton-Dyer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 103
Physical description
inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11612,” accessed on 16 June 2021,