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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. T. Thiselton-Dyer   19 July [1878]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

July 19th

My dear Dyer

You have done me the greatest service which one man can do another, viz saved me from perhaps making a fool of myself; for I thought of sending a note or short paper on Thalia to Linn. Soc.— But now after reading Delpino’s admirable account of Maranta (I will hereafter look to Mr Nicholsons, for I have ceased to keep copies of Gardeners’ Chronicle) I am afraid to publish until examining more flowers & all mine are withered; so I must wait till next year, for Thalia-flowers could not be sent by post.2 Reading Delpino & examining the beautiful supply of flowers of Maranta & Calathea received this morning quite fresh (pray thank Mr Lynch)3 shows me that I must be very cautious, though I still believe that sensitiveness has here been added to Thalia. I have wasted a good deal of time, but have seldom enjoyed anything more than making out the action of every detail of structure. I shall not want any more flowers of Thalia or maranta, for as I said in the case of Thalia it wd. be necessary to have the plant on the spot.

There are many other interesting things in your letters; how very odd about the water in variegated leaves.—4

I have carefully tried seedlings of Quercus pannonica with glass filament in front of vertical glass & can see no signs of any conspicuous movement in the leaves.—5

I shd be the most unreasonable man in the whole universe, if I had dreamed of your getting me a young Pinus in a pot: I have sent my gardener to one large nursery-garden near here, but he did not succeed, but I shall try elsewhere.—6

Good Heavens what a bother it must be looking over many examination papers, if they are at all like the ones sent!7

I rejoice to hear at last a good account of Mrs. Dyer.—8

I do not doubt that you underrate greatly your Geograph-Distrib: Lecture.9 I think one always does so at first, & then afterwards one can see the merits of one’s own work.

With very many thanks | Farewell | C. Darwin

P.S. Since the above was written I have worked again at the maranta flowers & the liberation of the pistil is certainly, as Delpino says, purely mechanical. To my surprise 4 more Thalia flowers have opened, & I still think that here we have irritability; but I do not see yet how I can decide.—

My Arachis hypogea plant is dying & I have extreme wish to observe flower-peduncle (this, I know is not right name) burying the pod.—10 If you can aid me in this pray do. I so much wish to observe & compare all sorts of movements. But alas I want rest, & on Aug 7th my wife is going to take me for 17 days holidays: oh Lord how I wish that they were over.11

I have not succeeded in getting any stems which are negatively heliotropic; but I am now observing the tendrils of Bignonia capreolata from Kew, & these are finely negatively heliotropic. I think that you told me once that some roots are positively or negatively heliotropic: can you aid me with such.?12

Heaven forgive me for being so troublesome.

When I began I had no intention to write so unconsciably long a letter


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 16 July 1878.
Having closely observed flowers of Thalia dealbata (powdery alligator-flag), CD suggested that the pistil appeared to be sensitive to touch (letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 14 July [1878]). In his reply, Thiselton-Dyer had suggested that CD look at work by Federico Delpino and George Nicholson (see letter from W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 16 July 1878 and nn. 6 and 7). In descriptions of species of the family Marantaceae (arrowroot) and other species similar to Thalia dealbata, both Delpino and Nicholson described the hooded staminode rather than the pistil as the sensitive organ and the subsequent movement of the style as an effect of the release of the staminode. CD had originally intended to send a paper on the subject to the Linnean Society.
Richard Irwin Lynch.
Quercus pannonica is a synonym of Q. frainetto (Hungarian oak).
CD had asked whether Thiselton-Dyer could lend or give him a small fir tree in a pot, noting that his own specimen of Pinus pinaster (maritime pine) was too small (see letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 18 June [1878]). Thiselton-Dyer had evidently offered to source a specimen of Pinus, since he could not supply one from Kew. CD’s gardener was Henry Lettington.
CD must have seen some of the examination papers written by students taking the botany classes taught by Thiselton-Dyer as part of Thomas Henry Huxley’s practical biology course at the Department of Science and Art in South Kensington (see Green 1914, pp. 528–37).
Harriet Anne Thiselton-Dyer had been unwell following the birth of her first child on 9 April 1878 (see letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 19 [May 1878] and n. 9).
Thiselton-Dyer had delivered a lecture titled ‘Plant-distribution as a field for geographical research’ at the Royal Geographical Society on 24 June 1878; he was revising it for publication (Thiselton-Dyer 1878). There is an offprint in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
CD had received Arachis hypogaea (peanut) from Kew in July 1877 (see Correspondence vol. 25, letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 9 July [1877], n. 2). The plant did not flourish, and CD had already asked for a replacement in order to observe the elongation of the gynophore, the stalk that supports the ovary, after fertilisation, allowing seeds to be buried in the ground (see letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 20 [May 1878] and n. 11).
Emma Darwin and CD were on holiday visiting family from 7 to 22 August 1878 (CD’s ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
In Climbing plants 2d ed., p. 99, CD had noted that the tendrils of Bignonia capreolata (crossvine) avoided light. He later replaced the term ‘negative heliotropism’ with ‘apheliotropism’, which had been coined by Henry Jackson in 1877 (see Correspondence vol. 25, letter from Henry Jackson to Francis Darwin, 18 November 1877; Movement in plants, p. 5).


Climbing plants 2d ed.: The movements and habits of climbing plants. 2d edition. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

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

Green, J. Reynolds. 1914. A history of botany in the United Kingdom from the earliest times to the end of the 19th century. London and Toronto: J. M. Dent & Sons. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.

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

Thiselton-Dyer, William Turner. 1878. Lecture on plant-distribution as a field for geographical research. [Read 24 June 1878.] Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London 22 (1878–9): 412–45.


Federico Delpino on mechanical movements of flower parts of Maranta. CD’s observations on Maranta, and his eagerness to compare cases of movement and irritability in plants.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11616,” accessed on 27 November 2021,