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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   15 August 1878

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R. [Abinger Hall, Surrey/ Barlaston Hall, Staffordshire.]

Aug. 15th. 78

My dear Gray.

Dr. Hugo de Vries, who has done such excellent work on climbing plants & at my suggestion wishes to make some observations on the tendrils of Echinocystis lobata (I think this is the right name, but I am writing away from home) of which you formerly sent me seeds.—1 He has tried everywhere to get seeds & I have offered to write to you.— If you can I beg you to send him seeds addressed

to Prof. Hugo de Vries | Amsterdam

He is Prof. of Botany there.

I see that we are both elected Com: Members of the Institut. It is rather a good joke that I shd be elected in the Botanical section, as the extent of my knowledge is little more than that a daisy is a compositous plant & a pea a leguminous one.—2

Ever yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

I am very anxious for De Vries to test one of my observations on Echinocystis.—3


CD met De Vries on 14 August 1878 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). In 1862, CD had obtained seeds of Echinocystis lobata (wild cucumber), a plant native to North America, from Gray (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 24 November 1862 and n. 11). CD’s notes on his experiments with this species, dated 16 June to 29 July 1863, are in DAR 157.2: 29–51.
CD had been elected a corresponding member of the botanical section of the Académie des sciences of the Institut de France on 5 August 1878 (see letter from J.-B. Dumas and Joseph Bertrand, 5 August 1878 and n. 2). Daisies are in the family Compositae (a synonym of Asteraceae) and peas are in the family Leguminosae (a synonym of Fabaceae); CD alludes to the fact that he had never worked on botanical taxonomy.
In Climbing plants 2d ed., pp. 180–1, CD described an experiment he performed on a twining tendril of Echinocystis lobata that showed that the convex side of the tendril did not increase in length as the tendril coiled around a stick, and concluded that the curvature resulted from contraction of the cells on the concave side. De Vries had written articles in which he suggested that curvature in tendrils of Cucurbita pepo (field pumpkin) was caused by differential growth in the tendrils (Vries 1873a and 1873b).


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–.


Climbing plants.

Requests seeds of Echinocystis lobata for Hugo de Vries.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Abinger Hall Down letterhead
Source of text
Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University (124)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11659,” accessed on 13 April 2021,