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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugo de Vries   17 August 1878

Buecker’s Hotel | G. Hohly, | Proprietor. | 1, 2, 3, 4, Christopher Street, | Finsbury Square, | London, | E.C.

Aug 17 1878

My dear Sir!

I am very much pleased that you have thought it worth while to controll my little communication, and to examine yourself some roots of plants to see their folds.1 The root you sent me shows the phenomenon very clearly. I have not yet experienced on the influence of dryness or humidity, but I have found that cut roots contract also (in 24 hours) if lying wholly in water. However I observed with Carum Carvi2 that roots of plants, growing in fissures of the earth showed more folds than those of plants of the same field, that had grown in compact earth. Should it not be possible, that specimens growing in loose earth or in fissures contract more because they are not hindered in doing so, whilst plants in compact soil have to surmount a great resistance, and become therefore less shorter, than they would do otherwise?

I am much obliged for your notice on Triticum roots, I have not yet paid attention to them and am therefore not able to answer your questions, but will examine it directly after my returning to Amsterdam.3

I am also much obliged for the kindness you had in writing for me to Prof. Asa Gray, and beg you to accept my sincere thanks for the benevolence you showed me in receiving me so very kindly at Abinger Hall.4

I remain | My dear Sir | Yours very truly | Hugo de Vries


During his visit to CD on 14 August 1878, De Vries had pointed out the transverse folds in the roots of many different plants; CD had communicated his own observations of the phenomenon in his letter to De Vries of [15] August [1878]).
Carum carvi is wild caraway.
For CD’s observations on the lack of folds in the roots of wheat (Triticum), see the letter to Hugo de Vries, [15] August [1878] and n. 3. De Vries was professor extraordinarius at the University of Amsterdam (DSB); he continued to work on the phenomenon of contractility in roots and later sent CD his paper on the subject, ‘Ueber die Kontraktion der Wurzeln’ (On the contraction of roots; Vries 1880).


DSB: Dictionary of scientific biography. Edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie and Frederic L. Holmes. 18 vols. including index and supplements. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1970–90.

Vries, Hugo de. 1880. Ueber die Kontraktion der Wurzeln. Landwirtschaftliche Jahrbücher 9: 37–80.


Contraction of plant roots.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugo de Vries
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Christopher St
Source of text
DAR 180: 21
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11665,” accessed on 21 April 2021,