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Darwin Correspondence Project

From E. A. Floyer   22 September 1878

Abou Aziz | R. Nile 25o 15 north1

Sept 22. 78

Professor Darwin FRS etc.


I do not know whether I am giving you useless trouble But I today found quantities of the fruit of the female palm (Phœnix Dactylifera) which has not been impregnated by pollen from a male.2 And it has more astonished me that even after ten years experience in Baluchistan3 as a a gardener date grower etc I had never even heard of it. I will not give many details now for fear the subject may after all be familiar to you.

But I will just mention that I think It wrong to talk of Phœnix sylvestris   There is no such thing as a wild date palm any more than a wild camel.4 For where either the one or the other could live the natives of their country could live and subsist upon the one and domesticate the other. A date palm cannot be fertilized without the aid of man who cuts up the flower of a male palm into little bunches and puts a little bunch into the middle of each bunch of flowers of the female palm.5 What is called a wild palm is simply one sprung from a seed or datestone which never grows higher than 15 feet and never bears fruit.6 The seed is generally carried in the excrement of jackals or dogs. I send specimens of three kinds of dates. The number of kinds is of course infinite. The chief points about them are the fruit of the unfertilized palm.

(1) Has no vestige of a stone or seed

(2) Never looses its astringent or sloe like taste

(3) Grows in clusters of 3. 4 5 or 6 like bananas   not a long a stick as the fertilized one does

Should it seem strange to you my writing, I might explain that my brother of King’s, Cambridge paid me a visit last Long vacation, and “sowed the good seed” by leaving me “The origin of species” which I am ashamed to say being so constantly abroad I had never read.7 I am so constantly solitary in deserts that but for insects plants birds etc I should have died of ennui but that book put every thing straight. Previously I was bored by genera species that seemed to go so entirely by rule of thumb.

There are millions of pigeons here as in Persia.8 They are mostly the blue rock9 but much smaller and with glossy necks. There are many of all colours but the blue rock seems most appreciated by the females and is most common.

I am Sir yours truly E. A. Floyer

The post hence is very uncertain if you would kindly say the box has arrived please address E A Floyer | Board of Railway Administn | Cairo.10

CD annotations

2.8 The seed … dogs. 2.9] double scored red crayon; scored blue crayon; ‘Distribution’ blue crayon


Abu Aziz is in Egypt, on the river Nile; Floyer was inspector-general of Egyptian telegraphs.
The date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, is dioecious, having male and female plants. Parthenocarpy, the production of fruit without fertilisation of ovules, sometimes occurs; the fruit is seedless (Bonavia 1885, p. 89).
Baluchistan: now Balochistan, in south-west Pakistan.
Phoenix sylvestris (wild date palm) was believed to be the wild ancestor of the cultivated P. dactylifera (Bonavia 1885, p. 10; EB s.v. date palm).
In the wild, dates are wind pollinated (Popenoe 1973).
Phoenix dactylifera does bear fruit when grown from seed, although there are commercial disadvantages to allowing it to do so (Popenoe 1973, pp. 56–8).
Frederick Anthony Floyer was an undergraduate at King’s College, Cambridge. The long vacation is in the summer. Origin was first published in 1859; Floyer had been working abroad since 1869, when he was 17 years old.
The first chapter of Origin deals, amongst other subjects, with variation in domestic pigeons.
The rock pigeon or blue rock dove is Columba livia.
CD’s reply has not been found, but see also the letter from E. A. Floyer, [after 22 September 1878].


Bonavia, E. 1885. The future of the date palm in India. (Phœnix dactylifera.) Calcutta: Thacker, Spink and Co.

EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Popenoe, Paul. 1973. The date palm. Edited by Henry Field. Miami, Fla.: Field Research Projects.


Sends fruit of date-palm which has not been impregnated by pollen from a male.

Has read Origin, which "puts everything straight".

Letter details

Letter no.
Ernest Ayscoghe Floyer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Abou Aziz, R. Nile
Source of text
DAR 205.2: 231
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11702,” accessed on 4 October 2023,