skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   4 May 1879

Abinger Hall, | Dorking. | (Gomshall S.E.R. | Station & Telegraph.)

4 May/79

My dear Mr Darwin

If you have not got your Coronilla it is not poor Paynes fault who has been laid up like every one else with influenza, and danger of worse—1 However I hope he will now soon be about again. The place does not seem itself without him. We leave tomorrow just as the skies are brightening

I am struck this year by the amazing variations of the hardy primulas—of which we have a great number— From polyanthus and cowslip to primrose there is every gradation—2 Umbel and no umbel, often on the same plant: large flowers & small ones some: every gradation of colour from deepest browns & reds to palest yellow: sometimes even the dusty auricula tone: calyx changing into corolla: and corolla and calyx changing into leaf— they seem to confound every attempt at definition or description.

I suppose this is the bees work amongst our native primroses & imported polyanthuses— I suppose too this is a disturbance we have effected with our new polyanthuses; and that in course of time all would settle again into the stable equilibrium of natural species.

But it is curious to see what a variable race the primulas are.

Sincerely yours | T H Farrer


George Payne was Farrer’s gardener. No previous correspondence about Farrer’s sending CD a Coronilla has been found. At CD’s urging, Farrer had published his research on fertilisation in Coronilla, the genus of crown vetch (Farrer 1874; see Correspondence vol. 22, letter to T. H. Farrer, 10 April 1874). On a visit to Farrer in August 1877, CD had observed the sleep movements of Coronilla minima and C. glauca (a synonym of C. valentina subsp. glauca). Notes on these species, dated 21 and 22 August 1877, are in DAR 209.1: 36–7. CD’s notes on sleep movements in Coronilla rosea, dated from 14 to 17 September 1879, are in DAR 209.10: 21–3.
Polyanthus is the common name of a hybrid group derived from some species of the genus Primula; CD discussed experiments with polyanthus and Primula auricula, another popular nursery flower, in ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula. The primrose is Primula vulgaris and the cowslip is Primula veris. Hybrids of the two species occur naturally; these resemble the true oxlip (Primula elatior) and are known as false oxlips. CD discussed hybridity in these species in ‘Specific difference in Primula.


‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

Farrer, Thomas Henry. 1874. Fertilisation of papilionaceous flowers—Coronilla. Nature, 2 July 1874, pp. 169–70.

‘Specific difference in Primula’: On the specific difference between Primula veris, Brit. Fl. (var. officinalis of Linn.), P. vulgaris, Brit. Fl. (var. acaulis, Linn.), and P. elatior, Jacq.; and on the hybrid nature of the common oxlip. With supplementary remarks on naturally produced hybrids in the genus Verbascum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 19 March 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 10 (1869): 437–54.


Is struck by the amazing variations of the hardy Primula varieties.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st baronet and 1st Baron Farrer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Abinger Hall
Source of text
DAR 164: 92
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12031,” accessed on 4 June 2023,