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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Thomas Comber   15 June 1879

Redclyffe, | Newton-in-the-Willows.

15 June 1879

My dear Sir

I do not know whether your attention has ever been drawn to a gyno-diœcious condition of Plantago lanceolata—1 If not, the few specimens I send you herewith may be of interest, as showing what I meet with in this neighbourhood— There is a pretty regular gradation, on different plants, from the state of the specimen marked H, in which the stamens are extruded, almost as in the normal condition but are apparently barren, for they seem to me to contain no pollen—to the state of specimens marked C. & D. in which the anthers are only just extruded from the flower— next to that of specimen marked B., in which they are not extruded at all— & lastly to that of specimen marked A, in which, so far as I can make out, there are no stamens, at any rate in some of the flowers; but the corolla is 8=cleft— In the rough sketch enclosed, I have endeavoured to represent the corolla in the dissection contained in the tissue paper—

You will see that in the two last states, A & B, the styles are longer & more persistent than is usual, not withering, as they ordinarily do in the normal form, on the extrusion of the stamens—

The plants from which the specimens have been gathered have all their spikes alike, and I find no plants producing at the same time normal and functionally ♀ flowers. The plants producing specimens A. & C. are isolated, in a good position for observation; and I shall watch whether, at a different stage of growth, they produce flowers differing from those they now bear: and, if they ripen seed, I will try to secure a supply for sowing—

Believe me | yours truly | Thomas Comber

Charles Darwin Esqre. | Down | Beckenham | Kent

[Enclosure 1]


[Enclosure 2]


[Enclosure 3]


CD annotations

On cover: ‘Plantago’ pencil


Plantago lanceolata is ribwort plantain. Species that are gynodioecious have hermaphrodite and pistillate (female) flowers on separate plants. In 1878, CD had received specimens of several forms of P. lanceolata from Friedrich Ludwig (see Correspondence vol. 26, letter to Friedrich Ludwig, 29 May 1878). CD added information from Ludwig on the graduated forms of P. lanceolata to Forms of flowers 2d ed., p. ix; he did not mention Comber.


Sends specimens showing gynodioecism in Plantago lanceolata.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Radcliffe (Thomas) Comber
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 161: 215
Physical description
ALS 4pp †, sketch, encl

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12108,” accessed on 18 May 2024,