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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. S. Wilson   5 January 1880

North Kinmundy, | Summerhill, | by Aberdeen.

5 Jany. 1880.

Charles Darwin, Esq. F.R.S.

Down | Beckenham | Kent.

My Dear Sir,

I duly received your letter of the 30ult. and was sorry to hear that the wheats had gone amissing.1 Perhaps they may yet turn up.

I have now had another year’s experiments with the Russian wheats, but as my report is about finished and will probably appear in the Gards’ Chron. I need say little on the matter at present.2 I have had some letters from Dr. Asher combating the view I took last year. I reply to some of his contentions in my report. He mentions that you had supposed that Saxonka seeds or plants may have remained in the land from one season to another.3 I think myself that this is highly probable, and is a cause working in the same direction as the superior fertility of one of the wheats. I have had barleys and wheats frequently, some of the culms of which ripened seed, while others on the same stool, coming up but a few inches, stood through the winter and ripened next season. And I understand that it is not uncommon in Russia for the seeding to consist merely of what is shed during winds and harvesting. I have seen cases of this kind even here, where strong gales before harvest shook out so much as to produce what was the first stage of a good thick crop.

I have several times been going to inform you that in my first experiments with Aegilops, I had been misled as to the species, having used ventricosa in place of ovata.4 Some of the seeds of ventricosa I sent to you. But some years ago I got ten species from Vilmorin5 and think I am now clear of some errors. I mentioned a curious fact to you regarding the non-germination of the outer seeds of what I called ovata, but which was ventricosa, or cylindrica; and I thought that the pressure of the glumes killed the outer embryos.6 But nature is not found out so soon as one would wish. I had planted a number of spikelets, undecorticated, of ventricosa, each containing a central and two lateral seeds. When I was going to pull up the ripe plants, consisting of from 6 to 10 culms, in autumn, what was my surprise to find in many cases the two lateral seeds which I had supposed were killed, just beginning to germinate, throwing o⁠⟨⁠ut⁠⟩⁠ short plumules and roots. There they had rested during the time the central seeds had produced a crop, and were now ready to go on and produce another crop, which they did; for I transplanted a good many of them, and they stood out the winter producing ripe crops in due time. I made absolutely sure that the young plants were not tillers from the central seeds; taking out a good many of those side seeds from the glumes just beginning to germinate and planting them by themselves.

I enclose an ear of AEgilops speltaeformis, which is understood to be the species used by Faber. You will see that there is almost no difference between it and some wheats, except that the outer glume has an awn.7

Though a believer in Evolution myself, I have always doubted the rapid transformations accepted by some.

Trusting you will excuse my writing at such length | I am | yours very sincerely, | A. Stephen Wilson.


See Correspondence vol. 27, letter to A. S. Wilson, 30 December [1879]; CD was expecting a collection of wheat varieties from Turkestan (see ibid., letter from K. P. von Kaufman, 9 May 1879, and letter to A. S. Wilson, 4 [June] 1879).
Wilson’s experiments were designed to test whether Kubanka wheat transformed into a variety with shorter, rounder grains (Saxonka wheat), when grown in infertile soil; his report was published in Gardeners’ Chronicle, 24 January and 7 February 1880 (Wilson 1880).
Georg Michael Asher had written to CD, initially through John Murray (1808–92), about the possibility of transmutation between the wheat varieties (see Correspondence vol. 25, letter from G. M. Asher to John Murray, 1 November 1877, and letter from G. M. Asher, 7 November 1877). CD’s letters to Asher have not been found.
Wilson was studying variation in Aegilops (goatgrass; see Correspondence vol. 26, letter from A. S. Wilson, 28 February 1878). Aegilops ovata is a synonym of A. geniculata, ovate goatgrass; A. ventricosa is barbed goatgrass.
Vilmorin-Andriex was a Paris seed company; the head of the firm was Henry de Vilmorin (Heuzé 1899).
See Correspondence vol. 26, letter from A. S. Wilson, 14 March 1878. Aegilops cylindrica is jointgrass.
Aegilops speltaeformis (a synonym of × Aegilotriticum triticoides) was found in Agde, France, by Esprit Fabre and named by Alexis Jordan (see Jordan 1855, p. 313, and Slageren 1994, pp. 40–1). In grasses, the glume is the lowermost bract surrounding a spikelet in the flower cluster; the awn is a hair-like appendage that in wheat typically extends from the middle bract or lemma of the floret, while in goatgrass the awn is often on the glume.


Heuzé, Gustave. 1899. Les Vilmorin. Revue horticole (1899): 453–9.

Jordan, Alexis. 1855. Mémoire sur l’Ægilops Triticoides, et sur les questions d’hybridité, de variabilité spécifique, qui se rattachent a l’histoire de cette plante. Annales des sciences naturelles (botanique) 4th ser. 4: 295–361.

Slageren, M. W. van. 1994. Wild wheats: a monograph of Aegilops L. and Amblyopyrum (Jaub. & Spach) Eig (Poaceae): a revision of all taxa closely related to wheat, excluding wild Triticum species, with notes on other genera in the tribe Triticeae, especially Triticum. Wageningen, Netherlands: Wageningen Agricultural University

Wilson, Alexander Stephen. 1880. Kubanka and Saxonka wheat. Gardeners’ Chronicle, 24 January 1880, p. 108; 7 February 1880, pp. 172–3.


Results of his second year of experiments with Russian wheat varieties will be published in Gardeners’ Chronicle [n.s. 13 (1880): 108, 172–3].

Observations on germination of wheat.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alexander Stephen Wilson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Summerhill, Aberdeen
Source of text
DAR 181: 115
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12404,” accessed on 25 June 2022,