skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   11 March 1880

Herbarium of Harvard University, | Botanic Garden, Cambridge, Mass.

March 11 1880.

Dear Darwin

I send you “one more” of the flat seeds, which has been about 10 days in damp sand. There are 3 others, perhaps not sound, we will watch1

How could the plumule of Delphinium nudicaule get out, but through the united petioles.?2

I sent you—to laugh at a notice in The Nation., of a Philadelphia lawyer’s Refutation of Darwinism. The adage is that “a Philadelphia Lawyer is a match for the Devil”. But a mere imp is a match for this one.3

As to the names of the species by the seeds, it is not clear— But, according to Watson, who has done his best with them, the one with large ovate turgid seeds rather pointed at one end, the germination of which is figured in Amer. Jour. Sci. & in Text-Book is Megarrhiza Californica, I suppose.4

The M. Oregana has flattish seeds;5

I have stopped & looked into this matter. There are two species clear.

1. A Californian one (M. Californica, with obovoid seeds & hilum at the small end—well figured by Naudin in Ann. Sci. Nat. ser. 4, 12, t. 9. The last seeds sent you must be of this, & it must include at least Watson’s M. Californica & M. muricata.6

2. M. Oregana, with oblate and flatter seeds, the hilum at middle of a long side, seed sent. And these seeds, supplied by a florist—must have come from Oregon.

The particular source of the seeds I germinated is uncertain, but surely Californian. If from San Francisco then probably M. Marah, a 3rd species. We will try to get them in cultivation. But tho’ they will grow here, we have not been able to flower them!

Yours ever | A. Gray


In his letter to Gray of 17 February 1880, CD had reported that none of the flattened seeds of Megarrhiza that Gray had sent had germinated.
Delphinium nudicaule is red larkspur; for CD’s description of the emergence of the plumule through a split base of confluent petioles, see the letter to Asa Gray, 20 January [1880] and n. 3.
Gray’s anonymous review of The refutation of Darwinism (O’Neill 1880) appeared in the Nation, 4 March 1880, p. 182; see letter to Asa Gray, 24 March [1880]. CD’s copy is in DAR 226.1: 104. The author was T. Warren O’Neill. For more on the adage ‘three Philadelphia lawyers are a match for the very devil himself’, see Rawson and Miner eds. 2006, p. 376.
Sereno Watson illustrated Megarrhiza californica (a synonym of Marah fabacea, California manroot) in Gray’s article in the American Journal of Science and Arts (A. Gray 1877, pp. 23–4), and in Gray’s botanical text-book (A. Gray 1879, p. 21). See also letter from Asa Gray, 3 February 1880 and n. 2.
Megarrhiza oregana, a synonym of Marah oregana, is western wild cucumber or coastal manroot.
Charles Victor Naudin had described and figured this species under the name Echinocystis fabacea in Naudin 1859, pp. 154–6 and tab. 9. Megarrhiza muricata is a synonym of Marah watsonii, taw manroot For the complex synonymy given by Gray of these species, see A. Gray 1877; Sereno Watson had identified five species of Megarrhiza in Brewer et al. 1876–80, 1: 240–2, including M. californica, M. oregana, M. marah, and M. muricata (the last two are synonyms of Marah watsonii, taw manroot).


Brewer, W. H., et al. 1876–80. Geological Survey of California. Botany. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Welch, Bigelow & Co.

Gray, Asa. 1877e. The germination of the genus Megarrhiza, Torr. American Journal of Science and Arts 3d ser. 14: 21–4.

Gray, Asa. 1879. Gray’s botanical text-book. Vol. I. Structural botany or organography on the basis of morphology. To which is added the principles of taxonomy and phytography, and a glossary of botanical terms. 6th edition. New York and Chicago: Ivison, Blakeman, and Company.

Naudin, Charles Victor. 1859b. Revue des cucurbitacées cultivées au Muséum, en 1859. Annales des sciences naturelles (botanique) 4th ser. 12: 79–164.

O’Neill, T. Warren. 1880. The refutation of Darwinism; and the converse theory of development; based exclusively upon Darwin’s facts, and comprising qualitative and quantitative analyses of the phenomena of variation; of reversion; of correlation; of crossing; of close-interbreeding; of the reproduction of lost members; of the repair of injuries; of the reintegration of tissue; and of sexual and asexual generation. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co.

Rawson, Hugh and Miner, Margaret, eds. 2006. The Oxford dictionary of American quotations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Sends seeds of Megarrhiza and gives details of species.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Herbarium of Harvard
Source of text
DAR 209.6: 202
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12532,” accessed on 4 October 2023,