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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   1 January 1881

Pen-y-bryn, St. Peter’s Rd.; Croydon.

Jany. 1st. 1881

My dear Darwin

I have been intending to write to you for some weeks to call your attention to what seems to me a striking confirmation (or at all events a support) of my views of the land migration of plants from mountain to mountain.1 In Nature of Dec. 9 p. 126 Mr. Baker of Kew describes a number of the alpine plants of Madagascar as being identical species with some found on the Mtns. of Abyssinia, the Cameroons, & other African mountains.2 Now if there is one thing more clear than another it is that Madagascar has been separated from Africa since the Miocene (probably the early Miocene) epoch— These plants must therefore have reached the island, either, since then, in which case they certainly must have passed through the air for long distances,— or at the time of the union. But the Miocene and Eocene periods were certainly warm, & these Alpine plants could hardly have migrated over tropical forest lands, while it is very improbable that if they had been isolated at so remote a period exposed to such distinct climatal and organic environments as in Madagascar and Abyssinia, they would have in both places retained their specific characters unchanged. The presumption is, therefore, that they are comparatively recent immigrants, & if so must have passed across the sea from mountain to mountain,— for the richness & speciality of the Madagascar forest-vegetation renders it certain that no recent glacial epoch has seriously affected that island.

Hoping that you are in good health & wishing you the compliments of the season, | I remain | Yours very faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace.

Charles Darwin F.R.S


For Wallace’s views on the migration of alpine plants across mountain chains and the role of wind as means of seed dispersal, see Wallace 1880a, pp. 248–9 and 480–91. For CD’s criticism, see Correspondence vol. 28, letter to A. R. Wallace, 3 November 1880, enclosure, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 November 1880.
The note, ‘Plants of Madagascar’, was by John Gilbert Baker, assistant in the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.


Wallace, Alfred Russel. 1880a. Island life: or, the phenomena and causes of insular faunas and floras, including a revision and attempted solution of the problem of geological climates. London: Macmillan.


ARW’s view of migration of plants from mountain to mountain gains support from case described in Nature [23 (1880): 125–6] by J. G. Baker. Identical species of alpine plants found in African mountains and Madagascar.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 271.6: a6
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12964,” accessed on 2 March 2024,