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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Lubbock   16 April [1881?]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Ap. 16th

My dear Lubbock

Will you be so kind as to send & lend me the Desmodium gyrans by the Bearer who brings this note.—2

Shortly after you left I found my notice of the seeds in the Gardeners Chronicle, which please return hereafter, as I have no other copy.—3 I do not think that I made enough about the great power of absorption of water by the corolla-like calyx or pappus.—4 It seems to me not unlikely that the pappus of the Compositæ may be serviceable to the seeds, whilst lying on the ground, by absorbing the dew which would be especially apt to condense on the fine points & filaments of the pappus.— Anyhow this is a point which might be easily investigated. Seeds of Tussilago or groundsel emit worm-like masses of mucus, & it would be curious to ascertain whether wetting the pappus alone wd suffice to cause such secretion—5

Ever yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is conjectured from an archivist’s note and from CD’s interest in Desmodium gyrans in April 1881; see n. 2, below.
CD communicated Fritz Müller’s observations on the movements of Desmodium gyrans (a synonym of Codariocalyx motorius, the telegraph or semaphore plant) to Nature in April 1881; see letter to Nature, 14 April [1881].
CD’s ‘Note on the achenia of Pumilio Argyrolepis’ was published in Gardeners’ Chronicle, 5 January 1861, pp. 4–5; see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 5 January 1861]. Pumilo argyrolepis is a synonym of Rutidosis multiflora (small wrinklewort).
The pappus, a modified calyx, is a ring of fine hairs attached to achenes or fruits of members of the Compositae (a synonym of Asteraceae); these aid in dissemination by wind.
Tussilago is the monospecific genus of coltsfoot (T. farfara); common groundsel is Senecio vulgaris. Both species are in the family Asteraceae.


Suggests that the pappus of Compositae, when lying on ground, may absorb water which may function in seed germination.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Lubbock, 4th baronet and 1st Baron Avebury
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Add MS 49645: 97-8)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13119,” accessed on 29 May 2023,