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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   22 May 1855

Harvard University.

May 22d. 1855.

My Dear Sir

I remember with much pleasure the opportunity I enjoyed of making your acquaintance at Hooker’s three years ago; and besides that should always be most glad if I could in any small degree furnish materials for your interesting investigations. And these relate to matters in which I take much interest, but can do no more than to furnish some few data when asked for, that others, who happily have leisure for such inquiries, may work up.

I had always intended, when the Flora of N. America 1 should be finished to work up the geographical and climatic relations of this flora, and to compare it critically with the N. European, & N. Asiatic floras. I was more sanguine in former years. Now I doubt if I shall ever live to see this Flora finished, (tho, I hope to complete the 2d vol. this year), i.e. the 3d vol. done, and the 1st. and 2d done over.2 So I shall be most glad if I can in the least furnish aid to you, & to our good friend Dr. Hooker, in respect to investigations for which you are both well situated and extraordinarily well prepared, and in which you have both manifested so much ability.

I rejoice, therefore, that Hooker,—having exhausted one end of the world, is about to try his practised hand on the other,—that he has already planned an Arctic Flora,3 —which will give you just the data you want.

I have filled up the paper4 you sent me as well as I could. But, in the course of the present year I have got to prepare a new edition of the Manual of Bot. N. U.S 5 (a volume originally prepared in a hurried way),—in which several questions that concern this list have got to be reopened. And, if you will kindly give me hints as to what is needed, and how to do it, I will undertake the comparison of the plants of this moderate area, (bounded by the Atlantic Coast, New Brunswick, St. Lawrence, Great Lakes, Mississippi, & Potomac or Chesapeake Bay) with the General N. Amer. flora and with that of the northern part of the old world, and print the result either in the volume itself, or in some Journal, as you suggest. So, you see, far from taking your suggestion amiss, I respond to it by asking you to tell me very particularly how to do it, so that it may be of use.

The area afore-said contains only some small patches of Alpine region: and most of that belonging to the White Mts. of New Hampshire—a few square miles only; the alpine area of the mountains in Maine, Vermont & N. New York each comprising a few acres only of mountain-top. The top of White Mts. N. Hampshire is, as it were, a bit of Labrador (alt. 5000–6000 feet), and I do not believe there is a plant there which is not in Labrador, except two; viz. Paronychia argyrocoma which is barely subalpine at the White Mts. and is a waif from the Mts. of Virginia, (alt. 4–5000 feet), and Geum Peckii. now standing as peculiar to White Mts. but which, now that I have seen both growing both wild and cultivated, I am sure is G. radiatum, Mx, also of the Mountains of N. Carol. & Virginia. I dare say Dr. Hooker will pronounce it the G. calthifolium of N.W. Coast as well.6 I can not say about that, without a re-examination.

The only remaining plants claiming to be peculiar are Nabalus nanus and N. Boottii,—themselves too closely allied,—perhaps only alpine modifications of N. altissimus, and both to be found in Labrador & Hudson’s Bay, I doubt not. Indeed I find I possess N. Boottii from Labrador already.

In answer to your enquiry I would state that the White Mts. are separated from the Green Mts. of Vermont (a lower range) by 150 to 200 miles of intervening lower country,7 and then only a few bits of Green Mts. are alpine. Between the latter & the alpine spots in the Mountains of New York, only about the same distance of low country intervenes,—i.e. the bed of L. Champlain & the slopes on each side.

I should mention that Pursh,8 from the inspection of Peck’s herbarium, gave us two alpine species in his Flora that no one has verified; indeed, we may now say that they do not grow on the White Mts. viz. Alchemilla alpina & Dryas integrifolia:—though it was not unlikely that they should occur. They ought therefore to be excluded.

Saxifraga aizoides occurs in the northern part of our region, but no-where as an alpine plant.

Believe me to remain, Dear Sir, with great regard | Yours very faithfully | Asa Gray

CD annotations

0.1 Harvard … of use. 4.11] crossed pencil
5.5 and I do … except two: 5.6] double scored brown crayon
5.10 of the mountains … Virgina.] scored brown crayon
5.10 N. Carol. & Virgina.] underl brown crayon
7.1 In answer … side. 7.6] crossed pencil; scored ink; ‘??’added ink
10.1 Asa Gray 10.2] ‘only use of my suggestion that the want of a man’9 ink, crossed pencil


Torrey and Gray 1838–43.
Publication of Torrey and Gray 1838–43 ceased after the third part of volume two.
J. D. Hooker 1857 and 1862.
See letter to Asa Gray, 25 April [1855]. The list, with Asa Gray’s remarks written on it, is in DAR 46.2 (ser. 2): 36.
A revised edition of A. Gray 1848 was published in 1856. CD’s annotated copy of A. Gray 1856 is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
An allusion to Joseph Dalton Hooker’s proclivity for ‘lumping’ together plants that other botanists might consider separate species.
In his letter to Asa Gray, 8 June [1855], CD pointed out that the distances do not tally. Gray corrected them in his reply (letter from Asa Gray, 30 June 1855).
Frederick Traugott Pursh, who had travelled in the United States and Canada, 1799–1811. He discussed the probable incidence of Alchemilla alpina and Dryas integrifolia in Pursh 1814, 1: 112, 350 (giving the synonym Dryas tenella) and referred to specimens from William Dandridge Peck’s herbarium.
This annnotation is probably incomplete since the part of the page below the signature has been cut off.


Gray, Asa. 1848. A manual of the botany of the northern United States, from New England to Wisconsin and south to Ohio and Pennsylvania inclusive. Boston and Cambridge: James Monroe and Company. London: John Chapman.

Pursh, Frederick Traugott. 1814. Flora Americæ septentrionalis; or, a systematic arrangement and description of the plants of North America. 2 vols. London.


Has filled up CD’s paper [see 1674].

Distribution and relationships of alpine flora in U. S.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 106: D1–D2
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1685,” accessed on 30 May 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5