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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow   2 July [1855]

Down Farnborough Kent

July 2d

My dear Henslow

Very many thanks for all you have done, & so very kindly promise to do for me.—

Will you make a present to each of the little girls (if not too big & grandiose) of 6d. (for which I send stamps), who are going to collect seeds for me.1 diag viz Lychnis white

—– red

& flesh-colour (if such occur)ramme I shd. greatly prefer Suffolk seeds to those which I could collect myself, as a first little charge.— diag Myosotis sylvatica

Geum rivale not quite ripe, so as not

Epilobium tetrag. to shed on Journeyramme & yet ripe enough (at least Epilobium) that I may count maximum, for which maximum, they ought to be fine, large heads, about a dozen of each.—

Will you be so kind as to look at them before sent, just to see positively that they are correct, for remember how ignorant botanically I am—

Do you see Gardeners’ Chronicle, & did you notice some little experiments of mine on salting seeds: Celery & Onion seed have come up after 85 days immersion in the salt water, which seems to me surprising, & I think throws some light on the wide dispersion of certain plants.— Now it has occurred to me that it would be an interesting way of testing the probability of sea-transportal of seeds, to make a list of all the Europæan plants found in the Azores,—a very oceanic archipelago,—collect the seeds & try if they could stand a pretty long immersion.— Do you think the most able of your little girls would like to collect for me a packet of seeds of such Azorean plants as grow near Hitcham,2 I paying, say 3d for each packet: it would put a few shillings into their pockets, & would be an enormous advantage to me, for I grudge the time to collect the seeds, more especially, as I have to learn the plants!! The experiment seems to me worth trying; what do you think? Shd. you object offering for me this reward or payment to your little girls? you wd. have to select the most conscientious ones, that I might not get wrong seeds. I could return you your list marked, though I fear I shall have some little difficulty in knowing your English names. No, no,—, I had forgotten your numbers,—it will not be difficult for I can order “Hooker & Arnotts Flora”.3 Please tell me what Edition; I have “Hooker’s Botany” 4th. Edition, but that is not on natural system.—4 I have just been comparing the lists & I suspect you would not have very many of the Azorean plants. You have, however, diag Ranunculus repens

——– parviflorus(?)

Papaver rhœas?

—– dubium?

Chelidonium majus?

Fumaria officinalis?

—– All these are Azorean plants.5 ramme

With respect to cultivating plants,6 I mean to begin on very few, for I may find it too troublesome: I have already had for some months primroses & cowslips, strongly manured with guano, & with flowers picked off, & one cowslip made to grow in shade, & next spring I shall collect seed.—

I think you have quite misunderstood me in regard to my object in getting you to mark in accompanying list7 with (X) all the “close species” ie such as you do not think to be varieties, but which nevertheless are very closely allied;—it has nothing whatever to do with their cultivation, but I cannot tell you object, as it might unconsciously influence you in marking them. Will you draw your pencil right through all the names of those (few) species, of which you may know nothing. Afterwards when done I will tell you my object,—not that it is worth telling, though I myself am very curious on subject.— I know & can perceive that the definition of “close species” is very vague, & therefore I shd. not care for the list being marked by anyone, except by such as yourself.—

Forgive this long letter, I thank you heartily for all your assistance.

My dear old Master | Your’s affectionately | C. Darwin

Perhaps 3d. would be hardly enough; & if the number of kinds does not turn out very great it shall be 6d per packet.—


The proposal to have girls collect seeds near Hitcham must have been in the missing portion of letter from J. S. Henslow, 29 June 1855.
CD intended to soak the seeds of species of European plants found on the Azores to determine whether they could withstand the effects of salt-water and hence shed light on the possible colonisation of the islands by migration across the Atlantic Ocean. Henslow was able to provide CD with seeds from twenty-two species, as CD noted on the list provided by Hewett Cottrell Watson (DAR 205.4 (Letters)) of indigenous European species in the Azorean flora (see letter from H. C. Watson, 11 July [1855], and letter to J. S. Henslow, 14 July [1855]).
W. J. Hooker and Arnott 1850 and 1855.
William Jackson Hooker’s The British flora, 4th ed. (1838), used the Linnaean system, though not exclusively, as ‘the simplest method’ of identifying genera and species (pp. v–vii). The fifth edition used the so-called natural system. A copy of the first volume of the fourth edition is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
The species listed do not occur in the report CD sent to the Linnean Society (6 May 1856) summmarising his and Miles Joseph Berkeley’s experiments on seed-salting (Collected papers 1: 264–73).
See letter to J. S. Henslow, 27 June [1855], in which CD outlined his experiment to try to break the constitution of plants.
See letter to J. S. Henslow, 27 June [1855]. CD had asked Henslow to mark CD’s copy of the London catalogue (H. C. Watson and Syme 1853) to indicate ‘close species’. See also letter to J. S. Henslow, 7 July [1855].


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.


Sends a list of plants with stamps to pay the Hitcham girls who will collect seeds for him.

Describes his work with seeds in salt water.

For his experiments he would like seeds collected from plants that grow both near Hitcham and in the Azores.

Explains again what JSH should do in marking "close species".

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: A31–A35
Physical description
ALS 10pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1708,” accessed on 6 December 2022,

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