skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow   10 November [1855]1

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 10th

My dear Henslow

I am very much obliged for the seeds, especially for the experimental seeds. I send a P. order for 10s for a douceur for your good little Botanists, & I am sure the girl who counted the Parsnip seeds deserves a perfect dowry.—2

It so happens, & not from caprice, that I care less for the seeds for salting, because I formerly, from often having met accounts of floating plants off the mouths of estuaries, I assumed that half-dried plants with their fruit or pods would certainly float for several weeks, but having tried some 30 or 40 plants I have found only a single one which floated after a month’s immersion, & most sink after one week. So that I am almost foiled about sea-transportal.3 I may mention, the Capsicum seed germinated excellently after 137 days immersion in salt-water & Celery pretty well after the same period.— I shall, however, finish my work & try those seeds which you have sent, & those which are not yet quite dry; but pray take no more trouble on subject.—

I have written & sent off a very gracious note to Mess. Vilmorin4

The seed of “Lychnis dioica in a field of Lucerne, Hitcham”, I presume was the white-flowered kind; I shall understand it to be so if I do not hear to contrary. Also as you were so kind as to superintend the counting of the Parsnip seed, I presume that of course the two seeds to each flower was calculated by the little girl.—

Do you remember saying that you thought that you could obtain for me information regarding Hollyocks. I am very curious on this subject & it is a curiosity of several years standing.5 I have myself made some experiments, & have got some apparently good crossed seeds & have castrated some other plants & let the insects do their work, but I shd. be particularly glad to hear what the great growers think; if you would, therefore, when at leisure (but this I fancy, never comes, but when less busy than usual) send the enclosed queries (& there is no hurry) I shd. be much obliged.—6 You will see I have headed the queries with a note to you, the object of which is to show Mrs. Chator7 that I am intimate with you, & therefore a respectable person. Very hearty thanks for all the trouble you take for me.

My dear Henslow | Most truly yours | C. Darwin


Although the letter is dated 10 November, it seems that CD did not send it immediately since he refers to an enclosure, the draft of which is dated 12 November 1855 (see next letter).
See letters to J. S. Henslow, 2 July [1855] and 7 July [1855].
CD published a brief summary of his final results in Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 47, 24 November 1855, p. 773 (see letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 21 November [1855]). A more detailed report, which also included the results of Miles Joseph Berkeley’s experiments, was read by CD before the Linnean Society on 6 May 1856 (Collected papers 1: 264–73).
The firm of Vilmorin-Andrieux et Cie in Paris, the most celebrated horticulturists in France. Henslow may have met Pierre Philippe André Levêque de Vilmorin at the Paris Exhibition (see letter to J. S. Henslow, 29 October [1855], n. 1).
See Notebook E, pp. 144 and 183, and Questions & experiments notebook, pp. 2 and 14 (Notebooks); see also Correspondence vol. 2, letter from William Herbert, 5 April 1839.
The enclosure has not been found, but CD’s draft, dated 12 November 1855, is in DAR 206 (Letters). See letter to J. S. Henslow, 12 November 1855.
William Chater was an Essex nurseryman and landscape gardener who specialised in hollyhocks (R. Desmond 1977). See Variation 2: 107–8 for a brief account of the results of CD’s experiments.


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

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Desmond, Ray. 1977. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists, including plant collectors and botanical artists. 3d ed. London: Taylor and Francis.

Notebooks: Charles Darwin’s notebooks, 1836–1844. Geology, transmutation of species, metaphysical enquiries. Transcribed and edited by Paul H. Barrett et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the British Museum (Natural History). 1987.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Thanks for seeds. Feels "almost foiled" in his experiments on sea transport – has found few plants that float after more than a week’s immersion.

Sends a list of queries [see 1779] on hollyhocks to put to growers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: A103–A105
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1778,” accessed on 23 September 2020,

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