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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   14 November [1855]

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 14th.

My dear Hooker

Thank you for telling me about the books,1 I have written to know their price, & shall order Miquel if not too dear: the other seems a large Flora.—

You well know how credulous I am, & therefore you will not be surprised at my believing the Raspberry story:2 a very similar case is on record in Germany viz seeds from a Barrow: I have hardly zeal to translate it for Gardeners’ Chronicle.3 I do not go whole hog, viz that 60 & 2000 years are all the same, for I shd. imagine that some slight chemical change was always going on in a seed. Is this not so?— The discussions have stirred me up to send my very small case of the charlock; but as it required some space to give all details, perhaps Lindley will not insert; & if he does, you, you worse than an unbelieving Dog, will not, I know, believe.4 The reason I do not care to try Mr. Bentham’s plan is that I think it would be very troublesome, & it would not, if I did not find seed, convince me myself that none were in the earth,5 for I have found in my salting experiments that the earth clings to the seeds & the seeds are very difficult to find. Whether washing would do I know not; a gold-washer would succeed I daresay.—

I have become extremely much interested on my old puzzle about Social Plants: Decandolle by the facts, which he gives makes the case only the more puzzling in my eyes.6 The case of social plants is of no direct importance whatever to me, but indirectly it is, as I particularly want to understand as much as I can of what has been called the economy of nature. There is one small class of facts, not alluded to, by Decandolle, which I think would throw more light on sociability than any other; namely whether introduced plants are ever social in their new country not being so in their old; for should such be the case, then, I think, we might safely (at least in that instances) attribute sociability to the nature of the conditions & surroundings species, & not to anything inherent in the social species itself. Would Mr Bentham be so kind as not to think it very troublesome to reflect whether he knows any case? it requires knowledge of the species in the old & new country. In La Plata the cardoon & sort of Sow Thistle are wonderfully social, are they in their parent country?7 The Fennel I think deserves, also, to be considered such near Monte Video: is this so in Europe? If I can trust my memory the Guava tree was so in Otaheite.—8 The accounts of the beds of the Impatiens in Surrey sound as if this was “social”: how is it in America?— Is the Sweet Briar social in Tasmania. Do you not think that these cases would throw light on “sociability”? But why on earth are not Tropical plants social?9 How comes it that some plants near their extreme limits are social?10 What puzzles there are in all such cases!

I have written much longer than I intended; but remember that I never have pleasure of talking over these subjects.— Oh that I was a Botanist is my daily almost hourly groan.—

Adios | C. Darwin

I was very glad to hear in your penultimate note that the poor Baby was better: it must be a great relief to Mrs. Hooker.—

Wollaston has returned from Madeira with nearly 11,000 insects!11


The editorial in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 45, 10 November 1855, pp. 739–40, (see letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 13 November [1855], n. 1) had included an account of a Roman grave containing raspberry seeds that germinated when they were planted. The account had first been published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette in August 1836, and CD had referred to it in his draft report of the discovery of ancient seeds by William Kemp (see Correspondence vol. 2, Appendix VI).
CD sent a brief summary of the case to the Gardeners’ Chronicle (see first letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 29 December 1855]).
See letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 13 November [1855]. Hooker apparently thought it was probable that the seeds had been strewn about by birds.
George Bentham, who was working at Kew with Hooker, had suggested various experiments that could be performed in Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, no. 45, 10 November 1855, pp. 741–2.
Alphonse de Candolle had made a distinction between plants that were widely diffused (‘répandues’) and those that were abundant or social (‘sociales’) in Candolle 1855, 1: 457–60. CD made many annotations on these pages in his copy, now in the Darwin Library–CUL. He commented on p. 459: ‘Does former depend chiefly on physical conditions the latter on other species??? The latter must chiefly on other species, except where, perhaps conditions very peculiar.’
CD repeated the same query in his copy of Candolle 1855, 1: 473, and added at the bottom: ‘Hooker & Bentham say yes.’ In Natural selection, p. 203, CD cited the case of the cardoon and sow-thistle as examples of plants that are ‘social’ in their adopted country but not in their native home. This convinced him that ‘there is no essential difference between very common plants & social plants’.
‘Even the brushwood is a fruit-tree, namely the guava, which from its abundance is as noxious as a weed’ (Journal of researches, pp. 480–1).
A statement in Candolle 1855, 1: 470 seemed to give the impression that tropical plants were less ‘social’ or abundant than those of temperate regions. CD commented: ‘Ask Hooker about paragraph 3.— What it means.’ He further noted: ‘What does he mean’.
CD cited Candolle 1855, 1: 461–2, to this effect in Natural selection, p. 203.
Thomas Vernon Wollaston catalogued this collection and donated it to the British Museum (Wollaston 1857).


Boreau, Alexandre. 1840. Flore du centre de la France; ou description des plantes qui croissent spontanément dans la région centrale de la France, et de celles qui y sont cultivées en grand, avec l’analyse des genres et des espèces. 2 vols. in 1. Paris: Roret.

Candolle, Alphonse de. 1855. Géographie botanique raisonnée ou exposition des faits principaux et des lois concernant la distribution géographique des plantes de l’époque actuelle. 2 vols. Paris: Victor Mason. Geneva: J. Kessmann.

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

Miquel, Frederich Anton Wilhelm. 1837. Disquisitio geographicobotanica de plantarum Regni Batavi distributione. Leiden. [Vols. 6,7]

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1857. Catalogue of the coleopterous insects of Madeira in the collection of the British Museum. London: By order of the Trustees.


Candolle discusses social plants. CD devises criterion for showing sociability not inherent.

Bentham’s buried seed plan rejected.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 155
Physical description
8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1781,” accessed on 21 September 2020,

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