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Darwin Correspondence Project

To C. J. F. Bunbury   9 May [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

May 9th

My dear Bunbury

I am extremely much obliged to you for the list,2 which is capital & gives me as good an idea of the subject as one who is not a Botanist can have, & that I very deeply feel at the best is but a poor idea.— I shall be particularly glad, whenever you may have time & inclination, to hear anything which you may have to say on representative species (but I have not yet read Heer) & on my supposed cold mundane period.—3

When I most loosely spoke of all Europe, I was thinking of it in an E. & W. sense, which concerns me especially as showing the wide extension of the cold. I cannot prove this cold period geologically, I can only show that it is in some degree probable, & then if it explains a good many facts in distribution (45 algæ in New Zealand, common to the north & not found in Tropics), then I think it may be admitted as probable hypothesis. The several northern species in T. del Fuego, which during a cold period may have travelled down the Cordillera is one of the strongest cases. So many plants, some European, common to Himmalaya, Neilgherries, Ceylon, Java (I believe) & S. Australia. But My notions absolutely require some greater means of dispersal than A. Decandolle & Hooker are inclined to admit, but I cannot believe that we know 110 of means of dispersal. I stated on last Tuesday at Linnean Soc. (& I saw it made considerable impression on the cautious Bentham & on Lyell) that I had removed earth perfectly enclosed within roots of trees & in this earth (with every precaution taken) 3 seeds germinated; & I enumerated the oceanic islands on which I know trees (some with stones in roots) are cast up.4

But I shall weary you with my speculations & facts, so adios with many thanks | C. Darwin


The year is established by CD’s reference to not yet having read Heer 1855. This work was recorded in his reading notebook on 7 August 1856 (Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 20). See also letter from Charles Lyell, 1–2 May 1856.
CD’s remarks must have been made after the paper he delivered at the meeting of the Linnean Society on 6 May 1856. They are not included in the published version (Collected papers 1: 264–73). See also letter to Charles Lyell, 3 May [1856].


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. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Heer, Oswald. 1855. Ueber die fossilen Pflanzen von St. Jorge in Madeira. [Read 5 November 1855.] Neue Denkschriften der allgemeinen Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für die gesammten Naturwissenschaften n.s. 5 (1857): paper 2.


On geographical dispersal of plants. Would be interested in CJFB’s views on representative species and on his hypothesis of a mundane cold period, which CD cannot prove geologically, but thinks, if it explains many facts of geographical distribution, may be admitted as probable. Hooker and Alphonse de Candolle do not agree with him.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles James Fox Bunbury, 8th baronet
Sent from
Source of text
Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds (Bunbury Family Papers E18/700/1/9/6)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1871,” accessed on 1 March 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6