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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   4 November 1856

diagOf our say 320 Phænogamous species common to Europe—there are 230, or 72 per cent, which have not been detected here within the arctic circle.1 About a dozen of these are among our alpine and subalpine species! Excluding these last (alpine & strictly subalpine)

218 species do not cross the arctic circle.

155 ” do not much if any pass lat. 60o

113 ‘ ’ ‘ ’ ‘ ’ ‘ ’ 55o

056 ‘ ’ ‘ ’ ‘ ’ ‘ ’ 50o

020 ‘ ’ ‘ ’ ‘ ’ ‘ ’ 45o

005 ‘ ’ ‘ ’ ‘ ’ ‘ ’ 40o

But of these 5 only one is really a reliable case in point, and that is Convallaria majalis.ramme

Cambridge 4th Nov. 1856.

Dear Mr. Darwin

Your welcome favor of Oct. 12th. came in the nick of time, and encouraged me to go on with Statistics.2 I am now working on a portion. The difficulty is that I cannot fix my attention on such subjects long enough to get into the spirit, and do any thing of any moment—except to arrange a few facts, which you can shape and use.

Above is the upshot as to our species common to Europe ranging N. I have gone into this matter with no small pains.— Of course further observation all tends one way—i.e to carry the range further north—; but so it is according to our present knowledge— I think you will be a little astonished, at the result.

As to introduced species, I am saving them up to the last, as I wish to discuss them somewhat particularly— You will find the orders they belong to in 1st table (p. 208) of my Statistics— 3

I meant to have copied out for you a list of the genera & species; not time to-night. But get the Botany of N. States, at Trubner’s 12 Paternoster Row, and you can easily gather what you want, as the introduced species are in a different type. 4

I cannot tell you whether “climate will explain the greater affinity with E. Asia than W. America”—but it stands in direct relation to climate; ours & that of E. Asia being extreme climates; & Oregon the contrary.

Of course a great many of our genera common to Europe are mundane or nearly.— Thank you for the hint. I am going on to treat of the relations of our flora to European more particularly— It will be neither “Utopian” nor difficult to exclude the mundane genera—and then discuss the real points of likeness.— Also, to exclude the identical species, and investigate the various degrees of resemblance between W. European & E. N. American plants. Only I fear I shall not get time to do it well, before my mss. must go to the printer.

I think I clearly see what you want, and it seems not difficult to do— But continue your questions & suggestions—if you please. The only way to get anything out of me is to set me my work and show the way.

Thank you for correcting misprint. There are some bad clerical errors— I shall reprint list of alpine species, &c which are very faulty, I find.

The pages of Journal itself ought to be kept in extras, even when there is separate paging. I neglected to give proper directions—thinking little of the extra-copies.

I have read with much instruction Hooker upon De Candolle’s book—think he is too hard at the end, both upon DC, & upon the subject, and getting dreadfully paradoxical to contend that Coniferæ are the highest style of plants.5

A considerable part of our alpine plants (more than our subalpine) are not known in our arctic continental regions, but are connected with Scandinavia through Labrador & Greenland alone—

A few (such as Spiræa Aruncus) seem as if they had come to us from Central Europe via Siberia—

Excuse such an epistle as this. I am much pressed for time.—

Yours ever | Asa Gray

Kindly post enclosures—putting that to Hooker in an envelope.6

CD annotations

1.1 say] parentheses added pencil
1.6 155] pencil line drawn below
1.10 5] pencil line drawn below; ‘194’ added pencil
2.1 5] comma added pencil
5.1 As to … type. 6.3] crossed pencil
8.1 Of course … plants.12.3] double scored pencil
8.1 Of course … plants. 12.3] crossed pencil
13.1 plants … alone— 13.3] double scored pencil; ‘very hostile | No. Labrador is part of Continent, but shows how much extinction there must have been inland | On White mountain only 5 not found in Asia’ added pencil
13.3 Labrador] underl pencil
14.1 A few … time.— 15.1] scored pencil
15.1 Excuse … time.—] crossed pencil
17.1 Kindly … envelope.] crossed pencil


In his letter to Asa Gray, 24 August [1856], CD had indicated that he considered the northern range of the 321 species common to Europe and North America to be an important element in studying their distribution. He had been surprised to hear from Gray that few of these species had been found to range northwards (see letter to Asa Gray, 12 October [1856]). When he received the figures given by Gray in this letter, CD decided to use them in Natural selection, replacing information given by Hewett Cottrell Watson (see Natural selection, p. 539). To his account of Watson’s views on the northern range of plants, he added the comment: ‘(No. give Asa Gray’s facts, far more accurate)’ and wrote in the margin, ‘dele’.
Letter to Asa Gray, 12 October [1856], in which CD referred to the first part of A. Gray 1856–7.
CD had asked Gray for some indication of the genera (not orders) to which the introduced species belonged (see letter to Asa Gray, 12 October [1856]).
A. Gray 1856a. See letter to Asa Gray, 12 October [1856], n. 6.
Gray refers to [J. D. Hooker] 1856, a review of A. de Candolle 1855.
CD forwarded Gray’s letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker with his own letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 November [1856].


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.

Gray, Asa. 1856–7. Statistics of the flora of the northern United States. American Journal of Science and Arts 2d ser. 22: 204–32; 23: 62–84, 369–403.

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.


Outlines the ranges of northern U. S. species common to Europe. Hopes to investigate the resemblances between the floras of the north-eastern U. S. and western Europe. Discusses routes by which alpine plants appear to have reached U. S.

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 95
Physical description
ALS 4pp ††

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1982,” accessed on 23 July 2024,

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