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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   12 April [1857]1

Down Bromley Kent

Ap. 12th

My dear Hooker

Your letter has pleased me much, for I never can get it out of my head, that I take unfair advantage of your kindness, as I receive all & give nothing. What a splendid discussion you could write on whole subject of variation! The cases discussed in your last note are valuable to me, (though odious & damnable) as showing how profoundly ignorant we are on causes of variation.—

I shall just allude to these cases, as a sort of sub-division of polymorphism—a little more definite I fancy than the variation of for instance the Rubi, & equally or more perplexing.—2

I have just been putting my notes together on variations apparently due to the immediate & direct action of external causes;3 & I have been struck with one result. The most firm stickers for independent creation admit, that the fur of same species is thinner towards south of range of same species than to north—that same shells are brighter coloured to S. than N.; that same is paler-coloured in deep water—that insects are smaller & darker on mountains—more lurid & testaceous near sea—that plants are smaller & more hairy & with brighter flowers on mountains: now in all such (& other cases) cases, distinct species in the two zones follow the same rule, which seems to me to be most simply explained by species, being only strongly marked varieties, & therefore following same laws as recognised & admitted varieties. I mention all this on account of variation of plants in ascending mountains; I have quoted the foregoing remark only generally with no examples, for I add there is so much doubt & dispute what to call varieties; but yet I have stumbled on so many casual remarks on varieties of plants on mountains being so characterised, that I presume there is some truth in it. What think you? do you believe there is any tendency in varieties, as generally so called, of plants to become more hairy & with proportionally larger & brighter coloured flowers in ascending a mountain.—

I have been interested in my “weed garden” of 3 × 2 feet square:4 I mark each seedling as it appears, & I am astonished at number that come up. & still more at number killed by slugs &c.— Already 59 have been so killed; I expected a good many, but I had fancied that this was a less potent check than it seems to be; & I attributed almost exclusively to mere choking the destruction of seedlings.— Grass-seedlings seem to suffer much less than exogens.—

I have almost finished my floating experiments on salt-water:5 7294 sunk under 10 days—seven plants, however, floated on average 67 days each.— I then dried all these (with in each case, with pods, bits of twig & few leaves) & 6294 sunk under 10 days, so that generally the drying had no great effect, but here comes the odd part sometimes it had great effect, thus

Not dried Dryed

floated floated

Asparagus 22–23 85–86 (germinated excellently)

Lychnis dioica 21–22 44–45

Honeysuckle 3–4 21–22

Heloscadium 1–2 21–22 & seeds above 90 days & germinated splendidly

Not Dryed Dryed

Barbery 20–21 40–41

Viscaria oculata 2–3 30–31

Dianthus 1–2 28–29

Sweet Briar 2–3 21–22

Juniper 12–13 38–39

Nuts 0–1 60–70

&c &c &c &c

I think it will turn out on average from my very few experiments, of very little value, but better than mere conjecture, that about 1101/10 of all plants of a country will float when dryed 30 days & the seeds then germinate; & this on average current of 33 miles per day will carry them a good way.6 I would wager that the pods of the Acacia(?) scandens which get to the Azores had been dried first.—7 I suppose the oriental species does not fruit at Kew: if it did, I shd. like to try.—

Are there any hardy garden plants or shrubs endemic to the Canaries, Madeira or Azores.— I shd. like to know; as it shows that the constitution of an endemic plant is not absolutely fitted to its home, perhaps in more striking manner than the hardiness or naturalisation of a plant from a continent.— The Chiococca racemosa, the suckers of which I cannot weed out of my garden, is a very striking case, as it is, I believe, confined to W. Indies.8

Farewell my dear Hooker, everything which I write about or think of, I long to talk over with you, as I have shown in this note.

Farewell | C. Darwin

P.S Strictly according to my experiments a little above 17 (.140) of the plants of any country could be transported 924 miles & would then germinate! for 1894 have floated above 28 days & 648764/87 is proportion of seeds which germinate after 28 days immersion.— & average of current in Atlantic is 33 miles per diem.—

I have just had a letter from Emma & she speaks with much pleasure at having seen you & Mrs. Hooker, whose state (you are as bad as I am) is to be pitied.9

P.S. Can any general character be predicated of water-plants; if so, & again if any plant has a variety growing in damp ground, does it take in ever so slight a degree the characteristic features of aquatic plants.— It wd. be another case to the many which I have collected.

A plant abruptly having two forms like the aquatic Ranunculus seems something different & very unpleasant to me.


The year is established by the reference to Emma Darwin meeting Hooker and his wife in Hastings (see n. 9, below).
See the CD note transcribed with the letter from J. D. Hooker, [11 April 1857].
See Natural selection, pp. 281–5.
The notes on these experiments, begun on 3 December 1856 and headed ‘Dryed Seeds & Fruits in Salt-Water’ and ‘1857 Dryed Seeds’, are in CD’s Experimental book, pp. 10v.–14 (DAR 157a).
These results are summarised in Origin, pp. 359–60.
See Correspondence vol. 5, letter from J. R. Crowe, 27 September 1855, and letter to J. R. Crowe, 9 November 1855, for CD’s attempts to float seeds of Acacia scandens.
See Natural selection, pp. 285–6.
Frances Harriet Hooker was expecting the Hookers’ fourth child. Marie Elizabeth Hooker was born on 10 August 1857. There is an entry on 11 April 1857 in Emma Darwin’s diary, written during her stay in Hastings: ‘drank tea with Hookers’.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Thanks JDH for response on variation. Studying variations that seem correlated with environment, e.g., north vs south, ascending mountains.

CD’s weed garden: observations on slugs killing seedlings.

Seed-salting. One-seventh of the plants of any country could be transported 924 miles by sea and would germinate.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 192
Physical description
ALS 12pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2075,” accessed on 20 May 2024,

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