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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   [2 May 1857]

Moor Park


My dear Hooker

You have shaved the hair off the alpine plants pretty effectually.—1 The case of the Anthyllis will make a “tie” with the believed case of Pyrenees plants becoming glabrous at low levels.—2 If I do find that I have marked such facts, I will lay the evidence before you.— I wonder how the belief cd. have originated: was it through final causes, to keep the plants warm! Falconer in talk coupled the two facts of woolly alpine plants & mammals.—

How candidly & meekly you took my Jeremiad on your severity to second class men.3 After I had sent it off, an ugly little voice asked me once or twice how much of my noble defence of the poor in spirit & in fact, was owing to your having not seldom smashed favourite notions of my own.— I silenced the ugly little voice with contempt, but it would whisper again & again.— I sometimes despise myself as a poor compiler, as heartily as you could do, though I do not despise my whole work, as I think there is enough known to lay a foundation for the discussion on origin of species.— I have been led to despise & laugh at myself as compiler, for having put down that “alpine plants have large flowers,” & now perhaps I may write over these very words “alpine plants have small or apelatous flowers”!

The most striking case, which I have stumbled on, on apparent but false relation of structure of plants to climate, seems to be Meyers & Dreges remark that there is not one single even moderately sized Family at the Cape of Good Hope which has not one or several species with Heath-like foliage;4 & when we consider this together with the number of true Heaths; anyone would have been justified, had it not been for our own British Heaths, in saying that Heath-like foliage must stand in direct relation to a dry & moderately warm climate: Does this not strike you as a good case of false relation?

I am so pleased with this place & the people here, that I am greatly tempted to bring Etty here; for she has not on whole, derived any benefit from Hastings.—5

With thanks for your never failing assistance to me— Ever yours | My dear Hooker | C. Darwin

I return home, thanks be to God, on Wednesday.—

I remember that you were surprised at number of seeds germinating in pond mud: I tried a 4th. Pond, & took about as much mud, (rather more than in former cases) as would fill a very large breakfast cup, & before I had left home 118 plants had come up; how many more will be up on my return I know not.—6 This bears on chance of Birds by their muddy feet transporting F.W. plants.—

It wd. not be a bad dodge for a collector in country, when plants were not in seed, to collect & dry mud from Ponds.


See letters to J. D. Hooker, 12 April [1857] and [29 April 1857].
CD did indeed ‘tie’ the two cases together in Natural selection, where he wrote (p. 283): It has often been asserted that the same plant is more woolly when growing on mountains than on lowlands, & Moquin Tandon asserts that this change occurred with several species from Pyrenees when placed in the Botanic Garden at Toulouse: but Dr Hooker informs me that the Anthyllis vulneraria is glabrous in the Alps & woolly on hot dry banks: moreover Dr Hooker after tabulating some Alpine floras does not find that in truly alpine species the proportion of woolly plants to be large. He is inclined to believe that dryness has a stronger tendency to produce hairs on plants.
Drège 1843, p. 26. CD reported this case in Natural selection, p. 209.
CD recorded these experiments in his Experimental book, pp. 20–1 (DAR 157a). Having first collected mud on 11 January from a pond near Down and ‘on road to Crystal Palace’ and finding that a large number of seeds sprouted, he then took samples on 10 February from different parts of a pond on the road to Westerham. He recorded the number of plants that germinated in a table; an entry on 21 April shows a total of 104 ‘Dicots & some Monocots’ and 14 ‘Grasses’. The last entry of 1 August 1857 gives a total of 537 plants. CD reported this experiment in Origin, pp. 386–7, in the chapter on the geographical distribution of freshwater animals and plants.


Drège, Jean François. 1843. Zwei pflanzengeographische Dokumente. With an introduction by Ernst Friedrich Heinrich Meyer. Flora, oder allgemeine botanische Zeitung. Suppl. to n.s. 1: 1-200.

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.


JDH has shaved the hair off the alpine plant.

CD apologises for his criticism.

Apparent but false relations of plant structure to climate: heath-like foliage of all Cape of Good Hope plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Moor Park
Source of text
DAR 114: 195
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2087,” accessed on 25 September 2021,

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