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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [26 December 1858]1



My dear Darwin

I wish we could have a little work together— When shall we ever get to a reasonable agreement?.— I am horrified to find that you think Australian forms lower than Old World ones; because under every method of determining high & low in Botany the Australian vegetation is the highest in the world2

  • 1. The proportion of Phænog. to Cryptog is infinitely greater in Australia than elsewhere. (this as being a mere condition of climate I do not give much for)
  • 2. Monocot to Dicot. are in same proportion as elsewhere.
  • 3. Petaloid (& higher Monocot) are in greater ratio to Glumaceous in Australia than in Europe.
  • 4 The 4 orders of Dicots considered by different systematists as highest are Compositæ, Myrtaceæ, Leguminosæ & The Ranunculaceous including Dilleniaceæ &c.— Now I believe (I have not tabulated yet)—that all these are in greater proportion & more varied & peculiar in Australia than in any other country.
  • 5 Then granting with heretical JH that Conifers are highest. Phænogs—& they are as numerous & most varied.3
  • 6. There are very few Monochlamydæous or Achlamydeous Dicots. in Australia.

Now I have been using your line of argument to my own purposes, in this fashion.

“Granting with Darwin, that the principle of selection tends to extermination of low forms & multiplication of high; it is easy to account for the general high developement & peculiarity of Australian forms of plants—these being the remnants of an extensive Flora of great antiquity & which covered a very extensive now destroyed Southern continent &c &c &c How often do I say all our arguments are edged swords—

Again—some Australian plants are rapidly running wild in India as Casuarina, & I believe several Acacias in Nilgherries & some other Leguminosæ.

We cannot argue any thing by contrasting the multiplication of European forms in Australia & New Zealand with the absence of the converse in England— our Spring-frosts account for the difference. In South Europe I believe various Australian forms are rapidly being naturalized. Consider too the current of export of European agricultural notions & plants to Australia & consequent alteration of conditions & that nothing of that kind comes back to Europe.

Your letter has interested me more than any you ever wrote me (because we are both ripening I hope) but it staggers me too.— It opens a much wider question upon which I have often pondered in vain—& have hoped latterly to have made more of— it is this—are we right in assuming that the developement of plants has been parallel to that of animals. I sent out a feeler in the concluding notices of my Review of ADC. where I indicate my views that Geology gives no evidence of a progression in plants.4 I do not say that this is proof of there never having been progression—that is quite a different matter—but the fact that there is less structural difference between the recognizable representatives of Coniferæ, Cycadeæ, Lycopodiaceæ &c &c & Dicots of Chalk & those of present day, than between the animals of those periods & their living representatives, appears to me a very remarkable fact & one that must enter into all our

CD annotations

1.1 I wish … in Europe 1.9] crossed pencil
1.1 I wish … the world— 1.4] ‘Figures’ added pencil
1.5 The … the world— 1.4] ‘Many assume Progressive’added pencil
6.2 but it staggers … all our 6.12] crossed pencil


See letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 December [1858], in which CD referred to ‘the less perfected Australian plants’.
Hooker had come to believe in 1854 that conifers were advanced plants, rather than intermediate between endogens and exogens (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter from J. D. Hooker, [29 June 1854]). He published these views in 1856 (see n. 4, below). For Asa Gray’s opinion that such a proposal was ‘dreadfully paradoxical’, see Correspondence vol. 6, letter from Asa Gray, 4 November 1856.
Hooker’s review of Alphonse de Candolle’s Géographie botanique raisonnée (A. de Candolle 1855) was published in Hooker’s Journal of Botany and Kew Garden Miscellany in 1856. The passage to which he refers is in [Hooker] 1856, pp. 252–5. CD’s copy of the separately paginated reprint is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. CD and Hooker corresponded about A. de Candolle 1855 after its publication (see Correspondence vol. 5).


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


JDH cannot abide CD’s connection of wide-ranging species and "highness". Australian flora contradicts this in many ways.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 100: 125–6
Physical description
inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2385,” accessed on 28 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7