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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Lubbock   [August–September 1858]1



Dear Lubbock

Do you remember calling my attention to certain flowers in the truss of Pelargonium not being true, or not having the dark shade on the 2 upper petals? I believe it was Lady Lubbock’s observation.—2

I find, as I expected, it is always the central or sub-central flower; but what is far more curious, the nectary, which is blended with the peduncle of the flowers, gradually lessens & quite disappears; as the dark shade on the 2 upper petals disappears.—3 Compare the stalks, in the two enclosed parcels, in each of which there is a perfect flower.—

Now if your Gardener will not be outrageous, do look over your Geraniums & send me a few trusses, if you can find any, having the flowers without the marks, sending me some perfect flowers on same truss.—

The case seems to me rather a pretty one of correlation of growth; for the calyx also, becomes slightly modified in the flowers without marks.—

Ever yours very truly | C. Darwin

I sent old Swammerdam this morning.4


Although the letter is endorsed ‘1859’, it seems more likely that it was written in the late summer of 1858. The abnormality discussed in the letter was cited in Origin, p. 145, in a chapter that CD completed by 22 October 1858 (‘Journal’; Appendix II). From CD’s reference, it is clear that the pelargoniums were in flower, making August to September a probable date. See also n. 4, below.
Harriet Lubbock was John Lubbock’s mother.
The case is cited in Origin, p. 145, as evidence for the correlation of variations in plants. It was further discussed by CD in 1861 in ‘Cause of the variation of flowers’ (Collected papers 2: 43–5).
Swammerdam 1758, an English translation of Jan Swammerdam’s Bybel der Natuure (Leiden, 1737). CD’s copy of the work is in the Cambridge University Library. It had been given to Erasmus Darwin by Josiah Wedgwood I and passed on to CD by his father Robert Waring Darwin in 1827. A further inscription indicates that CD gave the volume to William Erasmus Darwin in 1858. Lubbock referred to Swammerdam’s description of the dipteran Stratiomys in his paper on the ova and pseudova of insects (Lubbock 1859). The paper was received by the Royal Society on 10 November 1858 and read at the meeting of 9 December (see letter to John Lubbock, [November 1858]).


Lubbock, John. 1859. On the ova and pseudova of Insects. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 149: 341–69. [Vols. 7,9]

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.

Swammerdam, Jan. 1758. The book of nature; or, the history of insects … with the life of the author, by Herman Boerhaave. Translated from the Dutch and Latinoriginal by Thomas Flloyd. Revised … by John Hill. 2 pts. London.


Variations in the structure of Pelargonium flowers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Lubbock, 4th baronet and 1st Baron Avebury
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 263: 24 (EH 88206473)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2390,” accessed on 29 February 2020,

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