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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry Doubleday   16 May 1860


May 16th 1860

My dear Sir,

I hope you will excuse my apparent neglect in not replying to your letter, but I have been so much engaged the last few days that I really have had no spare time—

I will not however any longer delay answering your queries—   In the few remarks I made about Primroses, Cowslips and Oxlips I merely stated what had occurred to me— 1 I am perfectly aware that it is often necessary to repeat the same experiments many times before you can arrive at the real facts of the case.

Since I received your letter yesterday2 I have examined the plants of the Bardfield Oxlip which remain in flower and find they are both “male” and “female” plants—⁠⟨⁠that is plants w⁠⟩⁠ith long pistils and short stamens and others with long stamens and short pistils— I have only two or three plants of our hybrid oxlip left and these have long stamens and short pistils but I think I have seen them with long pistils—3 I have taken no notice of them the last four or five years and the two or three dry hot summers we have had killed most of them—   Some years ago I saw a statement in the Gardener’s Chronicle that upon the Continent the primrose and Cowslip never grow together and that the plant commonly called Oxlip here does not exist—altho‘ the true P. elatior is common in certain localities— I have never met with these apparently hybrid plants except where the Primrose and Cowslip were growing together—and they vary exceedingly—some of the flowers being deep in colour and not much larger than cowslips while others are pale and nearly as large as primroses—and many of them produce flowers on single stalks like primroses as well those in umbels—   I have never seen this in the Bardfield Oxlip—

If I can find any plants of our Oxlip in flower in the field⁠⟨⁠s⁠⟩⁠ or edges of the forest I will ⁠⟨⁠carefully⁠⟩⁠

CD annotations

3.7 Some years … Bardfield Oxlip— 3.15] scored pencil
3.15 Oxlip] ‘H. Doubleday’ added pencil
Top of first page: ‘Ch. 4’4 brown crayon


CD’s letter to Doubleday has not been found.
In Forms of flowers, CD referred to the common oxlip as a hybrid between the cowslip and primrose and to the Bardfield oxlip as a distinct species (Primula elatior) ‘found in England only in two or three of the eastern counties’ (Forms of flowers, pp. 32, 55, 72). He cited Doubleday as the first to discover this species in England (ibid., p. 32).
A reference to notes pertaining to chapter 4 of Natural selection, on ‘Variation under nature’.


Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.


Answers CD’s questions about his experiments with primroses, cowslips, and oxlips. HD is aware experiments must often be repeated many times. Has never met with the oxlip except where primrose and cowslip grow together.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Doubleday
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162.2: 238
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2804,” accessed on 19 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8