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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. G. More   9 August [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

Aug. 9th

My dear Sir

In case you visit Epipactis, will you make one other trifling observation for me.— Though the distal end of labellum was nearly closed in flower sent me, perhaps it may be fully open in sunshine; & if so would you try whether irritation with stalk of grass on the jointed part or on the odd coupled orange central part causes any movement slow or quick. I know it is ten thousand to one against any such movement; but as the labellum in some orchids is irritable, it wd. be worth trial. It is possible that the labellum may be irritable as well as elastic.—2

The only chance of seeing insects at work, would be the first bright day after this miserable weather or a bright gleam of few hours in middle of one of our gloomy days.—3

I see that you have lately published on the Flora of the I. of Wight.—4

My dear Sir | Yours truly obliged | Charles Darwin


This letter was first published in Correspondence vol. 8, transcribed from a copy on which the year is recorded (DAR 146: 391).
The elasticity of the labellum of Epipactis, which compels insects to brush against the rostellum when retreating, is described in Orchids, pp. 98–100. More is cited as having performed experiments on the movements of the labellum, although this particular inquiry about irritability is not mentioned (Orchids, pp. 99, 101–2 n.). CD believed that the labellum of Epipactis might be irritable by analogy with other species of orchid: ‘In certain exotic Orchids the labellum suddenly moves and catches insects as if in a box’ (Orchids, p. 342).
The summer of 1860 was notorious for its extended period of bad weather. See Orchids, p. 39, in which CD writes of the ‘injurious effects of the extraordinary cold and wet season of 1860’.
More contributed the chapter on ‘Flowering plants and ferns’ to Edmund Venables’s guide to the Isle of Wight (Venables 1860, pp. 466–502).


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

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Venables, Edmund. 1860. The Isle of Wight. A guide. London.


Asks AGM to make an experiment on Epipactis.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alexander Goodman More
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Irish Academy (A. G. More papers RIA MS 4 B 46)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2894,” accessed on 29 May 2023,

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