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Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Gordon   17 September [1860]

Down Bromley Kent

Sept. 17th

Dear Sir

I thank you sincerely for your great kindness in sending me the famous lot of Goodyera,1 which arrived in very fair condition, being so excellently packed, & which I have dissected with the greatest interest this morning. The structure of the rostellum is much nearer to that of Epipactis than to that of Spiranthes, though in some degree intermediate between them.2 I beg leave again to give you my cordial thanks.

Dear Sir | Yours truly obliged | Charles Darwin

I enclose the stamps.

P.S | I have just received your most kind note of the 14th. —3 I believe I shall leave home on Saturday for the sea-coast; so I fear I shall hardly receive the fresh specimens, if you send them. Those sent were hardly vigorous enough to act perfectly but I feel morally almost certain that the action is the same as in Epipactis. I have planted the roots in peat in shady place & they may flower next year with me. The contrivances for insect fertilisation in Orchids are multiform & truly wonderful & beautiful.

You have added to your kindness in sending me the specimen by taking so much trouble so freely & pleasantly


See letter to George Gordon, 11 September [1860]; see also letter from H. C. Watson to George Gordon, 19 September 1860. CD thanked Gordon in Orchids, p. 112, for supplying him with living specimens of ‘this rare Highland Orchid’.
CD described Goodyera repens as being ‘an interesting connecting link between several very distict forms’ of orchids (Orchids, p. 114). About the rostellum, he recorded: ‘In the structure of the rostellum, with the exception of the sloping sides, and in the shape of the labellum, we see the affinity of Goodyera to Epipactis.’ He went on to suggest that ‘Goodyera probably shows us the state of the organs of fructification in a large group of Orchids, now mostly extinct, but the parents of many living descendants.’ (ibid., pp. 115–16).
Gordon’s letter has not been found.


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.


Thanks GG for specimens of Goodyera. The rostellum structure is near to that of Epipactis and CD is almost certain that the action is the same.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Gordon
Sent from
Source of text
Elgin Museum (Gordon Archive 60.14)
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2920,” accessed on 24 May 2024,

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