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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Oliver   17 October [1860]

15 Marine Parade | Eastbourne

Oct 17th

My dear Sir

I am infinitely obliged for your mass of interesting facts & extracts.—1 The only at all full account which I have seen of Dionæa is by Mr Curtus, quoted by author (Lindley?) in Penny Encyclopædia.2 Lindley also refers to Dionæa having been fed & flourished on chopped meat.—   I think you could see with lens on growing plant whether colour in Sensitive Hairs becomes broken after being touched; that experiment & effect of C. of Ammonia on disc could be very interesting. A good dissector, I daresay could follow the cells with red matter from base of sensitive Hair, & thus follow its nerves!—

Many thanks about stomata; it was uncommonly stupid in me not to think of your explanation, which I have hardly a doubt is right;3 for it was after removing the tortoise-like glands, which are mounted on very short footstalks, that I saw the appearance of stomata: I have hardly a doubt that my so-called stomata are 2 cells of the footstalk.—

Thanks for your various analogies & comparisons about the moving red matter: it is beyond me; I shall just publish what I saw.—4 I think that you have misunderstood me in supposing that this appearance follows only from C. of Ammonia.— it is better seen in the Hairs which have naturally contracted over a fly or other object; & this it is, which seems to me to make the case curious.— I have been ascertaining this morning how quickly C. of Ammonia acts; & certainly 13 seconds suffice for the absorption & for a marked change in structure in the glands; in one minute the action reaches the upper part of footstalk.—   No other substance (such as Acetate, Oxalate, nitrate of Ammonia &c &c) acts nearly so quickly, though they do act after some time; the acetate of Ammonia is next in quickness.—   I suspect that milk, urine &c & these salts do not act until they have become decomposed, & yield C. of Ammonia.—   I cannot avoid suspecting that we see in the action of these substances on the leaves of Drosera what chemists believe takes place with organic manures on the roots of other plants.—5 I am going to try tomorrow C. of Ammonia on the root of Drosera & on some other common plant.—6

Thanks about Elatine—& for Goodenia Plants.— Pray thank Croker7 for all great trouble which he has taken.—

I have told Murray to send you copy of my Journal,8 which I am very glad you did not possess.—

Yours very truly | C. Darwin

The day after tomorrow I shall begin & draw up my paper on Drosera; for I have wasted a shameful lot of time on it—& yours also.9

The leaves of D. spathulata will not open.—


See letter from Daniel Oliver, [15–16 October 1860]. The letter that apparently accompanied the note has not been found.
Moses Ashley Curtis, a resident of North Carolina where Dionaea is native, was quoted by John Lindley in [Lindley] 1837, p. 508. CD cited Curtis 1834 in Insectivorous plants, p. 301 n.
The stomata of Dionaea muscipula were apparently discussed in the missing portion of the preceding letter. For CD’s views on the fine structure of the leaves, see the letter to Daniel Oliver, 14 October [1860].
CD described the phenomenon of aggregation in Insectivorous plants, chapter 3.
CD was familiar with the prevailing view of agricultural chemists that the roots of plants absorbed nitrogen derived from the decay of animal matter. A copy of Liebig 1840, which discusses this point, is in the Darwin Library–CUL. For CD’s reading of the works of Justus von Liebig, see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV.
CD’s experiments on the absorption of carbonate of ammonia by the roots of Drosera rotundifolia were given in Insectivorous plants, pp. 141–2. Further experiments on the roots of other plants were ultimately given in his paper on ‘The action of carbonate of ammonia on the roots of certain plants’ (1882) (Collected papers 2: 236–56). By that time, CD had decided that aggregation was the result of an accumulation of waste products in the cells at the tip of the root.
Journal of researches (1860). See second letter to Daniel Oliver, 12 [October 1860].
Although CD did not publish the results of his study of Drosera until 1875 (Insectivorous plants), he delivered a paper on the subject on 21 February 1861 at a meeting of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society (Bonney 1919, p. 154). The index to his ‘Eastbourne paper’ is in DAR 54: 1.


Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.

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

Curtis, Moses A. 1834. Enumeration of plants growing spontaneously around Wilmington, North Carolina, with remarks on some new and obscure species. Boston Journal of Natural History 1 (1834–7): 82–140.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Journal of researches (1860): Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle around the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. By Charles Darwin. Reprint edition. London: John Murray. 1860.

[Lindley, John]. 1837. Dionæ. In Penny Encyclopedia 8: 508. 27 vols. in 12. Supplement 3 vols. London. 1833–43.


Thanks for information and extracts.

M. A. Curtis, quoted in ["Dionaea"] Penny encyclopedia [(1837) 8: 508], gives the only full account of Dionaea.

Concurs in DO’s explanation of Dionaea footstalk cells, which CD took for stomata.

Is using carbonate of ammonia as a substitute for flies and colour change in glands as index of action on Drosera. Suspects other nitrogenous compounds do not act till decomposed into carbonate of ammonia. Beginning to write Drosera paper. Action of nitrogenous compounds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel Oliver
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.10: 18 (EH 88206002)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2951,” accessed on 22 April 2024,

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