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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Oliver   20 October [1860]

15 Marine Parade | Eastbourne

Oct. 20th

My dear Sir

We return to “Down Bromley Kent” on 26th. —1

I have heard from Huxley about the Nat. Hist. Review2 & it has my good wishes & I shall certainly take it in.—   I really know nothing whatever about vegetable irritability (it is quite beyond my scope) except in case of Orchids; I have a large mass of notes with many new facts, but I resolutely, against my inclination, put them away a month ago with the determination to work them up & get drawings made at some distant period;3 for I am convinced that I ought to work on Variation & not amuse myself with interludes.— Drosera was an accident owing to my being from home & having nothing to do.—   My paper on Drosera, from containing minute particulars of numerous experiments, would not, I think, be fitted for the Review; & if I do not deceive myself some of the results are sufficiently curious to be published in some old standing Transactions. Where I shall send them I know not yet; as I cannot judge of evidence till all my experiments are tabulated & that will be a long job.—4 I may add that I told Huxley some months ago that I really could not assist by writing; I may add that my health is so weak that I cannot work above 3 hour a day; & I am at all times a most slow worker.—

I am so much obliged to you for going to try C. of Ammonia on Dionæa.5 I shd expect (but expectations are oftener wrong than right) that of C. of Ammonia on disc of leaf would cause it to shut slowly; but would produce no effect on back of leaf or on marginal spikes.—   What it will do on the sensitive lamina, Heaven only knows.—   I shd. expect after leaf has closed that each of the little tortoise-shell glands on the disc of leaf would secrete a minute bead of liquor. I must have expressed myself badly,—it is the red fluid being broken up or segregated with-in the sensitive lamina of a closed leaf, as in Drosera, which seems to me the important point of accordance; & not so much the action of C. of Ammonia on the red-fluid in the sensitive Hairs & tortoise-shell-like glands.—   I will try, & shd. not be in the least surprised, at C. of Ammonia acting on the fluid in cells of common leaves.—

My dear Sir | With many thanks | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin


The Darwins in fact did not return home until 10 November 1860 (‘Journal’; Appendix II). See letter to Daniel Oliver, 23 [October 1860].
Thomas Henry Huxley and John Lubbock were planning to take over the editing, in conjunction with several other naturalists, of the Natural History Review, a scientific quarterly until then published by naturalists in Dublin. Oliver was also one of the new editors. See letters to T. H. Huxley, 20 July [1860], and to John Lubbock, 20 July [1860].
Orchids was published in 1862.
CD eventually published his work on Drosera and other insectivorous plants in Insectivorous plants, which appeared in 1875.


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

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.


Will take Natural History Review, but cannot write for it.

Has mass of notes on irritability in orchids,

but he ought to work on Variation.

Drosera was an interlude while away from home. Expectations for effect of carbonate of ammonia on Dionaea. The important phenomenon in Drosera is the segregation of the red fluid within the leaf, not action of carbonate of ammonia on the red fluid.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel Oliver
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.10: 20 (EH 88206004)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2956,” accessed on 14 September 2023,

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