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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Daniel Oliver   23 November 1860


23. XI. 60 | Friday morng

My dear Sir

Dr. Hooker has given me your memorandum about the Fly-Catcher.1 Looking again at the notice of Asclepias in Konig & Sims’ Annals of Botany.2 I find reference there to an account of the Fly-catching Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) by Curtis in Bot. Mag. 280.3 This is doubtless the plant. Dr. Hooker recollects it I think at Glasgow. & I believe quite thinks yours must have been the same. Curtis says “The flowers of this Apocynum have a sweet honey-like fragrance, which perfumes the air to a considerable distance x x x x when a plant x x is fully blown one may always find flies caught in its blossoms, usually by the trunk, very rarely by the leg x x x —. x x x x x x the sweet viscid substance    x    secreted by the stigma within the antherae x x the fly endeavours to obtain, & to this end insinuates its trunk first into the lowermost & widest part of the slit, betwixt each of the antherae x x pushing it of necessity upwards: when gratified, not having the sense to place itself in the same position, as that in wh. it stood when it inserted its trunk & to draw it out in the same direction downwards, unfortunately for it, it varies its position, & pulling its trunk upwards, draws it into the narrow part of the slit, where it becomes closely wedged in, & the more it pulls the more securely it is caught,” &c &c

See also Darwin (!) Botanic Garden, Supplement. p— ?. 4

Shall I copy you all Curtis’ account? We must make a point of looking at this Apocynum. Yours very faithfully | Danl. Oliver


The reference was written in the margin of the letter. Oliver refers to an item in the ‘Miscellaneous articles’ section of Annals of Botany 1 (1805): 398–9, edited by Karl Dietrich Eberhard Koenig and John Sims. The article is an abstract of Barton 1806, in which Asclepias syrica, the fly-catcher, is described. The abstract also mentions Apocynum androsaemifolium.
A. androsaemifolium was figured in William Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 8 (1794): tab. 280.
CD’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, provided a plate of A. androsaemifolium in The loves of the plants (E. Darwin 1789–91, pt 2, facing p. 182). He described plants of this species growing in the garden of his brother, Robert Waring Darwin of Elston, Nottinghamshire. Oliver’s reference to the ‘Supplement’ is explained by the plate and description being in a section of the book entitled ‘Additional notes’.


Barton, Benjamin Smith. 1806. Memorandum on a new vegetable muscipula. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 6: 79–82.

Darwin, Erasmus. 1789–91. The botanic garden; a poem, in two parts. Pt 1. The economy of vegetation. London: J. Johnson. 1791. Pt 2. The loves of the plants. With philosophical notes. Lichfield: J. Jackson. 1789.


Dr Hooker has given him CD’s memorandum on the fly-catcher.

Copies out extract from Curtis’ Botanical Magazine [On Apocynum androsæmifolium, 8 (1794): tab.]: 280 and gives a further reference in Erasmus Darwin’s The loves of plants [1789]. Suggests that they look at Apocynum.

Letter details

Letter no.
Daniel Oliver
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 157a
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2995A,” accessed on 28 January 2021,

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