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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Oliver   23 March [1861]1

Down Bromley Kent

March 23d

My dear Sir

You told me formerly that you did not much care about my troubling you: I hope to Heaven you keep of same mind.— Will you ask Mr. Fitch to make two little diagrams for me for woodcuts; as by enclosed paper.—2 And will you kindly give him the specimens, viz two common Primroses, one “pin-headed, as the Florists say with stigma at mouth of corolla: & the other with stamens at the mouth.— And cut them longitudinally with sharp scissors   Mr Fitch could keep a little account against me.— I think I shall publish an account of my observations & experiments on Primula; i.e. on its dimorphous condition.3 By the way you will find the pin-headed & non-pin-headed in any bank of Primroses.— I find that with P. Sinensis, the short-stamened flowers fertilise themselves, whereas the long-stamened flowers will not set without man’s or insects’ aid.—

I am now crossing largely Cowslips & polyanthuses. And this leads me to beg a second favour, viz to send me 2 or 3 flowers (not whole trusses) of pin-headed & non-pin headed, of any species of Primula, except P. vulgaris, Sinensis & Auricula.— If you have any other species pray fold me a few flowers in double green leaf, & pollen would come neither too dry or too wet for measurement.— If you can send please send names of species.—4

Yours very truly | Ch. Darwin


[DIAG HERE] Short stamens or pin-headed Long-stamens pistil calyx stamens corolla calyx

Points to be attended to: relative heights of pistil & stamens—of corolla & calyx; & of the enlargement of corolla, where anthers are situated.—

(Longitudinal Section of) (Common Primrose)–

(Longitudinal Section of Common Primrose)— Clean, hard outlines for 2 woodcuts, matching in size & to stand near alongside each other.5

Corolla & calyx of same length in the two


This letter was published without its enclosure in Correspondence vol. 9. The year is established by the reference to CD’s paper on Primula (see n. 3, below), which was read before the Linnean Society on 21 November 1861.
Walter Hood Fitch was a freelance botanical artist who often worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (R. Desmond 1995). The woodcuts he prepared were published in CD’s paper on dimorphism in Primula (see n. 3, below).
‘Dimorphic condition in Primula was CD’s first published study of dimorphism. CD stated that, although botanists recognised the existence of the long-styled and short-styled forms of Primula, they regarded the phenomenon as ‘mere variability’ (ibid, p. 78; Collected papers 2: 45). He illustrated that this recognition was not specific to the botanical community by referring to florists’ use of the terms ‘pin-eyed’ and ‘thumb-eyed’ to describe what he believed to be two distinct forms of Primula (‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, p. 77; Collected papers 2: 45).
Oliver sent CD the flowers of a number of different Primula species (‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, p. 81; Collected papers 2: 48).
The diagram was published in ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, p. 78 (Collected papers 2: 46).


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]


CD will publish on Primula [Collected papers 2: 45–63]. Will DO ask W. H. Fitch to make woodcuts of "pin" and "non-pin" primroses [i.e., long-styled and short-styled forms]? Encloses a sketch.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel Oliver
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.10: 4 (EH 88205988); Christie’s Images
Physical description
4pp encl 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3097,” accessed on 28 November 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9 and 13 (Supplement)