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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   6 August [1861]1

2. Hesketh Crescent | Torquay

Aug. 6

My dear Lyell

Mr Bentham has sent me a spurless O. pyramidalis, which you & he picked up by a strange coincidence.2 As Bentham says he is going to leave his lodgings, I know not where to write & thank him. If you see him, please thank him.—3

But I write, also, to beg you, if you should stumble on another, send it in a little tin cannister; for the specimen was so utterly smashed as to be useless.4

The specimen to be of use to me shd. have lower flowers & old & half-withered; in this condition it would be highly useful.—

I fear, however, from what I could make out of the state of the flowers that they are irregular monsters.—5 I have written to Tenby in vain for this variety, which would be so useful to me.—6

Ever yours | C. Darwin


Dated by the Darwins’ stay in Torquay, Devon, from 2 July until 26 August 1861 (‘Journal’; Appendix II).
CD had written to George Bentham to ask him to look out for specimens of Orchis pyramidalis that lacked nectaries (letters to George Bentham, 17 June [1861] and 22 June [1861]).
The Benthams visited Folkestone in Kent, where the Lyells were also staying, during the first week in August (Jackson 1906, pp. 187–90).
There is a reference to CD’s request in a letter Lyell wrote to his nephew, Leonard Lyell, on 7 August 1861 (K. M. Lyell ed. 1881, 2: 348): I believe Aunt Mary told Mama about a letter of Mr. Darwin’s, wanting Mr. Bentham to tell him how to get from Tenby in Wales a variety of Orchis pyramidalis, which you remember gathering here, ‘without spurs,’ which mamma one day pointed out to me as so characteristic of the flowers of that plant. The first specimen which Mr. Bentham gathered in the Warren when talking with me of C. Darwin’s letter, was this very variety and monstrosity. But though we have picked two or three dozen since, not one of them departed from the usual type, and I fear they are all gone off now, which is a pity, as Darwin has written to me for another without spurs. The references are to Lyell’s wife, Mary Elizabeth Lyell, and Leonard’s mother, Katherine Murray Lyell.
CD discussed the ‘monstrous flowers’ produced by O. pyramidalis in Orchids, pp. 47–8.
Bentham seems to have suggested that CD try to obtain specimens of the orchid from someone living near Tenby, South Wales (see letter to George Bentham, 22 June [1861]).


Jackson, Benjamin Daydon. 1906. George Bentham. London: J. M. Dent. New York: E. P. Dutton.

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.


Bentham has sent a damaged spurless Orchis pyramidalis; asks CL to send another. Fears they are irregular monsters. [See Orchids, pp. 47–8.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Bentham letters: 698)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3227,” accessed on 9 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9