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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Gardeners’ Chronicle   [before 14 September 1861]1

I have been endeavouring during several years to make out the many contrivances by which British Orchids are fertilised through insect agency. I am very anxious to examine a few exotic forms. Several gentlemen have kindly sent me specimens; but I have not seen one of Lindley’s grand division of Arethuseæ, which includes the Limodorideæ, Vanillideæ, &c.2 If any one would have the kindness to send me a few flowers and buds of any member of the group, packed in a small tin canister, by post, addressed as below, he would confer a very great favour on me. Would you have the kindness to inform me, if in your power, whether the late Professor Morren has published anything (and where) on the fertilisation of Orchids by insect agency?3

Charles Darwin, Down, Bromley, Kent.


The letter was published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 14 September 1861, p. 831. See also Collected papers 2: 41.
The reference is to the section on orchids in Lindley 1853. John Lindley’s ‘fifth Tribe’ of orchids, Arethuseae, is only briefly mentioned in Orchids, pp. 269–70. CD was not able to examine ‘any living flowers’; reasoning from statements about allied forms, he suggested that ‘mechanical aid’ was necessary for their fertilisation.
An editorial note followed CD’s letter, probably written by the editor John Lindley: [We are unable to answer this question, and must refer it to others. After searching through Morren’s multitudes of pamphlets, we find nothing on Orchids except an academical dissertation on Orchis latifolia, and some remarks on the causes of the movements in the lips of Megaclinium.] The reference is to Belgian botanist Charles François Antoine Morren. In Orchids, p. 270 n., CD cited Morren 1839 on the necessity of artificial fertilisation of Vanilla in the East Indies owing to the absence there of the insect that is the agent of fertilisation in its country of origin, Mexico. See also letters to J. O. Westwood, 15 August [1861] and 4 September [1861].


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

Lindley, John. 1853. The vegetable kingdom; or, the structure, classification, and uses of plants, illustrated upon the natural system. 3d edition with corrections and additional genera. London: Bradbury & Evans.

Morren, Charles François Antoine. 1839. On the production of vanilla in Europe. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3: 1–9.

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.


Requests orchid specimens from Arethuseae division for his investigation of the many contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insect agency.

Asks whether Charles Morren has published on the fertilisation of orchids by insect agency.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Gardeners’ Chronicle
Sent from
Source of text
Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 14 September 1861, p. 831

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3252,” accessed on 22 October 2020,

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