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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   6–7 October [1861]

Down Bromley Kent

Oct 6th

My dear Hooker

It is impossible to thank you enough. I was almost mad at the wealth of orchids.—1 Several invaluable to me.— I cannot read enclosed ticket. Do not care about ticket for flower too much withered.2 I send postage stamps.— What trouble it must have taken you!! I shd. rather like another specn. of Masdevallia; but I do not care much.—

The column of Cynoches was broken; everything else perfect.— I fear you would have no time for even simplest observation on Cynoches.— But I will for chance tell case. Loddiges told me “that Mormodes, if touched, would not fail to fertilise itself once in a thousand times”.—3 James Veitch tells me of some strange movement.—4

I shd. much like to quote you on subject.— Is it that the pollinia slew round, when touched, & enter stigmatic cavity? Or does the lower part of column bend, when a large insect alights on the labellum or touches base of column;— I can conceive by this movement that pollinia would be left on insect’s back & ultimately fertilise another flower.5 But former supposition seems more probable, & would be of highest importance to me as it would be case of self-fertilisation like that of Bee Ophrys:— it is, however, very clear that there is sticky gland so that insects would sometimes remove pollinia.— The pollinia of your specimen were glued to the labellum.— Veitch sent me several specs of Mormodes, but column of all broken & pollinia gone!! Eheu Eheu!!

Yours most gratefully | C. D.—

I must set to work again.—

Monday morning.— I have been at work all morning— you cannot tell how interesting & useful your specimens.— The buds of Pleurostalis have saved me from such a confounded blunder.6 I am very anxious to hear, whether the spiral vessels, corresponding to each division of the Clinandrum is more of an argument, concerning their nature, than in being merely one point more of general resemblance. I find they come in in important manner in many Orchids.—7

They form the wings to the column in Cattleya & Oncidium.—8 The worst of my work is that I have no conception what is new & what quite old in my work.— I fear I have been a precious fool to undertake it; but anyhow it has amused me.—


Hooker’s letter has not been found. CD had asked Hooker to send him specimens of several different plants, including a number of foreign orchids (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 28 September [1861]).
This sentence was added later in blue crayon.
Conrad Loddiges was a nurseryman in Hackney. In his ‘big book’ on species, CD cited Loddiges as saying that ‘not one in a hundred’ of the pollen-masses of Mormodes ‘would miss hitting the stigmatic surface’ (see Natural selection, p. 66).
CD had obtained a number of exotic orchids from James Veitch, partner with his father and brothers in J. Veitch and Sons Nursery, Chelsea.
CD subsequently described in similar terms the adherence of a viscid disc to the head rather than to the back of an insect in the process of pollinating Mormodes (see Orchids, pp. 258–60).
CD refers to Pleurothallis, two species of which are briefly discussed in Orchids, pp. 166–7.
See Orchids, p. 299.


Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.


Orchid anatomy.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 116
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3277,” accessed on 27 January 2021,

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