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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   23 October [1861]

Down Bromley Kent

Oct. 23.

My dear Hooker.

I am heartily glad to hear for my own sake, & not for yours, that there is one human being more troublesome than myself.— It is really good of you to tell me that you like making the Garden useful.—

It is plants of Hedyotis or allies which must flower & seed with me to be of any use. It is plant of hairy Saxifrage. And plants of vars. & species of Verbascum:1 why I asked again was because if you could not help me I would begin & enquire at nurseries.—

I enclose list, as that may save you time as a Memorandum.— You will see that now I shd be most glad of any genus of Orchid, which I have not seen.—

I can well believe that the way you are treating the Genera Plantarum, must be most interesting.2 I have looked in Lindley about Gnetum;3 what a curious form your new one must be,—what a fine living fossil, preserved from past times.4 I like to hear of embryology revealing its affinities. You will understand why I want so much some Cinchoneæ or perhaps Rubiaceæ when you hear my paper on Primula & Linum.5

Would you ask Mr Smith whether he has ever seen Mormodes or Cycnoches eject its pollinia as Catasetum does?6

The Box has just arrived & plant quite safe & splendidly packed! I was astounded at the sight of the Box. My dear Hooker, you cannot tell how you have delighted me. I can now try many little experiments.— I shall send plant tomorrow to a neighbour’s Hot-house to secure the flowers opening & being vigorous.—7 I should have hated publishing without examining more than one flower.— Most cordially do I thank you. I look at Catasetum as at the top of the tree; beating even Listera. How on earth we shall ever succeed in packing the plant up to return it, I hardly know.—

Good Night. Ever yours | C. Darwin

Reichenbach on Poll. Orch. not in Linn. or Royal Soc.y.8

[Enclosure 1]9

Rather Young buds of Oncidium; not very young. ⁠⟨⁠Old flowers of Acropera; & I shd rather like a bud Any orchid genus which I have not seen, I give list of genera seen by me Masdevallia: I shd also like a Dendrobium Seeds or plants which would be best of Hedyotis & any allied forms, to experiment on when in flower. Verbascum vars (yellow & white) & some hardy species Plant of Hairy Saxifrage Seeds of Adlumia (one of the Fumariaceæ)

[Enclosure 2]

Exotic Genera of Orchids, which I have seen (Malaxeæ) (Vandeæ continued)

Pleurothallis Lycaste

Stelis Catasetum

Microstylis Mormodes

Dendrobium Cycnoches (Epidendreæ) Rodriguezia

Epidendrum Calanthe

Barkeria (Arethuseæ)

Cattleya 0 0 0 (Vandeæ) (Cypripedium.)











See the first enclosure. CD was intending to initiate a series of breeding experiments with these plants in the coming growing season (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 October [1861]). Hedyotis is an Asian genus belonging to the Rubiaceae. CD had heard from Asa Gray that several genera of Rubiaceae exhibited dimorphism, a phenomenon CD had studied in Primula and other plants (see letter from Asa Gray, 11 October 1861). In Saxifraga, CD was interested in learning ‘whether & what of the most hairy species catch flies’ (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 19 June [1861]).
Hooker and George Bentham were preparing a systematic compilation of all known vascular plant genera, the Genera plantarum. The first part of the first volume of Bentham and Hooker 1862–83 appeared in August 1862.
Lindley 1853, pp. 232–4.
Hooker had recently examined the cones of an unusual plant, found growing in south-west Africa, that had been sent to Kew together with a sketch of the plant. Hooker identified the plant as belonging to the Gnetaceae and named it Welwitschia after its discoverer, Friedrich Welwitsch. In Hooker 1863, pp. 3–4, Hooker described this new genus, stating that its discovery was: the most wonderful, in a botanical point of view, that has been brought to light during the present century; for an attentive study of the structure of its vascular system, as well as of its reproductive organs, and of the evidences we have of its functional peculiarities and mode of development, will disclose in all these points very singular anomalies, which even appear in some instances subversive of theoretical axioms hitherto considered as fundamental in Botany.
CD read a paper on dimorphism in Primula to the Linnean Society of London on 21 November 1861 (see Collected papers 2: 45–63). In this paper, he briefly mentioned the results of his study of the two forms of Linum. Two years later, on 5 February 1863, he gave a fuller account of dimorphism in Linum (see ibid., pp. 95–105).
John Smith was curator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. CD described the genus Catasetum as ‘the most remarkable of all Orchids’ (Orchids, p. 211). Exclusively a male form, Catasetum requires mechanical aid for its pollen-masses to be transported to female plants. According to CD’s account, nature ‘has endowed these plants with, what must be called for want of a better term, sensitiveness, and with the remarkable power of forcibly ejecting their pollinia to a distance. Hence, when certain definite points of the flower are touched by an insect, the pollinia are shot out like an arrow’ and attach to the insect, which effects pollination when it subsequently visits a female plant (Orchids, pp. 212–13).
In Orchids, p. 158 n., CD thanked his neighbour, George Henry Turnbull of The Rookery, Down, for allowing him to use his glasshouse.
CD had asked to borrow Reichenbach 1852 from Hooker (see letters to J. D. Hooker, 15 [October 1861] and 18 October [1861], and to John Lindley, 25 October [1861]).
On the back of this enclosure, Hooker made a brief list of CD’s requests.


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.

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.

Reichenbach, Heinrich Gustav. 1852. De pollinis orchidearum genesi ac structura et de orchideis in artem ac systema redigendis. Leipzig: F. Hofmeister.


JDH’s work on Gnetum: a living fossil.

Orchid anatomy.

Encloses lists of orchids and other specimens he would be interested in seeing.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 121, 126a, 124a
Physical description
ALS 4pp, encl 1p †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3296,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

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