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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   6 [November 1861]



My dear Hooker

There is something very odd in Rostellum of Masdevallia: the only structure I have met with at all like your wonderful Listera case—1 I cannot, however, see any explosion.— If you have plenty of flowers & are sending anything else I shd like to see a few more; especially a rather earlier flower.

I shd doubt whether there was such a shut-up flower in world; all sepals grown together except the 2 little windows for proboscis.—2

Ever yours | C. Darwin


Hooker 1854b. In Orchids, pp. 142–6, CD described how the rostellum of Listera ovata, upon being touched, instantly expels a viscid fluid that serves to attach pollen-masses to visiting insects.
In Orchids, CD called Masdevallia fenestrata an ‘extraordinary flower’ and stated that he did not understand how insects could effect its fertilisation (Orchids, pp. 168, 169): The whole structure of the flower seemed carefully intended to prevent the withdrawal of the pollinia, as well as their subsequent insertion into the stigmatic chamber! Some new and curious contrivance has here to be made out.


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.


Rostellum of Masdevallia.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 127
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3309,” accessed on 22 January 2021,

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