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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   1 December [1861]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Dec. 1st

My dear Hooker

The Catasetum arrived quite safe, but I have not seen it, as it is at friends hot-house, & I hear it has splendid truss of buds, which I am so very glad of, as I have thought of many experiments to try.—1

The Bolbyphyllum came, also, quite safe; but alas I can see no trace of irritability in Labellum.—2

Hearty thanks for the orchid-flowers: one of Maxillaria showed me quite a new movement in caudicle, & I was extremely glad of Acropera, which has cost you so much trouble & has so perplexed me.—3 I send to Oliver by this post its wretched rudimentary ovules, with request that he will look at them; for I never looked at an ovule in my life before!4 Yet a blind man (to speak like an Irishman) could see the difference in the ovules of Acropera & of all the many other orchids at whose ovules I have now looked.—

Pray get your foreman G....…? to give me the precise facts about the crossing of Victoria.5

I am very glad to hear that you liked Bates:6 I have seldom in my life been more struck with a man’s power of mind: it is capital about the Plates for Linn. Transactions.— I do not think I could offer him the £10, but perhaps he will want it for the drawing of Plates.—7 His explanation of these mimetic resemblances removes a difficulty which has very long perplexed me, & which never could have been understood without his facts.—8

When Lecoq came I was so disgusted at size, (not so much at price, which is only 3£) that I put the 9 volumes on highest shelf; but I have this evening taken down 1st & 9th vol & have cut pages & will have look & see what it is. If it does not suit me, & does suit you, you may have it for 2£: It seems full of details on range of each individual species.9

How little plants of Africa must be known from what you say of the Laurels!10

Adios.— | your affect— | C. Darwin

P.S. | Have you ever attended to morphology of ovarium of Orchids, & to difference between Brown on one hand, & Lindley & Link on other, on whether it consists of 6 or 3 carpels.— In specimens on glass-slides sent to Oliver, there is row of hairs, or spine-like cells on the intermediate segments (between those which bear the ovules) which I fancy indicate that these segments are independent parts, & not mere lines of splitting, as Brown argues, to favour dissemination of seed.—11

But of course such a point is quite beyond my tether: no one seems to have observed these projecting spine-like cells.—

I wonder who makes abstracts for Gardener Chron: there is capital one on Primula; I am surprised much if Kippist does it so well.—12


CD had asked Hooker to send him more specimens of Catasetum and Bolbophyllum (see letters to J. D. Hooker, 1 November [1861] and [22 November 1861]). In Orchids, George Henry Turnbull of Down is thanked for allowing CD ‘free use of his hot-houses’ (Orchids, p. 158 n.).
In Orchids, p. 172, CD stated that one of the many ‘singular properties of Orchids’ was the ‘irritability of the labellum in several distantly-allied forms’. He went on to say that, although Bolbophyllum had been described as having an irritable labellum, he had been unable to detect irritability in the specimens he examined, adding that he had not in fact seen any orchid with an irritable labellum.
The movement of the pedicel of the rostellum in Maxillaria ornithorhyncha (an unpublished name) is described in Orchids, p. 191. CD had been trying to understand the pollination mechanism of Acropera since October (see letters to J. D. Hooker, 15 October [1861], 18 October [1861], and 27 October [1861]).
CD had offered Bates £10 to help defray the expense involved in including coloured plates in the published version of his paper on mimetic analogies in insects (Bates 1861b) (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 November [1861]). Hooker was a member of the council of the Linnean Society (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 407). Bates’s paper was published with two coloured plates illustrating ‘mimetic analogies between various Lepidopterous insects and the Heliconidæ’ (Bates 1861b, p. 564).
CD included a discussion of Bates’s account of mimetic resemblance in the fourth edition of Origin (Origin 4th ed., pp. 502–6).
Hooker was currently describing the plants collected by Gustav Mann in the Cameroons and nearby islands (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 18).
The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 30 November 1861, pp. 1048–9, carried summaries of CD’s paper, ‘On the two forms, or dimorphic condition in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations’, and of Bates 1861b, both read at a meeting of the Linnean Society on 21 November 1861. Richard Kippist was librarian of the society.


Bates, Henry Walter. 1861. Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Lepidoptera: Heliconidæ. [Read 21 November 1861.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 23 (1860–2): 495–566.

Lecoq, Henri. 1854–8. Études sur la géographie botanique de l’Europe et en particulier sur la végétation du plateau central de la France. 9 vols. Paris: J. B. Baillière.

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.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Rudimentary ovules of Acropera.

High opinion of Bates.

Orchid anatomy.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 135
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3337,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

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