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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   18 [December 1861]

Down Bromley Kent


My dear Hooker

Thanks for your note.1 I have not written for a long time, for I always fancy, busy as you are, that my letters must be a bore. Though I like writing, & always enjoy your notes.

I can sympathise with you about fear of Scarlet Fever: to the day of my death I shall never forget all the sickening fear about the other children after our poor little Baby died of it.—2

The Genera Plantarum must be a tremendous work & no doubt very valuable (such a Book, odd as it may appear, would be very useful even to me) but I cannot help being rather sorry at the length of time it must take, because I cannot enter on & understand your work—3 Will you not be puzzled when you come to the Orchids? It seems to me Orchids alone would be work for a man’s life time: I cannot somehow feel satisfied with Lindley’s classification: the Malaxeæ & Epidendreæ seem to me very artificially separated.4 Not that I have seen enough to form an opinion worth anything.—

Your African plant seems to be a vegetable Ornithorhynchus,—indeed much more than that.5 The more I read about Plants, the more I get to feel that all Phanerogams seem comparable with one class, as Lepidoptera, rather than with one Kingdom as the whole Insecta.

Thanks for your comforting sentence about the accursed ducts (accursed though they be, I should like nothing better than to work at them in other allied orders, if I had time).6 I shall be ready for press in 3 or 4 week & have got all my woodcuts drawn.7 I fear much that publishing separately will prove a foolish job; but I do not care much, & the work has greatly amused me.— The Catasetum has not flowered yet!

In writing to Lindley about an Orchid which he sent me, I told him a little about Acropera & in answer he suggests that Gongora may be its female:8 he seems dreadfully busy & I feel that I have more right to kill you than to kill him; so can you send me one, or at most two dried flowers of Gongora: if you know habitat of Acropera luteola, a Gongora from same country would be best; but any true Gongora would do; if its pollen should prove as rudimentary as that of Monacanthus relatively to Catasetum, I think I could easily perceive it even in dried specimens when well soaked.—

I have picked a little out of Lecoq; but it is awful tedious hunting.9

Bates is getting on with his Natural History Travels in one Vol.10   I have read 1st. Chapt. in M.S. & I think that it will be an excellent book & very well written:11 he argues in good & new way to me, that Tropical climate has very little direct relation to the gorgeous colouring of insects (though of course he admits that Tropics have a far greater number of beautiful insects) by taking all the few genera common to Britain & Amazonia, & he finds that the species proper to the latter are not at all more beautiful. I wonder how this is in species of the same restricted genera of Plants.—

If you can remember it, thank Bentham for getting my Primula paper printed so quickly: I do enjoy getting a subject off one’s hands completely.—12 I have now got dimorphism in structure in 8 natural orders, just like Primula.— Asa Gray sent me dried flowers of capital case in Amsinckia spectabilis one of Borragineæ.13 I suppose you do not chance to have this plant alive at Kew.—

Attend, will you please, to enclosed memorandum.—14

I have scribbled a long rigmarole, so good night | My dear Hooker | Your affect | C. Darwin

P.S. | I have just met in Lecoq a magnificent case (for experiment) of Trimorphism in Lythrum salicaria & in L. thymifolia.— Could you help me to seeds or plants?15

Is Mr Borrer a good-natured man.? Would it do to write to him before the Spring to ask him for some plants or seeds? Perhaps he abominates the author of the Origin.—16


The letter from Hooker has not been found.
CD’s youngest child, Charles Waring Darwin, died on 28 June 1858, at the age of eighteen months, during an epidemic of scarlet fever. See Correspondence vol. 7.
Hooker and George Bentham were preparing a systematic compilation of all known plant genera. The first part of volume 1 of Genera plantarum (Bentham and Hooker 1862–83) was published in 1862.
John Lindley separated these two tribes of orchids on the basis of a difference he perceived in the way the pollen-masses were attached to the stigma (see Lindley 1830, p. 265).
The reference is to an anomalous plant sent to Hooker from Angola, which he named Welwitschia mirabilis (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 October [1861], and L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 24–5). The species exhibits characteristics intermediate between those that distinguish what were considered to be the two main divisions of flowering plants, angiosperms and gymnosperms. Ornithorhynchus, the duck-billed platypus, is a monotreme, an egg-laying mammal.
Hooker’s letter has not been found, but see the letters to J. D. Hooker, 10 November [1861] and 14 November [1861].
CD was preparing the manuscript of Orchids. The woodcuts for the work were drawn by George Brettingham Sowerby Jr.
The letter has not been found, but see the letter to John Lindley, 15 December [1861].
Henry Walter Bates was writing an account of his travels, which was published in 1863.
CD read a paper entitled ‘On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations’ before the Linnean Society of London on 21 November 1861. It was printed in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. George Bentham was president of the society and Hooker a member of council. See letters to George Bentham, 24 November [1861] and 26 November [1861], and letter from George Bentham, 26 November 1861.
CD’s memorandum has not been found.
Lecoq 1854–8, 6: 154–9. CD read a paper on the sexual relations of the three forms of Lythrum salicaria before the Linnean Society in June 1864 (see Collected papers 2: 106–31).
William Borrer was a friend of Hooker’s father, William Jackson Hooker (see Allan 1967). A wealthy man with a great interest in botany, Borrer endeavoured to cultivate every critical British species and all the hardy exotic plants that he could obtain, having at one time had as many as 6600 different species growing in his garden (DNB).


Allan, Mea. 1967. The Hookers of Kew, 1785–1911. London: Michael Joseph.

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

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

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.

Lindley, John. 1830. An introduction to the natural system of botany: or, a systematic view of the organisation, natural affinities, and geographical distribution, of the whole vegetable kingdom; together with the uses of the most important species in medicine, the arts, and rural or domestic economy. London. [Vols. 6,9,10]

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.


Lindley suggests Gongora may be female Acropera.

CD’s orchid book nearly ready for press.

Discovers trimorphism in Lythrum is in H. Lecoq [Études sur la géographie botanique de l’Europe (1854–8)].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 137
Physical description
ALS 7pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3346,” accessed on 13 July 2024,

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