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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Bateman   [1 February 1862]1

Biddulph Grange, | Congleton.


My Dear Sir,

I was very glad indeed to hear that the Orchid flowers were so acceptable.2

Pray forgive my gardener’s carelessness in omitting the names;—3 when Icharged him with the misdemeanour he defended himself on the ground that he could never have supposed you could have been ignorant of them!!

I am sorry to say that my knowledge of Orchids almost ends where yours— according to your own modest representation—would seem to begin i.e. I know them much better systematically than structurally. Indeed, even as a young man, my eyes were too weak to bear the strain of the microscope without which nothing of course could be done.

I believe however I can answer in the affirmative your question as to whether the pollinia of Mormodes are ever projected;—of Cycnoches I cannot speak positively but I have scarcely a doubt that its pollinia have learned the same trick.4

You should study these organs in Chysis, the flowering season of which will soon arrive (N.B. if you want specimens I shall be most happy to send them) and I cannot help thinking that it might be useful to investigate the hybrid between Limatodes & Calanthe that is almost constantly in flower at Veitchs nursery.5

I have never actually seen insects gnawing away at the labella of Orchids but several, minute ickneumon-like things often lurk in the recesses of the more complicated forms.6

I much wish you would take up the subject of the marvellous changes—I might almost call them metempsychosis—to which Orchids are prone. Though by no means a convert to your theory as to the ‘Origin of Species’ I wish the matter to be thoroughly ventilated and cannot but think that facts of great significance may be gathered in the direction I have indicated. If you put me in the witness-box I shall be happy to tell all I know.

I have to thank you very much for the interesting little pamphlet on Primula that you were good enough to send me, & I need not say how anxious I am to see yr. more important work on Orchids.7 I was interrupted when about to write you before, for which, or rather the consequent delay—I beg to apologise & am very truly | Jas. Bateman


Dated by the reference to CD’s Primula paper (see n. 7, below), and by the relationship to the letter from Robert Bateman, [28 January 1862], in which Bateman stated that his father hoped to write to CD the following day. The first Saturday after 28 January 1862 fell on 1 February.
CD’s letter to Bateman has not been found. CD received a box of orchids from Bateman on 25 January 1862 (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 [and 26] January [1862]).
James Bateman’s son Robert identified at least some of the orchids his father had sent to CD in his letter of [28 January 1862].
CD had learned that, as with Catasetum, the pollinia of Mormodes and Cycnoches are violently ejected when the column is touched in a certain way. He was anxious to observe the mechanism, and had requested specimens from a number of correspondents (see Correspondence vol. 9). The genera are discussed in Orchids, pp. 249–69; the ejection of pollen is described on pp. 256–62.
The Veitch family owned nurseries in London and Exeter (R. Desmond 1994). The assistance of James Veitch Jr in procuring orchid specimens is acknowledged in Orchids, pp. 158 and 214; see also Correspondence vol. 9. Limatodes is a synonym for Calanthe (Willis 1973); Bateman presumably refers to Calanthe dominii, a hybrid between C. furcata and C. masuca, first raised in the Veitches’ Exeter nursery in 1856 (see Gardeners’ Chronicle 3d ser. 46 (1909): 328). CD discussed C. dominii and C. masuca in Orchids, pp. 195–7.
CD was interested in the possibility that species of orchid that lacked nectaries might attract insects by possessing either a thick and fleshy labellum or excrescences on the labellum that might serve the insect as food (see Orchids, pp. 283–5).
The references are to CD’s paper, ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula and to Orchids. Bateman’s name appears on CD’s presentation lists for both of these publications (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendixes III and IV).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

‘Dimorphic condition in Primula’: On the two forms, or dimorphic condition, in the species of Primula, and on their remarkable sexual relations. By Charles Darwin. [Read 21 November 1861.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 77–96. [Collected papers 2: 45–63.]

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.

Willis, John Christopher. 1973. A dictionary of the flowering plants and ferns. 8th edition. Revised by H. K. Airy Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Glad CD approves of the orchids he sent.

Believes the pollinia of Mormodes are projected; thinks CD should look at the pollinia of Chysis and investigate the hybrid between Limatodes and Calanthe.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Bateman
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160.1: 59
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3356,” accessed on 16 June 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10