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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Cardale Babington   17 January 1862


17. Jan. 1862.

Dear Darwin

I am much obliged to you for sending the separate copy of your exceedingly interesting paper. I was looking forward to the time when it would come in the Journal, and am glad to be able to anticipate that time by reading it now.1

I presume that you have had no opportunity of looking at the true Oxlip, P. elatior, which is, I believe, confined to woods on a stiff soil in what are called the Eastern Counties. It is quite as distinct from the Cowslip and Primrose as those are from each other—at least such is my opinion—and it has the same two forms of pin-headed and thumb-eyed flowers as those possess.2

I noticed the existence of similar differences in the allied genus Hottonia as long since as the 1st edition of my “Manual” (1843).3 But then and up to the present time had supposed that the pin-headed form was always barren. In fact, I have never seen seeds produced by that form of Hottonia. But then it is not easy to notice a quantity of such an aquatic plant. I have more than once had plants of it growing in a jar of water. It is very pretty when thus grown.

In Stellaria graminea two forms are found which probably correspond with those of Primula (See Man. ed. 3 or 4).4

Yours very truly | Charles C. Babington—

C. Darwin Esq. May it not be species of Hepialus that fertilize the Primulæ. Those Moths frequent the proper places, at the proper date, and in the evening.5

CD annotations

1.1 I am … now. 1.4] crossed ink !alignleft!2.1 I presume … existence 3.1] crossed ink
3.1 similar … barren. 3.3] ‘(See Lecoq & Vaucher)’6 added in margin, red crayon
3.1 as long … (1843). 3.2] scored red crayon
4.1 In … 4). 4.2] scored both margins, red crayon


‘Dimorphic condition in Primula; Babington’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for this paper (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix III).
In ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, p. 77 (Collected papers 2: 45), CD referred to the terms used by florists to describe the two forms of Primula, namely, ‘pin-headed’ or ‘pin-eyed’ for the form displaying the stigma at the mouth of the corolla, and ‘thumb-eyed’ for the form displaying the stamens (according to the OED, the correct term is ‘thrum-eyed’). CD designated the two forms ‘long-styled’ and ‘short-styled’, respectively. Although CD’s paper discussed many species, it did not mention P. elatior. During the course of his investigations into hybridisation among Primula species, he had been informed of the two forms of P. elatior by Henry Doubleday (see Correspondence vol. 8, letter from Henry Doubleday, 16 May 1860). CD discussed the case in Forms of flowers, pp. 72–3, citing C. C. Babington 1851, p. 258.
Babington referred to two forms of Stellaria graminea, one with shorter, the other with longer petals, in C. C. Babington 1851, p. 51, and in C. C. Babington 1856, p. 53. CD cited C. C. Babington 1851 on this point in Forms of flowers, p. 313 n. There is a lightly annotated copy of the third edition of Babington’s Manual of British botany in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 27–8).
CD speculated about which insect species might be involved in the cross-fertilisation of Primula species in ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, p. 85 (Collected papers 2: 52), concluding: ‘I am led to suppose that both Primroses and Cowslips are visited by moths.’
Lecoq 1854–8, 8: 146 and Vaucher 1841, 3: 723. There are annotated copies of both works in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 488–95, 812–15).


Babington, Charles Cardale. 1843. Manual of British botany, containing the flowering plants and ferns arranged according to the natural orders. London: John Van Voorst.

Babington, Charles Cardale. 1851. Manual of British botany, containing the flowering plants and ferns arranged according to the natural orders. 3d edition. London: John van Voorst.

Babington, Charles Cardale. 1856. Manual of British botany, containing the flowering plants and ferns arranged according to the natural orders. 4th edition. London.

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. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

‘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.]

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

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.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Vaucher, Jean Pierre Etienne. 1841. Histoire physiologique des plantes d’Europe ou exposition des phénomènes qu’elles présentent dans les diverses périodes de leur développement. 4 vols. Paris: Marc Aurel Frères.


Thanks CD for his Primula paper [Collected papers 2: 45–63].

Asks if CD has observed the true oxlip (Primula elatior).

Comments on Hottonia and Stellaria graminea. [See Forms of flowers, pp. 72, 313.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Cardale Babington
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 110 (ser. 2): 58–9
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3393,” accessed on 30 November 2021,

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