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Darwin Correspondence Project

To C. C. Babington   20 January [1862]1

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

Jan 20th

Dear Babington

I thank you for your kind & very valuable letter. I shall have some future opportunity of quoting your cases, which are quite new to me.2 I think Stellaria graminea grows here (but I know our British plant very imperfectly) & I must look sharp after it & get its seeds.— As for Hottonia I shall never see it. I know you are a great wanderer in summer: if you ever come across it, would you have the kindness to send me a few fresh spec. in a tin cannister by Post, for I should much like to see its pollen & speculate on manner of action of insects. Lecoq, I have just observed, says that Menyanthes is similarly dimorphic.3 Perhaps where Hottonia grows Menyanthes would also grow. Koch says that Polemonium & Pyrola (according to Lecoq) are likewise dimorphic but I shall, never get to see these & still less to experiment on them, which is the really requisite thing.—4

As I have been begging favours, I will venture to ask you when next at your Botanic Garden to enquire whether the Curator by chance possesses seeds of any of the plants of which I will write a list, & which I much require for different experiments. I know it is a mere chance.—5

My health prevents me walking & that terribly interferes with my getting what I want. And now Mr. Borrer is dead, from whom I expected much.—6 The varieties of Verbascum I want much to test Gärtners experiments.7

Forgive my writing at such length & believe me | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin

P.S. | I am preparing a little Book on Orchids, which I think contains some new facts, & which I will send you when published.—8

I am convinced that Habenaria bifolia & chlorantha—& Ophrys apifera & arachnites are as good species as any in the world.—9


The year is given by the relationship to the letter from C. C. Babington, 17 January 1862.
See letter from C. C. Babington, 17 January 1862. CD cited Babington on Primula elatior in Forms of flowers, p. 72, and on Stellaria graminea (grass-like starwort) on p. 313 n.
Lecoq 1854–8, 7: 391. There is an annotated copy of the work in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 488–95).
CD’s reference is ambiguous. He began reading Lecoq 1854–8 in December 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letters to J. D. Hooker, [9 December 1861] and 28 [December 1861]). Pyrola and Polemonium are discussed in Lecoq 1854–8, 7: 356–62 and 413–14, respectively, but Wilhelm Daniel Joseph Koch is not cited. Lecoq identified Pyrola as being dimorphic in a section that CD highlighted in his copy of the work (p. 357), but did not identify Polemonium as being dimorphic. CD had borrowed a copy of Koch 1843–4 from Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1857 (see Correspondence vol. 6). Koch discussed Pyrola and Polemonium in Koch 1843–4, 2: 550–1 and 568, respectively; however, he did not identify either as being dimorphic, but remarked with respect to Polemonium coeruleum: ‘Flores caerulei, rarius albi’ [Flowers blue, more rarely white].
The enclosure has not been found. As professor of botany at Cambridge, Babington directed the University Botanic Garden; the curator was James Stratton.
William Borrer died on 10 January 1862 (DNB). CD had hoped Borrer might assist him by providing plants and seeds (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 [December 1861]).
In Origin, pp. 270–1, CD discussed experiments carried out on Verbascum by Karl Friedrich von Gärtner, in which crosses between differently coloured varieties of the same or of different species produced less seed than the parallel crosses between similarly coloured varieties (see Gärtner 1844, pp. 137–8, and Gärtner 1849, pp. 92, 180–1, 724–8; there are heavily annotated copies of these volumes in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 248–98)). These experiments were important to CD in countering an objection to natural selection based on the belief that there is ‘some essential distinction between species and varieties’ and that varieties always ‘cross with perfect facility, and yield perfectly fertile offspring’ (Origin, p. 268; see also letter to T. H. Huxley, 14 [January 1862] and n. 7). He had been anxious for some time to repeat Gärtner’s experiments, and had sought specimens and assistance from botanical acquaintances (see Correspondence vol. 9). In December 1862, having failed to obtain the requisite varieties, CD persuaded John Scott to undertake the experiments on his behalf (see letters to John Scott, 19 November [1862] and 11 December [1862], and letter from John Scott, 17 December [1862]).
Orchids was published in May 1862 (Freeman 1977, p. 112). Babington’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for the volume (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix IV).
In Orchids, pp. 88–9 and 72, respectively, CD questioned the classification of these plants by some botanical authorities as varieties of each other rather than as true species. Habenaria bifolia is a synonym of Platanthera bifolia, the lessser butterfly orchid; Habenaria chlorantha is a synonym of Platanthera chlorantha, the greater butterfly orchid. Ophrys apifera is the bee orchid; O. arachnites is a synonym of Ophrys fuciflora, the late spider-orchid.


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.

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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1844. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Befruchtungsorgane der vollkommeneren Gewächse und über die natürliche und künstliche Befruchtung durch den eigenen Pollen. Pt 1 of Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Befruchtung der vollkommeneren Gewächse. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1849. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreich. Mit Hinweisung auf die ähnlichen Erscheinungen im Thierreiche, ganz umgearbeitete und sehr vermehrte Ausgabe der von der Königlich holländischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

Koch, Wilhelm Daniel Joseph. 1843–4. Synopsis florae Germanicae et Helveticae, exhibens stirpes phanerogamas rite cognitas, praemissa generum dispositione secundum classes et ordines systematis Linnaeani conscripta. 2d edition. 2 vols. Frankfurt: Fridericus Wilmans. Leipzig: Gebhardt & Reisland.

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.

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: 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.


Discusses Stellaria and other plants said to be dimorphic.

Asks for plants he wants for experiments.

Preparing a little book on Orchids.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Cardale Babington
Sent from
Source of text
Cambridge University Library (MS Add.8182: 22)
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3397,” accessed on 3 February 2023,

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