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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles William Crocker   17 February 1862

28 South St.   Chichester

Feby 17th. /62.

Dear Sir

I cannot sufficiently thank you for your kindness in sending me a copy of your paper on the Dimorphic states of Primula.1 I had eagerly listened to all I could hear on this subject last year, and had devoured the long report of the paper in the Gard: Chron:2 transferring to my note book all the leading points. Highly as I shall value the paper for its own sake I shall prize it a great deal more highly as coming from yourself.

Did Dr. Hooker3 ever tell you of the division of the sexes in Bilbergia bivittata? This genus is, of course, normally hermaphrodite but in the specimen which flowered at Kew the sexes alternated—i.e. only one flower opened each day and they were alternately male & female. In the male flower the pistil was quite abortive, almost wanting, and in the female blossoms I believe the stamens were altogether wanting and the style exserted. I pointed it out to Mr. Fitch who made sketches of both states,4 but whether the circumstance was noticed when the plant was figured in the Bot: Mag: (tab 5270) is more than I can say, for I never see the magazine now.5

I have more than once formed the idea of writing to ask if there were any experiments I could carry on for you here, or if I could in any way assist you; but always lacked the courage to carry out the idea— your kindness has however given me confidence. If there be any way in which I can be of service to you I hope and beg you will do me the favour of telling me. I have now a little garden of my own, but no glass-houses at present, and I am in hopes that a little out-of-door exercise will aid me in recovering my strength. While at Kew there were many little things which, under the direction of Dr. Hooker or Prof. Oliver,6 I was enabled to observe. As far as circumstances admit I am now at your service and if there be anything which I can observe for you, or any experiments which I am competent to perform I shall be most delighted to do it. It will indeed be a labour of love with me, as you will easily understand if, as you doubtless have, you have heard my character from my friends at Kew.—

There are many British Orchids in our neighbourhood but I suppose you are now satisfied with your observations upon them as I see by one of the Reviews that your work upon them is now ready for the press.7


CD read his paper, ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, to the Linnean Society of London on 21 November 1861. Crocker’s name appears on CD’s list of people to whom copies of the paper were to be sent (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix III). See the letter to J. D. Hooker, [before 15 February 1862], for CD’s intention to write to Crocker about Mormodes; however, no such letter has been found.
An abstract of the papers read at the meeting of the Linnean Society on 21 November 1861 appeared in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 30 November 1861, pp. 1048–9.
Before his retirement Crocker had worked under Joseph Dalton Hooker as foreman of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Walter Hood Fitch was a botanical artist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (R. Desmond 1994).
Billbergia bivittata is figured in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 2d ser. 17 (1861): tab. 5270. The journal comprised plates of the plants in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and in other British botanical establishments, together with descriptions provided by William Jackson Hooker, J. D. Hooker’s father. The description of B. bivittata refers to its having six stamens, ‘three attached to the petals, short, with sterile(?) anthers in the pistillate flowers’, and to the pistil being ‘absent in some flowers’.
Daniel Oliver, who was the librarian and assistant in the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, became professor of botany at University College London in 1861.
CD sent most of the manuscript of Orchids to his publisher, John Murray, on 10 February 1862 (see letter to John Murray, 9 [February 1862]).


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.


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

Separation of sexes in Billbergia.

Offers to experiment under CD’s direction, now that he has retired from Kew.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles William Crocker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 161.2: 254

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3449,” accessed on 1 December 2021,

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