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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. C. Oxenden   [before 30 May 1862]1

Dear Sir

I hunted some splendid Ground for “Arachnites”, this day—

And, in the whole long day, only found five plants, of which only three were in flower—2

It is too Early for them, by two or three weeks—or a Month—

—On the very same ground, two years ago, I found fully 50—of which some were 9 and 10 inches high—

—When the wretched ruminating Animals bite them back, they come up again, it is true, but shorn of half their size & beauty—

—Of the three which I did find, I have enclosed two to you, by Post, this day—3 The third flower I gave to Lady Dundonald,4 whom I met on the Hills—a lover of Wild flowers—but with even less knowledge of Plants than myself

Sincerely | G: C: Oxenden

CD annotations

Top of first page: ‘May 62’ pencil


Dated by CD’s annotation and by the reference to Oxenden’s enclosing specimens of Ophrys arachnites (see n. 3, below).
In his letter of 15 May 1862, Oxenden asked whether there was any way in which he could assist CD; CD’s reply has not been found, but he apparently asked Oxenden for specimens of Ophrys arachnites (a synonym of Ophrys fuciflora, the late spider-orchid). In Orchids, pp. 72–3, CD reported that, while some botanists regarded O. arachnites as ‘a mere variety of the varying Bee Ophrys’ (O. apifera), his examination of specimens of O. arachnites sent him by Oxenden had led him to conclude that it was functionally very different from O. apifera; he stated: ‘until these forms can be shown to be connected by intermediate varieties, we must rank O. arachnites as a good species’. Following the publication of Orchids, CD continued to investigate the relationship between the two forms (see n. 3, below, and letter to A. G. More, 7 June 1862, letters from G. C. Oxenden, 21 June 1862 and 8 July 1862, and letter to Daniel Oliver, 24 July [1862]).
In DAR 70: 25 there is an observational note, dated 30 May 1862, that states: 2 spikes of Arachnites sent me by Mr Oxenden, kept in water (& young flowers opened) for more than week & intentionally jarred strongly & often, the [interl] pollinia did not fall out— The Shiny lateral knobs at base of Lab[ellum]. are [interl] larger than in Bee; if these be perforated *by insects, then [interl] [‘then’ del] this wd be important difference.— A more important one, is that the stigmatic surface is more perpendicular & therefore more open with respect to base of Labellum in the Bee than in Arachnites; evidently so as [to] allow surface to be struck by [‘own’ del] *its own [interl] pollinia in the Bee. CD reported some of these findings in ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 145, a paper comprising revised and additional notes on the subject keyed by page number to the first edition of Orchids (see also Collected papers 2: 142).
Louisa Harriet Cochrane was married to Thomas Barnes Cochrane, eleventh earl of Dundonald (Burke’s peerage 1980).


Burke’s peerage: A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom. Burke’s peerage and baronetage. 1st– edition. London: Henry Colburn [and others]. 1826–.

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

‘Fertilization of orchids’: Notes on the fertilization of orchids. By Charles Darwin. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 4 (1869): 141–59. [Collected papers 2: 138–56.]

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.


Has looked for [Ophrys] arachnites for CD, but it is too early in the season.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Chichester Oxenden
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 173.1: 47
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3526,” accessed on 8 June 2023,

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