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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Oliver   1 June [1867]1

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

June 1st

Dear Oliver

Would you have the great kindness to name for me the enclosed plant— if you cannot make out the species, the genus wd. suffice.

A friend sent a Woodcocks foot with 9 gr. of earth adhering to it, & this plant came up.— It has been grown in pot in greenhouse & the flowers have never opened & stamens appear rudimentary— whether this is natural, or due to the plant being properly a marsh plant, or to some other cause, I know not.—2

Excuse me bothering you & believe me | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

Footnotes

The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from H. G. H. Norman, 30 November 1866 (Correspondence vol. 14).
Herbert George Henry Norman, the nephew of CD’s neighbour George Warde Norman, sent CD a woodcock’s leg with earth attached to it in November 1866 (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter from H. G. H. Norman, 30 November 1866, and letter to H. G. H. Norman, [after 30 November 1866]). There is a note in CD’s Experimental notebook, DAR 157a, p. 83, that reads: Dec. 2d. 1866   Mr Herbert Norman of Oakley near Bromley sent me leg of Woodcock with tarsus coated with mud, which when dry weighed 8–9 grains. Planted on burnt sand, Decr 3d. Dec. 8th a monocot: plant, apparently a rush, has [after del ‘or Luzula’] has germinated!!! The plant turns out Juncus bufonius or toad rush— — grows “commonly in marshy ground, especially on watery sandy Heaths.” Sir J. E. Smith.— In his English flora (J. E. Smith 1824–36, 2: 168), James Edward Smith had written of Juncus bufonius: ‘In marshy ground, especially on watery sandy heaths, common.’ Since no record of any other plants having germinated from the mud attached to the woodcock’s leg has been found, the J. bufonius was probably the plant CD asked Oliver to identify. Oliver’s reply has not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL. CD mentioned the woodcock’s foot and the Juncus bufonius in Origin 5th ed., p. 440. CD had earlier grown plants from seeds found in a ball of earth attached to a partridge’s foot; see Correspondence vols. 11 and 12, and Origin 4th ed., p. 432. He was interested in such cases as examples of possible seed distribution by birds.

Bibliography

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

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

Origin 5th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 5th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1869.

Smith, James Edward. 1824–36. The English flora. 5 vols. in 6. Vol. 5, pt 1 (mosses etc.), by William Jackson Hooker; pt 2 (fungi) by Miles Joseph Berkeley. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green.

Summary

Asks DO to identify a plant grown from earth adhering to the foot of a woodcock.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-3587
From
Charles Robert Darwin
To
Daniel Oliver
Sent from
Down
Source of text
Cleveland Health Sciences Library (Robert M. Stecher collection), FF10
Physical description
2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3587,” accessed on 2 March 2021, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-3587.xml

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15

letter