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Darwin Correspondence Project

To A. G. More   7 June 1862

Down, Bromley, Kent. S.E.

June 7, 1862.

My dear Sir

If you are well and have leisure will you kindly give me one bit of information   Does Ophrys arachnites occur in the Isle of Wight? or do the intermediate forms, which are said to connect abroad this species and the Bee-O., ever there occur?1

Some facts have led me to suspect that it might just be possible, though improbable in the highest degree, that the Bee might be the self-fertilising form of O. arachnites which requires insect’s aid, something (in the same way) as we have self-fertilising flowers of the Violet and others requiring insects.2 I know the case is widely different as the Bee is borne on a separate plant and is incomparably commoner. This would remove the great anomaly of the Bee being a perpetual self-fertiliser.3 Certain Malpighiaceæ for years produce only one of the two forms. What has set my head going on this is receiving to-day a Bee having one alone of the best marked characters of O. arachnites.4

Pray forgive me troubling you and believe me | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin


More had assisted CD with his study of orchid pollination since 1860 by carrying out observations and sending him specimens (see Correspondence vols. 8 and 9). See also letter to A. G. More, 18 May 1862.
On CD’s interest in the relationship between Ophrys arachnites and O. apifera, see the letter from G. C. Oxenden, [before 30 May 1862], nn. 2 and 3. See also letter to C. C. Babington, 20 January [1862] and n. 9. CD had been interested over a number of years in the occurrence in Viola of small unopening flowers in which self-pollination occurred, a phenomenon later called cleistogamy (see letter to Daniel Oliver, 12 [April 1862] and n. 6); he had recently made observations and notes on the genus (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 May [1862] and n. 7).
One of CD’s two objectives in Orchids was to show that the contrivances by which orchids are pollinated had ‘for their main object the fertilisation of each flower by the pollen of another flower’ (Orchids, p. 1). In the conclusion, CD stated: ‘In the Bee Ophrys alone, as far as I have seen, there are special and perfectly efficient contrivances for self-fertilisation’ (Orchids, p. 359).
The specimen of the bee-orchis, Ophrys apifera, may have been sent to CD by George Chichester Oxenden (see letter from G. C. Oxenden, 4 June [1862]).


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

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.


Suspects that bee orchid is self-fertilising form of Ophrys arachnites, which requires insect aid.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Alexander Goodman More
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 146: 405
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3591,” accessed on 21 October 2020,

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