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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   21 October [1862]1


Oct 21.

My Dear Father,

I send off by the early post today, some pods of the L. styled Lythrum, from a plant growing in a clump as I put on the envelope.2

The Long styled that I first sent you (wrongly named short-styled) was growing quite by itself some yards from any other plant, and a hundred to two hundred from any clump. The plant itself as far as I can remember—was not an unhealthy plant, but the difference in size and number of pods is very marked. So that comparing a branch of each they look almost like different species, one is so fat and tightly packed in its pods compared to the other; the situations did not differ much, one along side a stream, the other along an all-the-year-round wet ditch.3

I will count the seeds soon. 6 of each as you say—4 Maud Atherley seems much the same, all Mr Atherley can say is that if anything his hopes are rather more than his fears.5 it seems an attack on the brain, all Sunday and Sunday Night, she was screaming most terribly, taking brandy every two hours which she has to do still.

I expect I have seen the last of the exhibition, as I shall not be able to get away this Saturday Certainly, or next most probably.6

Mama was wonderful in London—7 | your affect son | W E Darwin

CD annotations

1.1 I send … envelope. 1.2] crossed pencil
3.1 I will … London— 5.1] crossed ink
Top of letter: ‘Distance of single Plant’ pencil


The year is established by the reference to the International Exhibition held in London in 1862 (see n. 6, below).
CD had apparently asked William, in a letter which is now missing, to send him seed-pods from a wild specimen of each of the three sexual forms of the trimorphic plant Lythrum salicaria, so that he could establish their relative fecundity. CD’s notes on the seed-pods sent in this letter (from a long-styled plant), with a tally of the numbers of seeds, are in DAR 27.2 (ser. 2): 55. Having verified the results by comparison with immature plants in his own garden, CD published them in ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’, p. 173 (Collected papers 2: 109–10); see also the notes in DAR 27.2 (ser. 2): 51, 53.
No letter enclosing such specimens has been found. However, there are notes in DAR 27.2 (ser. 2): 45 r. that are headed: ‘Long styled wild (marked short, so was this not separate plant?) I think so & hence infertility’. At the bottom of the page CD noted the lower tally of seeds from the pods of this plant compared to that recorded in DAR 27.2 (ser. 2): 55, writing in explanation: ‘Effects of distance from other plants’. These seed-pods were probably sent at the same time as the seed-pods from mid-styled specimens of Lythrum salicaria (see CD’s notes in DAR 27.2 (ser. 2): 45 v.), and as those from short-styled specimens (see CD’s notes, dated ‘Oct 8th & 13th’, in DAR 27.2 (ser. 2): 56).
There are notes in William’s botanical notebook (DAR 117: 50), dated 2 November 1862, recording his tally of seeds in one pod of long-styled Lythrum.
Maud Atherley was the daughter of George Atherley, William’s partner in the Southampton and Hampshire Bank, Southampton.
The International Exhibition opened in South Kensington, London on 1 May 1862 (The Times, 2 May 1862, pp. 11–12). It was due to close in September; however, by popular demand it was kept open until the end of October (Athenæum, 20 September 1862, p. 374).
According to her diary (DAR 242), Emma Darwin travelled to London on 16 October 1862 and visited the International Exhibition on 17 and 18 October, before returning to Down House on 20 October. She had been ill with scarlet fever during the summer (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)).


Effect on seed production of differences in distance between Lythrum plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162.1: 93
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3777,” accessed on 26 March 2019,

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