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Darwin Correspondence Project

From C. W. Crocker   31 October 1862

South St. Chichester

Oct 31st. 62

Dear Sir

I am ashamed to have allowed your letter to have remained so long un-answered but the fact is I have as long as possible deferred acknowledging even to myself the amount of real information I have gained from experiment during the last year.1 It has indeed been a year of trial to me and mine, God grant we may not have another like it.2 Leaving family matters out of the question I have still had no end of difficulties to contend against. In the first place the only bit of ground I could get was ten minutes walk away from my living house, and even for that I had to pay a rent which to one in my situation is something serious. The garden when I got it contained nothing but a few Snap-dragons, (of which anon)   The next difficulty was how to obtain plants   I could not afford to buy but was not ashamed to beg. I went to Kew early in the season, but could not see Dr Hooker who was good enough to say before I left that he would give any plants I might require.3 I may perhaps be over-modest, but some day I shall summon courage to ask him for some. I obtained at the time some ferns for a Wardean case4 and two or three conifers, but no herbaceous plants. I know from experience how strict their rules are and will not press upon them.— I have been very kindly aided by the curator of the Liverpool and some other botanic gardens from whom I hardly expected it.5 Their presents have however for the most part been in seeds and therefore this years work has been to raise them.

My Linum grandiflorum has been very fine and confirmed your statements with regard to it. L. flavum in my case has come true but not many plants of it.6 As I had no means of pushing it on in heat in the spring I did not expect to see it flower this season. It will I have no doubt stand the winter and come into bloom early next year.

The Antirrhinums, being the only thing I had to my hand early in the season, were put through a series of little experiments.7 The lip closes firmly enclosing stamens and stigma and one might naturally expect it to be ordinarily self-fertilized and perhaps it may be. The common honey-bee never goes to it so far as I have been able to observe   the humble bee however (or some large sp. of bee   I am afraid to speak upon entomological subjects to you) is very fond of it. He invariably settles on the lower lip and if his weight is not sufficient to force it down he puts one leg against the upper and pushes it open. His proboscis goes in and his head comes out covered with pollen, and off he goes to the next. I castrated some flowers marked them and as might have been expected they produced seed as though nothing had been the matter. The next thing was to find if they would do so when the bees were excluded. They have done so but not so perfectly, the details are still unrecorded but I shall weigh seed and I shall try the experiment again.

For my next experiment I was obliged to fall back upon seeds. and somehow the Plantagos took my fancy.8 I had seen a var. of P. major which produces a rosette of leaves instead of a spike of flowers. What induced the plant to do this I wanted to know. I took one and planted him in good soil, took care that he had no struggle for existance, fed him on the fat of the land, and hoped for the result. It produced no less than 180 very fine spikes of flowers, instead of ten or a dozen, and three times the usual size, the foliage fine and not inclined to keep flat upon the ground (which is a selfish habit in the family no doubt intended to keep as much space as possible to themselves should they require it)   But the only modification was that the lower bracts were very much developed, being quite leaves 2 inches long at the base of spike.— I went out for a walk one day and to my infinite disgust I found a plant of P. lanceolata which without any artificial help had produced a rosette of leaves at the top of the flower shoot instead of flowers. True the plant was luxuriant and growing by the side of the canal. I took it up planted it in my garden and found that it produced a few flowers among the leaves. I have carefully raised plants from these seeds to see if they will exhibit the same character next year to any extent. The rosette I pegged down to see if it would root and make a plant of itself   it has not done so yet but it is as fresh as ever although it was three months ago that I brought it home. I have since received one or two curious varieties of Plantago from Liverpool and Mr. Borrer’s gardener9 and shall follow them up, though I dont see what they are to prove.— It is astonishing how selfish P. media is, its leaves are pressed quite hard upon the soil and anything covered by them actually rots.

A good many little experiments have been dead failures but they have not disheartened me, they have only whet my appetite and roused my temper to the extent of saying that I would not be beaten next year if my health be spared so long. Among other things I tried to hybridize Tropæolum canariense with the dark var of T. Major without results. All the Orchids hereabouts I have compared with your observations and I need not tell you with what result. I did not expect to find anything different   I only wanted to understand the subject properly.—10

Did I tell you that I think there is a possibility of finding an intermediate form in the common Primrose. Out of a handful I gathered (one from each plant) last April—13 were long styled—29 short styled, and there was one decidedly intermediate— It may have been only an accidental form as I had only the one flower. Next season I shall examine them as they are gathered.11

I have not heard how the series of experiments I commenced at Kew upon the deterioration of vegetables and serials is going on.12 Prof. Oliver I have seen several times since but not to spend much time with him.13 I suppose you know of those which have been conducted by Mr. Lawes at Harpenden for some years past.14 I have lately had a friend of mine stopping with me for a week who was engaged there for some months previously and I have been much interested in his descriptions of their wonderful experiments.

Trusting that I may have a better account to give of work done next year I must now bring this long and I fear uninteresting letter to a close with the hope that it will find you in better health.

I remain, Sir, | yours most respectfully | C. W. Crocker

C. Darwin Esq.r

CD annotations

1.4 It has … like it. 1.5] scored brown crayon
1.9 The next … beg. 1.10] scored brown crayon
2.4 It will … may be. 3.4] crossed ink; ‘Dichogamy’ added brown crayon; ‘C. W. Crocker Nov 1. 1862’ added ink
3.4 The common] opening square bracket, ink
3.9 I castrated … again. 3.13] scored brown crayon
4.1 For my … fancy. 4.2] scored brown crayon
4.1 For my … require it) 4.9] crossed ink
4.19 I have … prove.— 4.21] scored brown crayon
5.1 A good … me, 5.2] scored brown crayon
5.4 I tried … results. 5.5] cross in margin brown crayon
5.4 Tropæolum cananariense] underl brown crayon
6.3 13 were … intermediate— 6.4] scored brown crayon
7.1 I have … him. 7.3] scored brown crayon


CD’s letter has not been found. Crocker had made numerous observations and experiments on CD’s behalf during his time as foreman of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (see Correspondence vols. 8 and 9). Following his retirement in the winter of 1861–2, he had offered to continue to assist CD with botanical experiments. See letters from C. W. Crocker, 17 February 1862, [before 13 March 1862], 13 March 1862, 22 April 1862, and 17 May 1862.
Crocker’s father, Charles Crocker, died on 6 October 1861 (DNB); his mother died on 27 April 1862 (Sussex Advertiser, 6 May 1862).
Joseph Dalton Hooker was assistant director at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Wardian case: ‘a close-fitting case with glass sides and top for growing small ferns and other moisture-loving plants’ (OED).
The curator of the Liverpool Botanic Gardens was John Simpson Tyerman (R. Desmond 1994).
CD had mentioned that Linum flavum and L. grandiflorum were dimorphic in ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, p. 96 (Collected papers 2: 62–3), a copy of which he had sent to Crocker (see letter from C. W. Crocker, 17 February 1862, and Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix III). CD may have asked Crocker for assistance with the crossing experiments that he planned to carry out in 1862 (see letter from C. W. Crocker, [before 13 March 1862]). In his paper, ‘Two forms in species of Linum, which was read before the Linnean Society of London on 5 February 1863, CD reported (p. 81) with regard to L. flavum: ‘I have not been able to try any experiments on this species; but a careful observer, Mr. W. C. Crocker, intends proving their reciprocal fertility next summer’ (see also Collected papers 2: 104).
These are the snapdragons referred to earlier in the letter. CD cited Crocker’s observations on this species in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 363.
In ‘Dimorphic condition of Primula’, p. 95 (see Collected papers, p. 62), CD mentioned that several species of the North American Plantago were dimorphic.
Charles Green was gardener to the botanist William Borrer (R. Desmond 1994).
CD sent Crocker a presentation copy of Orchids (see letter from C. W. Crocker, 17 May 1862, and Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix IV).
CD and Crocker had discussed the existence of a mid-styled form in the Chinese primrose, Primula sinensis, earlier in the year (see letters from C. W. Crocker, 22 April 1862 and 17 May 1862).
In his letter to Asa Gray of 25 April [1860] (Correspondence vol. 8), CD mentioned Hooker’s attempts to ‘degenerate our culinary vegetables’, in experiments conducted at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
In addition to his duties as librarian and assistant in the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Daniel Oliver was professor of botany at University College London.
Crocker refers to John Bennet Lawes, founder of the Rothamsted Agricultural Experimental Station near Harpenden, Hertfordshire (DNB).


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

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

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

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.]

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

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.

‘Two forms in species of Linum’: On the existence of two forms, and on their reciprocal sexual relation, in several species of the genus Linum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 5 February 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 69–83. [Collected papers 2: 93–105.]


Difficulties in beginning experiments upon retirement.

Describes his observations on insect pollination of Antirrhinum and the effect of excluding the pollinators.

Has been observing variant forms of Plantago

and comparing local orchids with CD’s observations.

Possibility of an intermediate-styled primrose.

His experiments at Kew and J. B. Lawes’s at Harpenden on deterioration of vegetables and cereals.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles William Crocker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 76 (ser. 2): 84a–d
Physical description
7pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3790,” accessed on 28 October 2021,

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