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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Scott   15 November [1862]1

Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Novr 15th


I had the honour to receive yours of the 12th.2 I am pleased to see that the four suggestions &c. I ventured in elucidating the structure of Acropera have been considered worthy of your notice.3 I was afraid that, they—unaccompanied as they were by either specimens or drawings, and communicated by one of whom you had no knowledge—would ever remain unacknowledged. And I can assure you, Sir, I felt deeply ashamed at my presumption, on reflecting after the letter had gone, now however I can only thank you—and that cordially for your unexpected attention. I may state that since I wrote you, I have mentioned the experiments I have been making to Mr. Mc.Nab—the Curator of the Gardens, and under whom, I am—4and requested his permission to communicate any specimens I might think of interest to you. He has kindly granted me this, and I will be most happy to communicate any specimens I observe in any way elucidating your views. I will soon then instead of attempting the dissection of the now fast swelling ovary of Acropera—transmit it unbroken to you that you may form the required deduction. I will, however, continue my experiments upon Acropera, and others; the results you shall have for your consideration.

My attention is at present principally engaged with that much controverted subject Vegetable Parthenogenesis—. This I am experimenting largely upon, and I trust ere long to show, that “Parthenogenesis in plants”, is not as Karsten expresses it “thrust aside”.5 Professor Balfour6 occasionally gives my experiments a look, and is not a little surprised with some of my results. As yet I have only recorded one instance of Parthenogenesis in a paper I read before the Botanical Society here,7 on the Nature and Peculiarities of the Fern-spore—as illustration of certain views I there proposed and which I am now carefully—and in more detail—working out.

But I must discontinue this digression and return to the chief topic of my communication. And first regarding the application of the term apex to the ovary I applied it as you inferred to the portion nearest the flower.8 I will be glad to hear the results of your examinations on this point as the suggestion I offered ⁠⟨⁠two pages missing⁠⟩⁠ have been substituted by females   Can cultivation effect this? as botanists appear to regard many of the Palms dioecious which present this phenomena in cultivation.

In your application of this phenomena to Acropera, however—there seems to be no difficulty. For may it not be supposed in accordance with your interesting views that the change from the unisexual to the bisexual condition is not yet perfected?   and the appearance of fertilised ovules thus be accounted for. As hinted before, however, you will no doubt still observe a difficulty in the way, viz; the contracted stigmatic chamber &c. unless you are inclined to accept the suggestion of the protrusion of pollen-tubes, independent of direct contact with stigma. This difficulty seems to be a necessary consequence of the fact that when female flowers substitute male they are usually quite similar to normal female flowers. This, however, may perhaps be neutralised, should the fertilised ovaries produce only a few seeds.

Your discovery of the independent development of the pollen-tubes in imperfect flowers of Viola & Oxalis is quite new to me.9 As soon as I have an opportunity I will make experiments on Acropera for the purpose of testing its qualities for self-development of pollen-tubes.

The mode by which its natural fertilisation is effected is most assuredly a complete mystry to me.

I remain | Sir | Yours very respectfully | John Scott

To Charles Darwin Esq.

CD annotations

3.2 regarding … flower. 3.3] scored pencil


The year is established by the reference to Scott 1862a (see n. 7, below).
James McNab was the curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, where Scott was foreman of the propagating department (R. Desmond 1994).
John Hutton Balfour was Regius keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and professor of botany at the University of Edinburgh (DNB).
Scott read his paper (Scott 1862a) before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 12 June 1862. There is an annotated copy of this paper in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.


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.

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.

Karsten, Gustave Karl Wilhelm Hermann. 1861. On the sexual life of plants, and parthenogenesis. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 8: 81–9, 200–9.


Appreciates CD’s acknowledging his letter and his comments on Acropera. Will send CD the Acropera capsule which is now maturing.

Experimenting on vegetable parthenogenesis.

Structure of Acropera.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Scott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens
Source of text
DAR 177: 78
Physical description
ALS 4pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3808,” accessed on 24 September 2023,

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