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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Scott   [20 November – 2 December 1862]1

seed.— P. vulgaris elatior and veris—carefully protected from cross-impregnation.2 But I never succeeded—as not a few aver they have—in raising oxlips from cowslips or primroses. The explanation of these cases where trustworthy authorities, have raised these very distinct forms from one plant, is I believe found in mediate or immediate crosses with the seed-producing plants. As you remark further experiments are absolutely necessary to show that these forms may originate in an independent and ungraduated manner from vulgaris. The permanence and stability—so to speak—of these three forms when raised from seed—as the majority of the offspring, at least, always represent their immediate parent, seems to demonstrate well-established characteristics, and inconsistent with the laws governing the reproduction of variations in the Phanerogamic Class of plants. These laws, however appear to me—not a little capricious in their mode of action in the Vegetable Kingdom—different I believe from what has place in the Animal—and present great difficulties to me in fully accepting your captivating theory of the origin of species by Natural Selection. Time however, does not permit me here to specify these difficulties, there are other points for present consideration.

In regard to the substitution of female flowers for male in Zea, it may be necessary to specify particularly that in the case I have given these were truly products of the male panicle.3 As in the axils of the upper leaves small monoecious spikes are occasionally produced, bearing a few male flowers at their base, and female on the upper part. I mention this now as you regard it as worthy of your recording; to prevent any equivocation to those who may have observed the latter spikes; and, therefore, in the case of a non-specific statement, suppose that those which are in reality female spikes, were taken advantage of.

I am extremely sorry that I can afford you no information whatever on the relative fertility of varieties of plants.4 I may mention, here, however, though you may already be aware of it an experiment which I made in illustration of the fertility of hybrids. This was made upon Clivia cyrtanthiflorum, which was raised by crossing the C. nobilis with C. miniata. I find it to be perfectly fertile with its own pollen as well as that of either parent.

I am in the same predicament in regard to your other question on the greater facilities certain species present for fertilisation by other pollen than their own. I have only one experiment I can give you on this point and it is quite inconclusive. I have more than one season fertilised flowers of Tacsonia pinnasistipula in the Gardens here,5 yet I have rarely succeeded in getting any fruit to set. During the latter part of this autumn another unnamed species flowered. I impregnated a flower of the former species—the only one upon the plant at the time—the ovary began to swell and promised fair for some time, eventually however it dropped off. But this I think was due to its being so late in the season, and the cold damp state of the atmosphere—the plant being grown in a cool greenhouse. I believe however if I had opportunities for experiment that it will present a very analogous case with Passiflora. In the course of the ensuing season I will commence a series of experiments on those interesting questions.6

And now before closing allow me to express my most sincere thanks for the honour you would have done in presenting me with a copy of your interesting work on Orchids, which I would indeed have highly valued.7 I have now, however, a copy of it in my possession, otherwise I would have gladly availed myself of your unmerited kindness to me in this likewise.

I remain | Sir | Your obedient Servt

John Scott.

P.S. | Should you not be able to get a capsule of Vande⁠⟨⁠ae⁠⟩⁠ for comparison, I will have an Oncidium in flower, whic⁠⟨⁠h⁠⟩⁠ I will impregnate, and send along with Acropera.8 J. S.

CD annotations

1.1 seed.— … plants. 1.11] crossed ink
2.2 products … panicle. 2.3] cross in margin, brown crayon
3.5 I find … parent. 3.6] scored brown crayon; cross in margin, brown crayon


The date range is established by the relationship to the letter to John Scott, 19 November [1862] (see nn. 2, 3, and 7, below), and to the letter to John Scott, 3 December [1862].
CD mentioned in his letter to Scott of 19 November [1862] that he would send a copy of ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula. In this paper, CD discussed the much-disputed question of whether the primrose (Primula vulgaris) and the cowslip (P. veris) were distinct species or varieties of the same species. On the former hypothesis, some authors had claimed that the common oxlip was a hybrid of the primrose and cowslip; CD, by contrast, had formerly held the view that the various forms were varieties descended from a common parent (Natural selection, pp. 128–33, and Origin, pp. 49–50). However, as a result of his work on dimorphism in Primula he came to distrust the evidence relating to this point, arguing that further experiments were ‘absolutely necessary’ (‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, pp. 93–4; Collected papers 2: 60–1). Scott gave an account of his experiments on various species of Primula in Scott 1864c. See also letter from John Scott, 7 January [1864] (Calendar no. 4382).
Scott was foreman of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (R. Desmond 1994). Tacsonia pinnatistipula (‘pinnasistipula’ is a misspelling) is a synonym of Passiflora pinnatistipula (poro poro).
Scott reported the results from his experiments on Tacsonia, together with the results from a series of experiments on Passiflora, in Scott 1864b.
CD had asked Scott to send him, when ripe, a seed-capsule of Acropera Loddigesii (a synonym of Gongora galeata), noting that he would like to keep it until he could obtain a capsule of another member of the Vandeae for comparison (see letter to John Scott, 19 November [1862]).


Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

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

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.]

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


JS does not fully accept natural selection.

Has never raised oxlips from cowslips or primroses; reports of such must be cases of crossing.

Discusses relative fertility of varieties, self-fertility of hybrids, and plans for experiments on enhanced hybrid fertility.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Scott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 79
Physical description
ALS 4pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3815,” accessed on 19 June 2024,

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