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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Oliver   23 [November 1862]1

Down Bromley Kent


Dear Oliver

I am very curious to hear about Epilobium angustifolium,2 both on account of fact itself, & for following odd psychological case.— I knew plant well between 20 & 30 years ago in my Father’s grounds;3 well, this summer it flashed across my mind that there was something dimorphic in it.4 I tried my best, but could remember no vestige of particulars; yet I was very near sending to my sister for a lot of flowers;5 but as I could hardly remember anything of flower, except its colour, I thought it too foolish.— If it really is dimorphic I shall always look at my flash of memory like one of those cases of persons in a fever who have temporarily remembered a language learnt in infancy & ever after forgotten.—

If you have pretty good reason to think it dimorphic, ask Hooker to put it down in list of seeds required, if I can possibly get it.6 Seeds are much better than roots, as same form may spread by suckers.— For several reasons (Clarkia elegans) I shd. very much like to experiment on this plant.7

About strawberries, do you refer to American plan of planting 6 rows of “pistillates” & one row of hermaphrodites?— If something else kindly inform me, as I have written a very little on strawberries.8 Thank Hooker for very kind offer of dried plants;9 but I hate dried plants; I can make nothing of them & I profoundly pity all you Botanists.—

Will you ask Hooker (to whom I shall be writing before long, for I never give him a long holiday) if he gets the missing vol. of Bot. Journal for Linn. Soc. kindly to send it me (per Railway to care of Down Postman) first & then I will send it in his name to the Soc; for I want pretty soon to consult it, before I write my paper on Linum for Linn. Socy.—10

Ever | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Robert Waring Darwin had lived at The Mount, Shrewsbury, Shropshire (Freeman 1978).
CD had had a similar recollection in the summer with regard to Linum flavum (see letter to Daniel Oliver, 13 October [1862] and n. 2). See also n. 7, below.
Susan Elizabeth Darwin still lived at The Mount (Freeman 1978).
Joseph Dalton Hooker; with his letter to Hooker of 3 November [1862], CD had sent a list of seeds of plants he wanted for his experiments.
While staying in Bournemouth in September 1862, CD had corresponded with Oliver concerning a plant with two differently coloured sets of anthers, a feature that CD considered might be ‘a good guide to dimorphism’. He initially thought that the plant was either an Epilobium or a Clarkia, subsequently identifying it, with Oliver’s help, as Clarkia elegans (see letter to Daniel Oliver, 2 September [1862] and n. 7, and letter from Daniel Oliver, 4 September 1862).
CD was preparing a draft of chapter 10 of Variation, in which he included a section on variation in cultivated strawberries (Variation 1: 351–4). Hooker had told CD that Oliver had reminded him of a ‘curious remark on sexualism of strawberries by an American … alluded to at length in [the] Technologist’ (Wray 1861a); see letter from J. D. Hooker, [15 and] 20 November [1862] and n. 22. Wray 1861a was reprinted in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette for 3 August 1861 (Wray 1861b), a copy of which CD kept in a separate parcel (see DAR 222 and DAR 75: 1–12; CD’s annotated copy of the Gardeners’ Chronicle is at the Cory Library, Cambridge Botanic Garden); he cited Wray 1861b in support of the observation that several English hermaphrodite varieties of strawberry ‘when cultivated in rich soils under the climate of North America’ commonly produced plants with ‘separate sexes’ (Variation 1: 353 n.). CD also cited Wray 1861b on this point in Forms of flowers, p. 293 n.
Hooker was trying to acquire a copy of volume 7 of the London Journal of Botany for the library of the Linnean Society of London (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [15 and] 20 November [1862]); CD wished to borrow the volume since it contained part of a paper on the genus Linum (Planchon 1847–8) that he needed to consult. CD cited Planchon 1847–8 in ‘Two forms in species of Linum, p. 81 (Collected papers 2: 103–4), which was written between 11 and 21 December 1862 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)), and read before the Linnean Society on 5 February 1863.


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. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Planchon, Jules Emile. 1847–8. Sur la famille des Linnes. London Journal of Botany 6 (1847): 588–603; 7 (1848): 165–86, 473–501, 507–28.

‘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.]

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Examined Epilobium 20 or 30 years ago at Shrewsbury. In a flash remembered it as dimorphic, but had forgotten its name.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel Oliver
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.10: 57 (EH 88206040)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3819,” accessed on 15 November 2019,

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