skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Scott   17 December [1862]1

Botanic Gardens | Edinburgh

Dec. 17th.


I have the honour to acknowledge, the due receipt of your Journal and Origin,2 for which I now return my most sincere thanks, in humble and grateful acknowledgement of the entirely unmerited kindness you have done me. And this not only in presenting me with these inestimable works, but also in condescending, even to recognise the observations of one entirely unknown, a young and ardent admirer of Science, who is yet standing beyond her pale. I would also most particularly thank you for the valuable remarks you have made in your last, inculcating upon me a due regard for simplicity of style.3 Would that some of those—able and qualified, friends ⁠⟨⁠half a line excised⁠⟩⁠ forward with me, and point out my ⁠⟨⁠half a line excised⁠⟩⁠ being perhaps ⁠⟨⁠nine lines excised⁠⟩⁠ disadvantages in regard to this point. I feel insuperable difficulties in expressing my ideas, and I am thus frequently forced to do this in a style very different from what I like. The paper on Ferns which I ventured to send you, was with another trifling exception or so, my first attempt, and I can assure you their style now annoys me very much.4 Indeed, if it had not been, that I was anxious to draw your attention to the explanation I had proposed for that singular facility the Ferns present for reproducing variations— I would never thought of sending it to you. I am however, deeply impressed with the validity of this view on its special application, and I believe it will be found perfectly accordant when applied generally to like phenomena in the Vegetable Kingdom. I may be in an error, and such a proposition as the following, may cause you to smile—viz: that the facilities for the reproduction of variations in plants, is inversely dependent on the less or more mediate relation of the sexual organs— nevertheless, I think, I could show good grounds for my believe—though you may perhaps explain it very differently—by a cursory review of the Vegetable Kingdom, from this stand-point. I will not, however, even if desirable, attempt this at present, but confine myself to some of the other points ⁠⟨⁠nine lines excised⁠⟩⁠

I have not been at all successful in further illustrating the subject of inheritance at corresponding ages.5 I have been looking principally after cases for experimenting upon amongst the Ferns, and when I wrote my paper, I was looking forward to spores which were then being produced upon an accidentally variegated portion of a frond; since that I have observed another such case. From both of these I got a few spores, but I have not succeeded in raising a single plant, not one of them even germinated  

If you are not already aware of the fact, however, a case in point is presented by the variegated varieties of Begonias—in at least some of them for I have only raised a single batch of seedlings. Being curious to see the results of two very marked varieties of these, I crossed them, and got a number of good seeds. After these germinated, I found that the early leaves presented no resemblance whatever, to the parents, nor did they do so before the fourth or more generally the sixth leaf, when their immediate parentage was betrayed. I know nothing of the history of these Begonias at present, otherwise, I would have given you fuller particulars regarding them, for they evidently betray in their young state an earlier progenitor, from which they have inherited their incipient characters. If you have not already information on this point, much I believe might be derived from the Messrs Veitch.6 It is a point however, that I will not neglect, to test, as opportunities present themselves.

I was led into an error in regard to the statement, that female plants, always produced females by parthenogenesis,7 by taking it upon the authority of a friend, having then seen Karsten’s paper only;8 and a short abstract of Braun’s by Prof. Balfour.9 I was therefore very sorry, on consulting authors on the subject to find them stating that both sexes were produced. The subject, however, yet requires a fair testing, as we find such flatly contradictory statements made by authors on the subject, as applied to plants. There is one fact, however, that still makes me cling to the idea, viz that Cœlobgyne ilicifolia, has always produced female plants. Now in my opinion, if all the seeds that it has produced had been fertilised, as Karsten seems to suppose,10 the male plants ought likewise to have appeared amongst the seedlings. Their absence therefore still induces me to regard it as an excellent illustration of the doctrine. It does not necessarily happen that though he has observed hermaphrodite flowers upon the plant, they should always be so. I have made a great number of experiments on the subject this season, and got apparently perfect seeds from a number of different plants, yet I have only succeeded in germinating those belonging the Lychnis dioica, and Melandryum prætense. I am anxious to see the produce of them, as I was exceedingly careful in guarding against all pollinic influence. I have also raised the Selaginella denticulata, and I am trying a number of others.11

I completely overlooked the flowers of Siphocampylus which I ought to have enclosed in my last.12 I now send you a few withered flowers, to show you the state of the short-styled flowers. The lengths, however, so far as I have yet observed are very fluctuating, but I will attend to this point, when the plants flower again.

I will be highly gratified if you favour me with an account of the experiments, you would like to have performed, and I can assure you if it is in my power to do them, it will afford me a great pleasure.13 I would much rather that you would do this; than be allowed to work on in the blind, unsystematic manner, it must necessarily be if left to myself. As I have had so little experience yet in these as in others, I will therefore be glad if you communicate all which would be of interest to you, and I hope the mere circumstance of years of experimental enquiry, being necessary for the attainment of definite results, will not deter you from communicating such. If it is within my power to perform them, it would afford me a pleasure to carry out your schemes.

With my best thanks for your kindness to me, | I remain | Sir | Yours respectfully, John Scott

P.S. I have just received a letter from a friend, whom I wrote regarding P. Scotica—14 I was not able to get plants from the Messrs Lawson’s—they are quite out of it; and, I have no faith, in any of the others, here—15 they are something like your London nurseryman— My friend has, however, promised to send me a few plants; which I will forward to you. That these may be correct, I shall take the following precautions,—viz: replace them by plants that I have had under my eye last summer, so that there may be no fear of mistakes in those you get. We have not many plants of P. Scotica in the gardens here at present,—but perhaps we may get a few in the spring—otherwise I should have asked Mr. Mc.Nab, to favour you with a few.16 I will not therefore, let him know anything about them, and I hope you will take no notice of having received them from me, as it might be a cause of offence to him, if he saw or heard it. I have no other non-dimorphic species that I could send you, nor so far as I am aware, are there any of them in cultivation at present. The P. pusilla, has been introduced, but now I believe lost. If you have not the P. farinosa, however, I will try and send you a few plants of it along with the P. Scotica, as being near the latter, and a truly dimorphic species. The comparative fertility of these two is very remarkable, when left to Natural Agencies. I observe nearly all the flowers of P. Scotica produce a greater or less number of seeds, in some capsules, I have found 120 seeds, while in P. farinosa few capsules are produced, and these contain only a very few seeds. I have rarely found in one of them 20 seeds. If the former were artificially fertilised; I believe it will prove, as you suspect perfectly self-fertile. I will make a careful series of experiments upon the plants I have here in the course of the ensuing season, in accordance with your directions, and you shall have the results, to compare with those you perform.17

By the way I spoke to the young gentleman at the Society’s Meeting regarding his objections to your views on Primula, and it turns out that instead of being opposed, he is quite favourable, so far as he has examined, but he does not appear to have done much amongst them.18 He has not observed P. Scotica.

I am not sure how many of the varieties of Verbascum, we have in the Gardens here, but there are a few of them, which I will try this season. Passiflora we have, and I will try and get a few varieties of Maize. I know not, where I could get those that Gartner experimented upon. Can you give me any information regarding them?19

In my next I expect to have a little information on the fertilisation of Loelia, which is just coming into flower.20 I have fertilised two flowers properly, which are evidently fecundated, as the perianth has now become quite flaccid. I also applied a single pollen-mass to the viscid surface of the tongue-like rostellum of two other flowers, but these give no signs yet, of being affected, though the act was performed at the same time. If I have a few more flowers, to experiment upon, I will cut some of them for examination; but as I have so few at present I think it will be better, to see whether the capsules swell or not.

I am afraid lest the pollen-tubes instead of penetrating the rostellum—pass along its surface, down sides of stigmatic cavity, and penetrate stigmas proper. Could you not suggest some preventive for such an occurrence? For perhaps such an objection might occur to some, though there may be small probability of its taking place. I thought of applying a thickish solution of gum, or what would you suggest? i.e. if you think it necessary to apply anything.

CD annotations

1.1 I have … case. 2.5] crossed ink
Top of letter: ‘(John Scott)’ ink


The year is established by the reference to Scott 1862a (see n. 4, below).
Scott had enclosed a copy of Scott 1862a with his letter of 6 December [1862]; the earlier papers to which he refers are Scott 1862c and 1862d.
Scott refers to the Chelsea father and son nurserymen James and James Veitch.
Scott 1862a, p. 219. See letter to John Scott, 11 December [1862].
Braun 1859. John Hutton Balfour was keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
Scott later discussed the sexuality of the higher Cryptogams, and particularly of Selaginella, in Scott 1864d. Selaginella denticulata is toothed-leaved clubmoss.
See letter to John Scott, 11 December [1862]; this individual has not been identified.
Charles Lawson conducted the Edinburgh nursery, Peter Lawson & Son.
James McNab was curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
The reference is to Karl Friedrich von Gärtner (see letter to John Scott, 11 December [1862] and nn. 19 and 20). Scott repeated a number of Gärtner’s crossing experiments with Verbascum in 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to John Scott, 7 November [1863]). CD cited some of Scott’s findings in Variation 2: 106–7; Scott published his full results in Scott 1868.


Braun, Alexander Carl Heinrich. 1859. Uber Polyembryonie und Keimung von Caelebogyne. Ein Nachtrag zu der Abhandlung über Parthenogenesis bei Pflanzen. [Read 3 March 1859.] Abhandlungen der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1860): 109–263.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.

Scott, John. 1864d. Remarks on the sexuality of the higher cryptogams, with a notice of a hybrid Selaginella. [Read before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 10 March 1864.] Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal n.s. 19: 192–200.

Scott, John. 1868. Report on trial sowings of flower-seeds from Messrs. James Carter & Co. of London and Messrs. Vilmorin Andrieux & Co. of Paris. [Extracts read 21 January 1868.] Journal of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India n.s. 1 (1869): 191–9.

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


Thanks for Journal of researches and Origin.

Thanks CD for comments on his fern paper [see 3847 and 3853]; has great difficulty in expressing his ideas.

Discusses inheritance and variation.

Asks CD for an account of the experiments he would like JS to perform.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Scott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens
Source of text
DAR 177: 80
Physical description
ALS 7pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3865,” accessed on 22 April 2024,

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