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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Thomas Rivers   7 January [1863]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Jan 7th

My dear Sir

I thank you much for your letter & the parcel of shoots.2 The case of the Yellow Plum is a treasure & is now safely recorded on your authority in its proper place;3 in contrast with A. Knight’s case of yellow magnum bonum sporting into red.4 I could see no difference in the shoots, except that those of the Yellow were thicker, & I presume that this is merely accidental: as you do not mention it, I further presume that there are no differences in leaves or flowers of the two Plums.—

I am very glad to hear about the Yellow ash,5 & that you yourself have seen the Jessamine case;6 I must confess that I hardly fully believed in it; but now I do; & very surprising it is.

In an old French Book, published in Amsterdam in 1786 (I think) there is an account apparently authentic & attested by the writer as an eye-witness, of Hyacinth bulbs of two colours being cut in two & grafted & they sent up single stalk with differently coloured flowers on the two sides, & some flowers parti-coloured.7 I once thought of offering 5£ reward in Cottage Gardener for such a plant;8 but perhaps it would seem too foolish: no instructions are given when to perform the operation; I have tried 2 or 3 times & utterly failed.— I find that I have a grand list of “bud-variations”, & tomorrow shall work up such cases as I have about Roses—sports which seem very numerous, & which I see you state to occur comparatively frequently.9

When a person is very good-natured, he gets much pestered,—a discovery which I daresay you have made, or anyhow will soon make; for I do want very much to know, whether you have sown seed of any Moss Roses, & whether the seedlings were moss-roses.— Has a common Rose produced by seed a moss-rose?10

What can be the origin of the Austrian Bramble, which seems always to have imperfect pollen (at least I have found it so) & which sport into a yellow rose:11 may not this be case like Laburnum?—12

If any light comes to you about very slight changes in the buds, pray have kindness to illuminate me: I have cases of 7 or 8 varieties of the Peach which have produced by “bud-variation” Nectarines;13 & yet only one single case (in France) of a Peach producing another closely similar peach (but later in ripening).14 How strange it is that a great change in the Peach should occur not rarely & slighter changes apparently very rarely! How strange that no case seems recorded of new Apples or Pears or Apricots by “bud-variation”! How ignorant we are! But with the many good observers now living our children’s children will be less ignorant, & that is a comfort. I am ashamed of myself to be so troublesome, & am grateful. (not for favour to come)—

My dear Sir | Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Thomas Rivers, 11 January [1863].
The letter from Rivers, presumably a reply to CD’s letter to Rivers of 28 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10), has not been found. The shoots Rivers sent were apparently from the Early Prolific plum tree that produced fruits of two different colours (see nn. 3 and 4, below).
CD recorded Rivers’s information in the chapter of Variation on bud-variation, or ‘all those sudden changes in structure or appearance which occasionally occur in full-grown plants in their flower-buds or leaf-buds’ (Variation 1: 373). CD wrote (p. 375) that in January 1863, Rivers had informed him that: a single tree out of 400 or 500 trees of the Early Prolific plum, which is a purple kind, descended from an old French variety bearing purple fruit, produced when about ten years old bright yellow plums; these differed in no respect except colour from those on the other trees, but were unlike any other known kind of yellow plum. See also Gardeners’ Chronicle, 10 January 1863, p. 27, where Rivers reiterated his observation; CD’s annotated copy of this issue is in the Cory Library, Cambridge Botanic Garden.
In Variation, CD compared Rivers’s account with Thomas Andrew Knight’s observation that ‘a tree of the yellow magnum bonum plum, forty years old, which had always borne ordinary fruit, produced a branch which yielded red magnum bonums’ (Variation 1: 375). See also Knight 1815.
In his letter to Rivers of 28 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10), CD inquired about cases of a tree stock being affected by grafts. The letter from Rivers that included this information has not been found. However, the yellow ash case is described in the chapter on bud-variation in Variation 1: 394: Mr. Rivers, on the authority of a trustworthy friend, states that some buds of a golden-variegated ash, which were inserted into common ashes, all died except one; but the ash-stocks were affected, and produced, both above and below the points of insertion of the plates of bark bearing the dead buds, shoots which bore variegated leaves.
In Variation 1: 394, CD wrote: ‘It is notorious that when the variegated Jessamine is budded on the common kind, the stock sometimes produces buds bearing variegated leaves; Mr. Rivers, as he informs me, has seen instances of this’. CD asked about the variegated Jessamine in his letter to Rivers of 28 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10).
Saint-Simon 1768, p. 124; CD cited this work in Variation 1: 395.
CD refers to the Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener, and Country Gentleman.
No letter from Rivers including this information has been found. CD may be referring to Rivers 1837; Rivers is mentioned in CD’s discussion of bud-variation in roses as having ‘informed’ CD about particular cases (Variation 1: 379–81). CD was interested in bud-variations and ‘certain anomalous modes of reproduction and variation’; he noted that gardeners ‘call such changes “Sports’” (Variation 1: 373).
No reply by Rivers to this query has been found. However, in Variation 1: 380, CD discussed the relationship between various moss-roses and the Provence rose, twice citing Rivers. See the letter to Thomas Rivers, 11 January [1863] and n. 4.
The Austrian bramble (Rosa lutea) is mentioned in Variation 1: 381. CD’s ‘imperfect pollen’ was pollen that did not germinate.
The flowers of the Adam’s laburnum (Cytisus adami), a sterile hybrid, were known to revert spontaneously to those of its fertile parent species, C. laburnum and C. purpureus (see Variation 1: 387–91); the originator of C. adami claimed that it had been raised not by normal hybridisation, but by grafting a bud of C. purpureus onto a stock of C. laburnum. If this was the case, CD wrote in Variation 1: 390, ‘we must admit the extraordinary fact that two distinct species can unite by their cellular tissue, and subsequently produce a plant bearing leaves and sterile flowers intermediate in character between the scion and stock, and producing buds liable to reversion’. CD discussed the case in his letter to Rivers of 28 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10).
See Variation 1: 340–1 and 374–5. In his letter to Rivers of 23 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10), CD cited the example of a nectarine appearing on a peach tree to illustrate what he meant by a ‘bud-variation’.
See Variation 1: 375.


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

Knight, Thomas Andrew. 1815. On the want of permanence of character in varieties of fruit, when propagated by grafts and buds. [Read 4 April 1815.] Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London 2 (1817): 160–1.

Rivers, Thomas. 1837. The rose amateur’s guide; containing ample descriptions of all the fine leading varieties of roses … The whole arranged so as to form a companion to the descriptive catalogue of the Sawbridgeworth collection of roses, published annually. London: the proprietor.

Saint-Simon, Henri Maximilien, marquis de. 1768. Des jacintes, de leur anatomie, reproduction et culture. Amsterdam: C. Eel.

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


Thanks for parcel of shoots with several interesting cases of "bud-variation".

Asks for information about roses.

Strange that great changes in peaches are less rare than slight ones and no case seems recorded of new apples or pears or apricots by "bud-variation". "How ignorant we are!"

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Rivers
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 185: 81
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3906,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11