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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   16 February [1863]1

Down Bromley Kent

Feb. 16

My dear Sir

Absence from home has prevented me answering you sooner.2 I should think that the capsule of Acropera had better be left till it shews some signs of opening, as our object is to judge whether the seeds are good; but I should prefer trusting to your better judgment.3 I am interested about the Gongora which I hope hereafter to try myself as I have just built a small hot-house.—4

Asa Gray’s observations on the Rostellum of Gymnadenia are very imperfect, yet worth looking at.5 Your case of Imatophyllum is most interesting; even if the sport does not flower it will be worth my giving.6 I did not understand, or I had forgotten, that a single frond on a fern will vary; I now see that the case does come under bud-variation & must be given by me.7 I had thought of it only as proof inheritance in Cryptogams; I am much obliged for your correction & will consult again your paper & Mr Bridgeman’s.8

I enclose vars. of Maize from Asa Gray.9 Pray do not thank me for trusting you: the thanks ought to go the other way: I felt a conviction after your first letter that you were a real lover of Natural History.10 If you can advance good evidence shewing that bi-sexual plants are more variable than uni-sexual, it will be interesting.11 I shall be very glad to read the discussion which you are preparing.12 I admit as fully as any one can do that cross-impregnation is the great check to endless variability; but I am not sure that I understand your view. I do not believe that the structure of Primula has any necessary relation to a tendency to a Diœcious structure; but seeing the difference in the fertility of the two forms, I felt bound unwillingly to admit that they might be a step towards Diœciousness; I allude to this subject in my Linum paper.13 Thanks for your answers to my other queries. I forgot to say that I was at Kew the other day, & I find that they can give me Capsules of several Vanda14

Will you present my compliments to Mr Macnab & ask him whether he has ever sown seeds of any weeping trees; & if so whether he would have the kindness to inform me how far this character was inherited.15 I am much pressed with letters & have therefore written as briefly as I could—

Pray believe me | My dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch Darwin

When Acropera-pod is sent please register it in an old match-box, & I enclose stamps; as I have no right to trouble you with my whim to make the capsule extra safe—

Small red or white wd. be good to cross with large other-coloured kinds; if you can force forward the latter.16

A. Gray unfortunately does not name any of the maize: but calls the small grain “precocious northern form good for popping”; & I imagine the transparent grains are the “sweet corn” with starch replaced by glucose.—17

You had better tally them by colour & size & say how all are N. U. States—


The year is established by CD’s reference to having visited the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and by his request for information on weeping trees from James McNab (see nn. 14 and 15, below, and the letter from John Scott, 3 March 1863).
Scott’s letter has not been found. CD had been in London for ten days (see n. 14, below).
Scott’s letter has not been found; however, in his letter of 18 February [1863], Scott stated that in his ‘last’ he had asked if he should send the capsule of Acropera as it might be ‘sometime before it matured’. Scott had succeeded, where CD had failed, in effecting fertilisation in Acropera loddigesii (a synonym of Gongora galeata; see Orchids, pp. 203–10; see also Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Scott, 11 November 1862 and n. 3, and letter to John Scott, 12 November [1862], and this volume, letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863, nn. 3 and 4). Scott’s experiments led CD to revise his former conclusion that the genus Acropera was dioecious (‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 153 (Collected papers 2: 150)). See also letter from John Scott, 18 February [1863] and nn. 4 and 5.
Work commenced on the construction of the hothouse in the kitchen garden at Down House towards the end of January 1863 (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VI). Scott had also been attempting to effect pollination in species of Gongora (see letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863).
Asa Gray’s observations on Gymnadenia tridentata (a synonym of Platanthera clavellata, the small green wood orchid) appeared in A. Gray 1862a, p. 426, and A. Gray 1862c, p. 260. See also letter to John Scott, 21 January [1863].
In his letter to Scott of 19 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10), CD asked Scott to assist him by providing examples of bud-variation. Scott’s letter, to which this is a reply, has not been found; however, in Variation 1: 385, CD stated: Mr. John Scott informs me that in 1862 Imatophyllum miniatum, in the Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh, threw up a sucker which differed from the normal form, in the leaves being two-ranked instead of four-ranked. The leaves were also smaller, with the upper surface raised instead of being channelled.
In his letter of 16 January 1863, Scott asked CD whether he intended including ferns in his work on the variations of plants and animals, pointing out that the ‘facilities they afford for reproducing variations is wonderful’. In his letter to Scott of 21 January [1863], CD stated that he had supposed that ferns did not produce bud-variations; Scott evidently explained the case of bud-variation in ferns in his reply, which has not been found. In Variation 1: 383, CD stated: Cryptogamic plants are liable to bud-variation, for fronds on the same fern are often seen to display remarkable deviations of structure. Spores, which are of the nature of buds, taken from such abnormal fronds, reproduce, with remarkable fidelity, the same variety, after passing through the sexual stage.
The reference is to Scott 1862a and Bridgman 1861. Both papers, of which there are annotated copies in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL, are cited in Variation 1: 383.
Gray sent the New England maize seeds with his letter to CD of 29 December 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10). See also n. 16, below. CD began writing on variation in maize in November 1862, and urged Scott to repeat Karl Friedrich von Gärtner’s experiments on crossing varieties of maize (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters to John Scott, 19 November [1862] and 11 December [1862], and this volume, letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863, n. 2o). In his letter to Scott of 21 January [1863], CD suggested that Scott should cross Gray’s maize with ‘some large kind of different colour’.
Scott gave a more detailed account of his views on variability in hermaphrodite and diclinous plants in his letter of 3 March 1863. See also letters from John Scott, 16 January 1863, n. 11, and 3 March 1863, n. 8. See also n. 12, below.
In a missing letter, Scott evidently informed CD that he was preparing a paper on the relationship between the form of reproduction and the heritability of variation in plants (see also letter from John Scott, 16 January 1863 and n. 11).
In ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula, p. 95 (Collected papers 2: 61–2), CD suggested that dimorphism was probably a stage towards dioeciousness in plants. In ‘Two forms in species of Linum, p. 83, which was read before the Linnean Society on 5 February 1863, CD argued (Collected papers 2: 105): That in some cases this dimorphism may be a step towards a complete separation of the sexes, I will not dispute; but good reasons could be assigned to show that there is no necessary connexion between reciprocal dimorphism and a tendency to dioecious structure. Although good is gained by the inevitable crossing of the dimorphic flowers, yet numerous other analogous facts lead me to conclude that some other quite unknown law of nature is here dimly indicated to us. See also letter from John Scott, 18 February [1863].
CD had been in London from 4 to 14 February 1863 (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)). Emma Darwin recorded in her diary (DAR 242) that they visited the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on 11 February 1863. CD wanted Vanda capsules for comparison with the Acropera capsule (see n. 3, above, and Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 [November 1862]). See also Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 August 1862, letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 [August 1862], and letter from John Scott, [20 November – 2 December 1862].
James McNab was curator of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and Scott’s immediate superior (R. Desmond 1994); Scott was foreman in the propagating department. CD was preparing a draft of chapter 12 of Variation (see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix II)) and was collecting information on the weeping habit of trees to demonstrate the variability of inheritance (see Variation 2: 17–19). See also letters from Isaac Anderson-Henry, 31 January 1863 and nn. 7 and 8, and 14 February 1863 and n. 3.
CD refers to varieties of maize, and to Scott’s proposed crossing experiments (see n. 9, above).
This sentence does not appear in the extant part of the letter with which Gray enclosed the maize seeds (Correspondence vol. 10, letter from Asa Gray, 29 December 1862). See also n. 9, above.


Bridgman, William Kencely. 1861. On the influence of the venation in the reproduction of monstrosities among ferns. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 8: 490–2.

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

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.]

‘Fertilization of orchids’: Notes on the fertilization of orchids. By Charles Darwin. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 4 (1869): 141–59. [Collected papers 2: 138–56.]

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

‘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.


Tells JS Acropera capsule should be left to grow.

JS was correct on "bud-variation" in fern frond.

Does not believe Primula structure necessarily related to dioecism, but the difference in fertility of the two forms forced him to admit the possibility.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: B55, B81–2
Physical description
LS(A) 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3991,” accessed on 5 December 2022,

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