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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Oliver   20 [February 1863]1

Down Bromley Kent

20th Friday Night.

Dear Oliver

Many thanks about Phyllotaxy. Your cases seem sufficient & when next in London, I shall hear what Falconer has to say.2 Do not look for any more cases; but if you shd. stumble on them, please let me hear. I find the subject very difficult to understand; indeed I cannot understand several most simple points, such as whether there is ever more than one spire; but when Hooker comes he may be able to enlighten me.3 I must learn the elements to understand force of Falconer’s objections: he considered the laws as fixed as that of the attraction of gravity!—

I see what Treviranus says about Primula longiflora;4 I shd. like to know (if you are up in Primula) whether this species is closely allied to P. Scotica; because Mr J. Scott of Bot. Garden of Edinburgh, has been carefully observing Primulas (& I feel a conviction that he is trust-worthy) & he says P. Scotica is never dimorphic, & is much surprised, as he says it is so like P. farinosa: he has sent me plants of both, but they look very sickly.5

By the way I see Mr Bentham makes P. Scotica var. of P. farinosa;6 would it not be worth while to tell him of Mr Scotts observation;7 for there can be no doubt that this difference indicates an important functional difference. Unless indeed P. farinosa presents 3 sexual forms; but then they all three would grow together.

Treviranus in his Review of the Orchids8 does not seem to appreciate at all the prettiness of the adaptations, which seems to me the cream of the case.

Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters from Daniel Oliver, 17 February 1863 and 27 February 1863.
Oliver had sent CD bibliographic references relating to phyllotaxy in his letter of 17 February 1863. The reference is to Hugh Falconer. See letter from Daniel Oliver, 17 February 1863 and n. 3.
Joseph Dalton Hooker visited CD at Down House on 22 March 1863 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 March 1863]).
In his review of ‘Dimorphic condition in Primula (Treviranus 1863a, p. 4), Ludolph Christian Treviranus stated that Primula longiflora (a synonym of P. halleri) was homostyled. Treviranus had arranged for his review to be sent to CD earlier in the month (see letter from L. C. Treviranus, 12 February 1863). CD’s annotated copy of Treviranus 1863a is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL; at the head of the fourth page, CD noted that according to Treviranus P. longiflora was found ‘alone’ and was ‘nondimorphic’ and ‘shortstyled’.
John Scott sent CD three specimens each of P. scotica and P. farinosa on 6 January 1863 (see letter from John Scott, 6 January 1863). See also letter from John Scott, 17 December [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10). CD communicated Scott’s observations on P. scotica to the Linnean Society on 4 February 1864 (Scott 1864a, p. 82).
Bentham 1858, p. 354. CD’s annotated copy of Bentham 1858 is in the Rare Books Room–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 51).
George Bentham’s classification of Primula scotica as a variety of P. farinosa remained unchanged in subsequent editions of the Handbook of British flora; however, in the fourth edition (Bentham 1878, p. 305), the form of statement was altered to read: ‘Specimens from northern Scotland, with broader leaves, and shorter and broader lobes to the corolla, have been distinguished under the name of P. scotica, Hook.’ Bentham worked with Oliver at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Treviranus 1863c; CD’s annotated copy of this work is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL, and a manuscript translation of the review is preserved in DAR 70: 38–52.


Bentham, George. 1858. Handbook of the British flora; a description of the flowering plants and ferns indigenous to, or naturalized in, the British Isles. London: Lovell Reeve.

Bentham, George. 1878. Handbook of the British flora: a description of the flowering plants and ferns indigenous to, or naturalized in, the British Isles. For the use of beginners and amateurs. 4th edition. London: L. Reeve & Co.

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

‘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.]

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.


Having trouble understanding laws of phyllotaxy in order to grasp Hugh Falconer’s objections.

L. C. Treviranus on Primula [see 3980] misses the "prettiness" of the adaptations.

John Scott says P. scotica is never dimorphic.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel Oliver
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.10: 41 (EH 88206024)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4052,” accessed on 21 February 2024,

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