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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Oliver   24–5 March [1863]1

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

March 24th

Dear Oliver

I remember looking in such Books as I had for explanation of the ovarium of Primula; which I found something like this, diagram viz a knob in middle covered with ovules, which sent a thin stilyform process up centre of style. I could not make out from Books what this latter part was.2 Last autumn I potted some Primroses; a long-styled plant is now in flower which in almost all its flowers has 3 rather short pistils with stigmas (5 stamens &c as usual); the three styles become a little foliaceous at base but are not united, so that by pulling them a little asunder without tearing you can see right into the ovarium with its ovules; & there is no central process from knob.— If capable of fertilisation the pollen tubes must go to base of knob & then turn up to ovules. I have put a few flowers in spirits. The case does not concern me;3 & I mention it solely for chance of your caring for it, or for its throwing any light on morphology of ovarium in Primula.— It looks as if knob with ovules was prolongation of axis.

If you care for specimens per Railway or want me to ascertain whether these flowers can be fertilised, please write;4 if not I shall understand that specimens may be thrown away.—

Please tell Hooker I shd. like to see flowers in tin-box of Edwardsia tetraptera;5 & I shd like to see 2 or 3 leaves or bracts of Marcgravia, which Lindley speaks of as approaching in structure to pitchers of nepenthes.—6 Pods of Orchis7 Poplars.—8

Dear Oliver | Yours very truly | C. Darwin

I think I will put pollen right on to ovules & cut off the stigmas & see if I can thus directly fertilise the ovules.—

P.S. 25th | Tell Hooker I have just received his interesting letter,9 & will write soon. About Poplars suffice with particular thanks; perhaps he would look just once again for Bees on fine day, & gently again, shake branch.—

Case interests me on account of willows.

You shall surely have copy of Linum paper whenever I get copy—10

I am baddish today so no more—


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 March 1863].
CD refers to the tissue through which the pollen tubes pass from stigma to ovules, which was called ‘conducting tissue’ (see for example the letter from John Scott, 16 January 1863).
CD carried out crossing experiments with the plant; his notes, dated 24 March – 11 April 1863, are in DAR 108: 165. See also letter to Daniel Oliver, [12 April 1863] and n. 3.
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863] and n. 19. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 March 1863]. Edwardsia tetraptera is a synonym of Sophora tetraptera.
The reference has not been identified, but may be an imprecise allusion to Lindley 1853, p. 403. CD had been keen to obtain specimens of the pitcher-plant, Nepenthes, while preparing to stock his hothouse at the beginning of the year; he had obtained specimens from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, through Joseph Dalton Hooker (see letters to J. D. Hooker, 13 January [1863] and 5 March [1863], and letter from J. D. Hooker, 15 January [1863]). CD was interested in Nepenthes as one of a few unrelated genera in which leaves were developed into pitcher-like structures; such cases of ‘Similar & peculiar organs in beings far remote in the scale of nature’ presented what he considered a difficulty for the theory of natural selection (Natural selection, pp. 374–5; see also Notebooks, p. 440; Correspondence vol. 2, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [late August 1843]; and Correspondence vol. 6, letter to J. D. Hooker, 16 [May 1857]).
CD probably refers to the seed-capsules of the orchid genus Vanda that he had been promised while on a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in February; CD wished to compare a capsule produced artificially by John Scott from Acropera loddigesii with capsules from others of the Vandeae (see letter to John Scott, 16 February [1863] and n. 14).


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

Lindley, John. 1853. The vegetable kingdom; or, the structure, classification, and uses of plants, illustrated upon the natural system. 3d edition with corrections and additional genera. London: Bradbury & Evans.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Notebooks: Charles Darwin’s notebooks, 1836–1844. Geology, transmutation of species, metaphysical enquiries. Transcribed and edited by Paul H. Barrett et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the British Museum (Natural History). 1987.

‘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.]


Observation on morphology of Primula ovarium sent for DO’s use.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel Oliver
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.10: 42 (EH 88206025)
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4059,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

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