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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Anderson   1 April 1863

Meadow Bank, Uddingstone N.B.


Mr Darwin

Dear Sir

I enclose for your inspection a few of the seeds of the abortive Cattleya crispa flower as well as a few of Lælia cinnabarina from a perfect flower without manipulation;1 both of which have been ripe for the last two months. The Den. Cretaceum pods are yet unripe but when they are so I shall submit a few of the seeds for your inspection for I look upon them with more interest having watched the anomalous proceeding with more interest than the Cattleya flower,2 some of the phases in the progress of which not being so closely watched, as it being the first instance of the kind that came under my cognisance I supposed it would be an entire failure. I have also sent pkts. to Mr Gosse and I hope you will “report progress”3

I am exceedingly glad to embrace this opportunity of bearing testimony to your unwearied and painstaking abilities in going so minutely into what may appear at first a more difficult problem than what it really is.

I have great hopes of succeeding in rearing thousands of my “crosses” for I have now gone into the fertilisation of them with earnestness and from the results of practice I can with confidence reckon upon effecting a cross, if the pollen masses be taken off at the proper time and applied to a flower in a proper condition. We have hundreds of imported seedlings of a species of Rodriguesia that have come safe home on the blocks which they had germinated upon in Trinidad;4 and I don’t see why we should not be able to reproduce species and varieties here.5

I have perused your reply in J. of H with much pleasure and the more I know of the seed pods the more I am convinced that it is almost futile attempting to rear seedlings unless from flowers that have been artificially dealt with. I confess my inability in a dozen of trials with casual pods to produce a healthy germination. I, too, like Mr Gosse, have had a very few swelling almost to the size of the “old” pin head but they too dissappeared. However, I should not like to be too dogmatical on this point.

I shall be glad to hear from you after you have analysed the chaff (?)

I am | Dr Sir | Yours truly | Jas Anderson

P.S. By way of experiment, I gave a large plant of Phaius Grandiflorus a good ‘shaking’ to try if irritation would do anything in the way of inducing seed and I find some half dozen pods upon the plant. I was induced so to do as probably you may be aware that Erica elegans will not cross with any other species of heath neither will it set a single pod unless some artificial mode be adopted; but by shaking the plant the pollen will disperse and the plant thereupon will produce seed in abundance.6

J. A.


In the Journal of Horticulture, 17 March 1863, pp. 206–8, Anderson had asked CD to comment on cases like the ‘abortive’ flowers of the orchids Cattleya crispa and Dendrobium cretaceum, which did not open, yet still formed seed capsules. CD’s reply was published in the Journal of Horticulture, 31 March 1863, p. 237; he asked Anderson to send him seeds produced by the unopened flowers (see letter to the Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, [17–24 March 1863]). In a note (DAR 70: 110), CD recorded: On or about March 18 —63 in Cottage Gardener Mr Anderson publishes account of certain orchids with abortive (unopened!) flowers setting seed-pods. He has sent me seeds *of such Cattleya crispa [interl] for examination, & not more [above del ‘more’] than [‘one in’ del] 1/100 or 1/200 is anything [above del ‘more’] than an [above del ‘an’] empty testa; the few others have perfect embryo=nucleus— He sent me packet of seeds of Lælia cinnabrina, from plant which had not been manipulated (possibly visited by insect?) & here about 1/4 were good.—
See n. 1, above. Anderson sent CD one of the seed capsules produced by the Dendrobium cretaceum in June 1863 (see letter from James Anderson, 18 June 1863, ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 152 (Collected papers 2: 149), and Orchids 2d ed., p. 142).
In the Journal of Horticulture, 24 March 1863, p. 217, Philip Henry Gosse published a response to Anderson’s article, noting the viability of the Odontoglossum seed that Anderson had sent him. Since taking up residence in Devonshire, the zoologist Gosse had become interested in orchid cultivation and had ‘formed a remarkable collection’ (DNB).
Since Rodriguezia species are epiphytic, the seedlings were probably growing on blocks of wood when transported.
Anderson was gardener to Thomas Dawson at Meadowbank, Uddingston, Lanarkshire, where there was an orchid collection (Orchid Review (1899): 198; R. Desmond 1994).
CD recorded this information on the orchid Phaius grandifolius (a synonym of P. tankervilleae, the nun's-hood orchid) in a note (DAR 70: 110); he referred to pollination in the species in Orchids 2d ed., p. 280.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

‘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 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.


Sends CD seeds of Cattleya crispa as requested [see Collected papers 2: 77–8].

Anticipates success for his attempts to cross orchids artificially. Has not had a single seed germinate from a pod that was not produced by artificial crossing.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Anderson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 159: 59
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4071,” accessed on 23 March 2023,

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