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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Scott   [after 12] April [1863]1

Botanic Garden



I duly received your Linum paper for which I am greatly obliged.2 I have read it with great interest, and was quite unprepared for such remarkable results, as those you have so satisfactorily ⁠⟨⁠d⁠⟩⁠emonstrated. The fact that they ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ have so long escaped observation ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠show⁠⟩⁠s how much careful experimental observations are required.

I thank you most sincerely for the kind and friend advice you have given me in your last,3 as well as for those complimentary remarks which you have frequently honoured me with: which gratify me in showing, that you do not regard me as an entirely unworthy correspondent. In regard to publishing more frequently, I may state that my chief objective was the idea that in my present position anything I might publish would be entirely disregarded.4 I therefore, thought that ⁠⟨⁠I had⁠⟩⁠ better have a little patience, & see if I c⁠⟨⁠ould⁠⟩⁠ not succeed in getting some foreign appointment, where I would have a wider field for original observations, and likewise a better chance of their being attended to when published. I am anxious to remain where I am for this season, that I may work on to the best of my abilities the interesting experiments you have suggested to me:5 after which I will be glad if I can [fortunately] succeed in getting a foreign or colonial appointment.6

At your suggest⁠⟨⁠ion I have⁠⟩⁠ drawn up a paper on the Ind⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ Sterility of Plants, which I will read at the ensuing meeting of the Botanical Society.7 I am glad that I have seen your Linum paper before reading it: as I have stated that the sterility of the Oncidium was not simply due to the non-emission of pollen-tubes; having found an abundance of them in conducting tissues of styles.8 You I observe have made similar observations on Linum perenn⁠⟨⁠e⁠⟩⁠ & Lythrum Salicaria, which I will take the liberty of appending to a paper as a note9—contrasting them as you have done with the L. grandiflorum case.

Your experiment on the Primrose has interested me very much;10 it is certainly very singular that the pollen-tubes should have penetrated the coats of the ovules. I have made of late a few experiments of a similar nature upon different plants; but with no success, all the capsules dropping off early. However, I neglected to see whether or not the pollen-grains had emitted tubes. I will look to this in my future experiments. I am sorry to say that I can get ⁠⟨⁠no⁠⟩⁠ seed of the Campanula perfoliata for you, or even ascertain where it is to be got!11 I have been trying to get plants of it for sometime back, that I might make a few observations on its imperfect flowers: but I have likewise failed in this.

I send off by mail a packet containing 4 ripe capsules of Gongora atropurpurea, and 2 unripe—of G. truncata.12 Those each of the former are the largest & finest the plant has produced. I took the precaution to ⁠⟨⁠attach⁠⟩⁠ a small paper bag to each capsule as soon as it gave indication of dehiscing, as thus I might allow them to remain ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠the plant⁠⟩⁠ till they were quite ripe without any loss of seed. Those of G. truncata, I have many seeds for comparison. I suppose they ⁠⟨⁠are⁠⟩⁠ nearly ful⁠⟨⁠l⁠⟩⁠ grown. I have had even greater difficulty in fertilising it than G. atropurpurea; its stigmatic orifice was in general so much contracted, that I could rarely force a pollen-mass into it. The smaller of the 2 capsules sent, will show you how I have succeeded in fertilising, when stigmatic orifice would not admit pollen-mass. I simply cut off the clinandrum, so as fully to expose stigmatic chamber, into which I immediately insert the pollen. Thus I accomplish fertilisation ⁠⟨⁠by⁠⟩⁠ force. It must certainly be a most ingenious insect that fertilises these plants in their native wilds, if they there present the same peculiarities they do with us! How delightful it would be to be there to watch the process: If more capsules of either are required, I will gladly furnish you with them.

Excuse the hurried scrawl.

I remain | Sir | Yours very respectfully | John Scott

P.S: I thought I would have got a few plants of Primula Scotia for you but I have failed, and we ⁠⟨⁠have⁠⟩⁠ only three plants in the Garden!13

CD annotations

0.3 Sir, … comparison. 5.6] crossed pencil
5.12 Thus … us! 5.14] double scored red crayon
8.1 P.S: … Garden! 8.2] crossed pencil
Top of letter ‘Gongora’ ink, circled ink


The date is established by the relationship between this letter, the letter to John Scott, 12 April [1863], and the letter to John Scott, 2 May [1863].
‘Two forms in species of Linum. Scott’s name appeared on CD’s presentation list for this paper (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix IV).
Scott was foreman of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (R. Desmond 1994).
CD had been encouraging Scott’s experimental work since November 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10). In his letter to Scott of 19 December [1862] (ibid.), CD sent a list of suggested experiments.
Scott became head of the herbarium at the botanic garden in Calcutta, India, in 1864 (Freeman, 1978).
Scott 1863a was read before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 14 May 1863.
Scott 1863a, p. 546.
See Scott 1863a, p. 547 n.
CD had described artificial fertilisation of ovules in a primrose (see preceding letter, letter from Daniel Oliver, 14 April 1863, and letter to Daniel Oliver, [after 14 April 1863]).
Scott and CD had been discussing the pollination of Gongora and the related Acropera since November 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Scott, 11 November 1862). In his letter of 3 March 1863, Scott noted that he had successfully pollinated Gongora atropurpurea. See also letter from John Scott, 21 March [1863], and letter to John Scott, 24 March [1863]. CD cited Scott’s observations on the fertilisation of Gongora in Orchids 2d ed., p. 169.
CD had written that his Primula scotica specimens, which had been sent to him by Scott with his letter of 6 January 1863, looked ‘very sick’ (see letter to John Scott, 24 March [1863]).


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.

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

‘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.]


Thanks for CD’s Linum paper [Collected papers 2: 93–105].

Has not published much because he would be ignored as a gardener; hence he is looking for a foreign appointment.

Has prepared orchid sterility paper at CD’s suggestion [Trans. Bot. Soc. Edinburgh 7 (1863): 543–50].

Letter details

Letter no.
John Scott
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 177: 87
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4087,” accessed on 13 April 2024,

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