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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles William Crocker   1[–4] May 1863

Westgate, Chichester

May 1st. 63.

Dear Sir

I ought to have answered your kind letter before this but the excuse I have to make is one that will be accepted I know.1 The day after I received your letter and the copy of the paper upon Linums,2 I went out into the meadows for the first time for a long period. You know that I have promised myself to look up the Plantagos this season and I found that P. lanceolata was already coming into bloom.3 The very first spike I examined, showed I fondly thought, that I was on the eve of a discovery. I tried all I could find in bloom and I fully believed that this species at least does not—cannot—be fertilised by its own pollen. You know how careful I am, and I was afraid to trust this first examination, and was waiting for better opportunities for confirming these observations. We have since had cold rains and very cold dry winds and these have checked the growth even of the weeds. I have therefore not carried my observations so far as I should otherwise have wished before mentioning them. But I must not delay my letter any longer and I cannot send it off without telling you what I think I have seen. The pubescent styles are protruded nearly or quite all the way up the spike before the stamens of the lower flowers even are ready to expand. By the time the lower flowers have hung out their anthers the styles are withered and useless (probably later in the season fertilised) half way up the spike at least.4 How is fertilisation brought about? My idea is that the wind is the agent, although like yourself I dont give the wind credit for doing much in this line.5 In the first place there is no coloured corolla, no odour, and (I think) no honey to attract insects. With all the time I have been able as yet to devote to this point I have seen only one single insect settle upon a spike of this plant. I watched him (he was a kind of fly—I am afraid of entomological terms) and he seemed to me to have settled there by accident perhaps merely to rest, for he did not set about examining flowers, he was simply resting himself—doing nothing—

Let us see what there is to favour the idea of the wind as being the agent. The long exserted styles are downy, ready to catch any pollen wafted to them; the anthers are hung out clear of the spike upon long thin filaments; the pollen is dry and non-cohesive in any way.— it is easily scattered from the large splitting anthers. So the matter stands at present, I think with me that you will say there is enough to induce one to hope for some facts worth having. Through the winter I have been looking up all my friends except those at Kew6 and have collected above 30 species of the genus—hoping that something would turn up in regard to their structure and wondering what it would be. I expect mine is the largest set of these weeds in the country and should anybody get a view of my garden this year I shall be sure to get my German title back again—“The mad Englishman”.7 I am afraid the genus Bougueria is not in cultivation, most people would think it not worth growing. However I must if possible get hold of our British Littorella— Sir W. Hooker says in Brit Flora that it makes quite a turf on the margins of Highland lakes.8 I have sent to a friend in Aberdeenshire— it grows too in our own country but rarely. I dont doubt that I shall get it. Both genera should be examined in connection with Plantago. they would throw side light upon the subject.9 My wild specimen of P. lanceolata which last year produced a rosette of leaves instead of flower-spike (a foliaceous expansion of the bracts) has this season returned to the normal form.10 I have however got seedlings from the few flowers produced among the leaves of that rosette and shall wait and see what they do.— Net like the sample you sent me will keep out the wind enough for practical purposes, dont you think it will?11

After no end of a lot of correspondence with all parts of the country I this winter succeeded in getting above two dozen genuine single Hollyhocks from a friend’s friend in Yorkshire. They are doing well and are safe to flower— it remains however to see what the colours may be. Out of so many taken up at hazard we shall surely get a sufficient variety to suit our purpose.12 With health there is little to fear on this point.

My Linum flavums have stood the winter well and though few in number will I hope be sufficient. Many thanks for your kind mention of my name in connection with this plant.13

Upon second thoughts I believe it would be worth while to let you have a list of my Plantagos, as possibly in your wanderings you may light upon one or two sp: which might be added to my collection, and I know you would not think me troublesome in asking it.

P. stricta. Schousb.14 P. pumila, L

mexicana, Link15 Hookeriana F. et Mey.16

arenaria W. et K.17 amplexicaulis. Cav.18

lagopus, L.19 microcephala, Poiret20

lusitanica L. sibirica, Pl.21

Psyllum22 major

subulata, L. F.23 —[ditto]— monstrosa

Loeflingii, L. —[ditto]— purpurea

maritima intermedia

coronopus lanceolata

serpentina — [ditto]— var.

virginica, L. Xorullensis, Kunth.24

Candollei, Rap.25 nitida

alpina altissima ?

graminea ciliata (or cynops?)

I am specially anxious to add all vars of Brit. sp: I can get hold of.

I found that Henderson of Pine Apple Place,26 had got Peloria vars of Antirrhinum and Linaria vulgaris, so wrote and bought them with one or two Plantagos and other things, but although I did this 6 weeks ago I have not got them down yet.27 I am afraid the order is so small they hardly think it worth doing. If I go to London this spring I shall go and fetch them.— Out of 100 Primroses examined last week I found 44 long styled 56 short— the long ones differ much in length.— Out of 50 Cowslips—27 were long—23 short styled— Nobody has grown P. sinensis in quantity in this locality this year.—28

Believe me to remain, dear Sir, with the Greatest thanks for your kindness— | Yours very respectfully | Chas. W. Crocker

C. Darwin Esqr.

Three days have I see been lost (lost to science but used in money making) since I commenced this letter.29

CD annotations

6.5 Out of … styled— 6.7] scored red crayon


The letter to Crocker has not been found.
Crocker’s name appears on CD’s presentation list for ‘Two forms in species of Linum; CD distributed a number of offprints of the paper in mid-April (see Correspondence vol.11, Appendix IV).
In a missing letter of November 1862, CD had directed Crocker’s attention to dimorphism in plantains (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from C. W. Crocker, 24 November 1862). Crocker subsequently carried out a number of experiments with Plantago (Crocker 1864); CD cited Crocker’s observations on P. lanceolata in Forms of flowers, p. 306 n. (see also n. 4, below).
In Forms of flowers, p. 307, CD observed that it was ‘well known’ that Plantago lanceolata was protogynous (that is, the female reproductive organs mature before the male). CD was interested in plants in which anthers and stigmas matured at different times in the same flower (dichogamy). Between 19 March and 24 August 1863, CD undertook a series of observations on dichogamy in a variety of plants, including this species; his notes are in DAR 49: 83–100 and DAR 109: A27–9.
In ‘Two forms in species of Linum, p. 78, CD stated: ‘When insects are the agents of fertilization (and this is incomparably the more frequent case both with plants having separated sexes and with hermaphrodites), the wind plays no part, but we see an endless number of adaptations to ensure the safe transport of the pollen by the living workers’ (Collected papers 2: 100–1).
Crocker had worked as foreman of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, from 1857 to 1863 (R. Desmond 1994).
Prior to his appointment at Kew (see n. 6, above), Crocker had worked in Prussia as a gardener to Victoria, princess royal of England and crown princess of Prussia (Journal of Horticulture n.s. 14 (1868): 207).
In the first edition of William Jackson Hooker’s British flora (W. J. Hooker 1830), the description of the plantain shore-weed, Littorella lacustris, appeared on page 402. An eighth edition, written with George Arnott Walker Arnott, had been published in 1860 (W. J. Hooker and Arnott 1860).
Bougueria, Littorella, and Plantago are all members of the Plantaginaceae (J. C. Willis 1973).
The letter with which CD sent the netting has not been found; however, CD may have sent the sample in response to the letter from C. W. Crocker, 24 November 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10).
In a missing letter, CD suggested that Crocker experiment with hollyhocks (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters from C. W. Crocker, [before 13 March 1862], 17 May 1862, and 24 November 1862). For an indication of the questions CD was pursuing with regard to hollyhocks, see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to C. W. Crocker, 18 May [1861]. See also this volume, letter to Charles Turner, [1 April – 16 June 1863?] and n. 3.
In his discussion of Linum flavum in ‘Two forms in species of Linum, p. 81, CD stated: ‘I have not been able to try any experiments on this species; but a careful observer, Mr. W. C. Crocker, intends proving their reciprocal fertility next summer’ (Collected papers 2: 104).
Carolus Linnaeus (Carl von Linné (1707–78)).
This may refer to Jules Emile Planchon; however, Planchon is not listed as the author of this species name in Index Kewensis.
Crocker wrote ‘Psyllum’ in error for Psyllium (Index Kewensis).
Linnaeus filius (Carl von Linné (1741–83), son of Carolus Linnaeus). However, Linnaeus, not Linnaeus filius, is the author of the species name Plantago subulata (Index Kewensis).
Carl Sigismund Kunth.
The reference is to John Andrew Henderson, proprietor of A. Henderson & Co. Nurseries, of 1 Pineapple Place, Maida Vale and 1 Garden Road, St John’s Wood, London (R. Desmond 1994, Post Office London directory 1863).
Crocker discussed his crossing experiments with Antirrhinum in his letter to CD of 31 October 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10), and CD included the results in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 363. CD may have suggested that Crocker extend his investigation to include peloric flowers of this genus (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from C. W. Crocker, 24 November 1862 and nn. 6 and 8), and of Linaria vulgaris (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to M. T. Masters, 8 July [1862]). CD carried out a series of crossing experiments with peloric flowers of different varieties of Pelargonium in May 1862 and was seeking information on pelorism in other genera (see Correspondence vol. 10, and CD’s experimental notes in DAR 51: B4–9, B12–13). See also this volume, letter to Isaac Anderson-Henry, 20 January [1863], and letter to M. T. Masters, 6 April [1863].
Crocker began assisting CD in his observations of heterostyly in wild primroses in 1862, providing data on the frequency of long-, short-, and equal-styled forms (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters from C. W. Crocker, 17 May 1862 and 31 October 1862). CD published Crocker’s observations of heterostyly in Primula sinensis in ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, p. 415.
Crocker worked as a cathedral official and journalist in Chichester (Journal of Horticulture n.s. 14 (1868): 206–7).


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

Crocker, Charles William. 1864. Plantago lanceolata. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 26 March 1864, pp. 293–4.

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

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.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Hooker, William Jackson. 1830. The British flora; comprising the phænogamous, or flowering plants, and the ferns. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green.

‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’: On the character and hybrid-like nature of the offspring from the illegitimate unions of dimorphic and trimorphic plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 20 February 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 10 (1869): 393–437.

Index Kewensis: Index Kewensis: plantarum phanerogamarum, nomina et synonyma omnium generum et specierum … nomine recepto auctore patria unicuique plantae subjectis. 4 vols., and 20 supplements. Compiled by Benjamin Daydon Jackson, et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 1893–1996.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.

‘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.]

Willis, John Christopher. 1973. A dictionary of the flowering plants and ferns. 8th edition. Revised by H. K. Airy Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Observes Plantago’s out-crossing mechanism.

Observations of style lengths of primroses and cowslips.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles William Crocker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 110: 28, DAR 161: 260
Physical description
ALS 5pp † enc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4135,” accessed on 19 May 2022,

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