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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Scott   2 May [1863]1

of Down, Bromley Kent [Hartfield]2

May 2d.

My dear Sir

I have left home for a fortnight to see if I can with little hope improve my health—3 The parcel of orchid pods, which you have so kindly sent me, have followed me.4 I am sure you will forgive the liberty which I take in returning you the postage stamps.— I never heard of such a scheme as that you were compelled to practise to fertilise the Gongora!5 It is a most curious problem what plan nature follows. in this genus & Acropera.— Some day I will try & estimate how many seeds there are in Gongora.— I suppose & hope you have kept notes on all your observations on Orchids;6 for with my broken health & many other subjects, I do not know whether I shall ever have time to publish again; though I have a large collection of notes & facts ready.—7 I think you show your wisdom in not wishing to publish too soon; a young author who publishes every trifle gets sometimes unjustly to be disregarded.—8

I do not pretend to be much of a judge; but I can conscientiously say that I have never written one word to you on the merit of your letters that I do not fully believe in.—9

Please remember that I shd. very much wish for copy of your paper on sterility of individual orchids & on Drosera.—10

Thank you about Campanula perfoliata.— I have asked Asa Gray for seeds;11 to whom I have mentioned your observations on Rostellum & asked him to look closely to case of Gymnadenia.—12

Let me hear about the sporting Imantophyllum if it flowers—13

Perhaps I have blundered about Primula; but certainly not about mere protrusion of pollen-tubes.—14

I have been idly watching Bees of several genera & Diptera fertilising O. morio at this place & it is a very pretty sight.— I have confirmed in several ways entire truth of my statement that there is no vestige of nectar in the spur; but the insects perforate the inner coat.15 This seems to me a curious little fact, which none of my Reviewers have noticed.

with every good wish that I could anyhow aid you in any way.

Dear Sir | Yours sincerely | C. Darwin


The year is established by the reference to CD’s absence from home (see n. 3, below).
Hartfield Grove in Hartfield, Sussex, was the home of Charles Langton, widower of Emma Darwin’s sister Charlotte (see n. 3, below).
Emma Darwin recorded in her diary (DAR 242) that from 27 April to 6 May 1863, the Darwins stayed at Hartfield Grove (see n. 2, above), afterwards visiting Josiah Wedgwood III at Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, Surrey, between 6 and 13 May 1863.
In his letter to CD of [after 12] April [1863], Scott mentioned that he was sending capsules of Gongora atropurpurea and G. truncata.
Scott described how he had successfully pollinated Gongora truncata in his letter to CD of [after 12] April [1863]. Scott and CD had been discussing the difficult pollination and small stigmatic openings of Gongora and the related Acropera since November 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Scott, 11 November 1862). See also this volume, letters from John Scott, 3 March 1863 and 21 March [1863], and letter to John Scott, 24 March [1863].
Scott later followed up CD’s plan to estimate the number of seeds produced (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from John Scott, 28 March 1864); CD recorded his observations on Gongora and Acropera in Variation 2: 379 n.: Mr. J. Scott, of the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh, calculated, in the same manner as I have done for some British orchids [Orchids, p. 344] … the number of seeds in a capsule of an Acropera, and found the number to be 371,250. Now this plant produces several flowers on a raceme and many racemes during a season. In an allied genus, Gongora, Mr. Scott has seen twenty capsules produced on a single raceme: ten such racemes on the Acropera would yield above seventy-four millions of seed.
CD published the information he had accumulated on orchid reproduction subsequent to the appearance of Orchids in 1862, in ‘Fertilization of orchids’, published in 1869. A second edition of Orchids was published in 1877. See also Variation 1: 402–3, 2: 133–5.
In his letter to CD of [after 12] April [1863], Scott stated that he had been reluctant to publish his observations on orchids, given his lowly status as foreman of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. With CD’s encouragement, Scott published his observations on sterility and cross-pollination in orchids in Scott 1863a and 1864b. Scott 1863a was read before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 14 May 1863.
In his letter of [after 12] April [1863], Scott had thanked CD for the encouraging remarks in his letter to Scott of 12 April [1863].
CD refers to Scott’s draft paper on his experiments with species of Oncidium and Maxillaria (see letter from John Scott, [after 12] April [1863]); the paper was published as Scott 1863a (see n. 8, above). The second reference is to Scott’s paper on Drosera and Dionaea (Scott 1862b), read before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 11 December 1862, abstracts of which appeared in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 10 January 1863, p. 30, the Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal n.s. 17 (1863): 317–18, and the society’s Transactions.
See letter to Asa Gray, 20 March [1863]. CD had been trying to obtain seed of Campanula perfoliata (a synonym of Triodanis perfoliata) for some time, in connection with his experiments on self-pollination (see letter to John Scott, 12 April [1863] and n. 17). Scott had been unable to procure seed of this species, despite numerous inquiries (see letter from John Scott, [after 12] April [1863]).
See letter to Asa Gray, 20 April [1863]. For Scott’s observations, see the letters from John Scott, 21 March [1863] and n. 7, and [1–11] April 1863 and n. 13. Asa Gray published his observations on Gymnadenia tridentata (a synonym of Platanthera clavellata, the small green wood orchid) in A. Gray 1863b.
Scott sent CD information about a specimen of Imatophyllum miniatum in a missing letter (see letter to John Scott, 16 February [1863] and n. 6), in response to CD’s request for examples of bud-variation; CD quoted the case in Variation 1: 385.
CD had observed pollen-tubes penetrating ovules in Primula through the chalaza. Pollen-tubes in flowering plants usually enter the ovule through the micropyle (see letter to Daniel Oliver, [12 April 1863] and n. 3, and letter to John Scott, 12 April [1863]). In his letter to CD of [after 12] April [1863], Scott expressed a wish to make further experiments on this point.
CD refers to his discussion of Orchis morio (a synonym of Anacamptis morio, the green-wing orchid) in Orchids, pp. 44–53. Despite having well-developed spur-like nectaries, O. morio did not appear to secrete nectar; CD’s hypothesis was that in this, and in some other species of orchids, nectar was secreted into the intercellular spaces between the inner and outer membranes of the nectary. This required the insect to bore through the inner membrane of the nectary to reach the nectar. The observations on O. morio made by CD and George Howard Darwin at Hartfield at the beginning of May 1863 are recorded in DAR 70: 176. See also letter to Roland Trimen, 16 February [1863] and n. 4, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 24[–5] February [1863], n. 19.


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

‘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: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Impressed by JS’s attempts to fertilise Gongora.

CD has large collection of notes on orchids, but does not know when he will publish on them again.

Asks for JS’s papers on sterility of individual orchids and on Drosera.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Scott
Sent from
Hartfield Down letterhead
Source of text
DAR 93: B25–6
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4137,” accessed on 19 June 2024,

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