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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   4 May [1863]


May 4.

My Dear Father,

The flower is Anchusa officinalis, that is to say I am almost certain it that.1

I went over to the isle of Wight yesterday and gathered 52 plants and brought them back to look at them, and of these 52 plants 22 were Short styled 30 Long styled, and of the 30 Long styled 16 were longest styled, & 14 long styled, but I fancy this was mere variability in length of pistil.2

the difference between the long and short styled is that as well as the styles being different length the stamens tho’ all the same length or nearly so are attached to different places on the Corolla.

I am not going to send you flowers till I know whether you are at Down or Hartfield. send me a line at once if you want them as they will be getting withered.3

The pollen of short-styled I think is the largest. The shortstyled seem (in the 50 examined) to have the smallest flowers, the long next and the longest finest of all but I think this must be chance4   The shortstyled seem to have a greater tendency than others to become regularly 6 divisioned instead of 5. I have only had one short look at them this morning before breakfast, I shall look again tomorrow.

in Boragineæ the scales in mouth of Corolla are said to be aborted stamens and they have spiral vessels running up to them

CD annotations

1.1 Anchusa officinalis,] underl pencil
Top of letter: ‘W. says in 2d letter5 pollen of short-styled larger & more of it.—’ ink; ‘Pulmonaria’ pencil; ‘1863’ pencil; ‘Anchusa’ pencil, circled & del pencil
Top of second page: ‘Anchusa’ pencil, circled pencil


In a letter that has not been found, William informed CD that he had been observing the possibly dimorphic flowers of a new species (see letter from Charles and Emma Darwin to W. E. Darwin, [4 May 1863]). William’s botanical notebook indicates that the identification was changed from ‘Anchusa officinalis’ to ‘Pulmonaria’ (DAR 117: 67). CD cited William’s observations in Forms of flowers, identifying the plant as Pulmonaria angustifolia, another member of the family Boraginaceae (Forms of flowers, pp. 105, 107).
William’s observations on style lengths in Pulmonaria angustifolia collected on the Isle of Wight are mentioned briefly in Forms of flowers, p. 107 (see n. 1, above). William’s botanical notebook contains notes on this species, beginning on 4 May 1863 (DAR 117: 67), and sketches of ‘Anchusa officinalis’ are preserved in his botanical sketchbooks (DAR 186: 43, p. 53). CD’s brief pencil notes on the information sent by William are in DAR 110: 41–2.
Hartfield Grove in Hartfield, Sussex, was the home of Charles Langton (Freeman 1978). William sent the specimens of Pulmonaria angustifolia on 8 May 1863 (see letter from W. E. Darwin, 8 May [1863]).
William’s observations on pollen and flower sizes in this species are mentioned briefly in Forms of flowers, pp. 105–6; his notes on flower sizes are in DAR 117: 67.
The first letter from William concerning ‘Anchusa officinalis’ has not been found (see n. 1, above).


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

Freeman, Richard Broke. 1978. Charles Darwin: a companion. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.


Sends observations on [Anchusa] plants from Isle of Wight.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 110: 62
Physical description
inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4139,” accessed on 21 February 2024,

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