skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. E. Darwin   [10 May 1863]1

Leith Hill

Sunday night

My dear William.—

I received Anchusa flowers safe but in broken box.2 It is a splendid case, & I would not have missed seeing the flowers for anything. You must try & get me some seed; for it will be most necessary to test fertility; for the case will probably explain the state of Echium &c.—3 Your observations on Corydalis seem extremely curious: the specimens which you sent, were rather withered (the plant withers so easily) & I did not examine them carefully.— I never saw anything like the very curious points which you describe in C. lutea; but I may have overlooked all.—4

Certainly it does not occur in Fumaria.— As I intend to discuss fertilisation of Fumariaceæ, I shd. very much like some seed of your species.5 Could you easily get some?— The seed in this family, I think, generally ripens soon.—

I shd like to cover up some plants, & watch insects at work.—

Hearty thanks for all your splendid facts.— We go home on Wednesday morning.—6 Poor dear little Skimp keeps very indifferent; but he has some enjoyment, every day.—7 I cannot boast much of myself. I have observed nothing curious. But George & I saw Bees of various species & genera fertilising Orchis morio.8 Your Corydalis case must be somewhat like kidney Bean & the big Lathyrus.9

Goodnight, my dear old fellow. How does Mr Fold, Mr Fould Mr Foole, (what is his name?) get on in health?10 Read Bates’ Book; you will like it—11 good night | C. Darwin


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from W. E. Darwin, 8 May [1863], and by the address. According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins stayed at Leith Hill Place, near Dorking, Surrey, the home of Josiah Wedgwood III, between 6 and 13 May 1863. In 1863, 10 May fell on a Sunday.
See letter from W. E. Darwin, 8 May [1863]. The plant was subsequently identified as Pulmonaria angustifolia (see letter from W. E. Darwin, 4 May [1863], n. 1).
CD was trying to establish whether the ‘Anchusa’ (Pulmonaria angustifolia) was a heterostyled dimorphic plant. His experiments required plants raised from seed to test the fertility of the long- and short-styled forms: if one form was fully fertile only when pollinated with pollen from another form, then the species was heterostyled (see Forms of flowers, pp. 2–3). He initially thought that Echium vulgare, another member of the Boraginaceae, was heterostyled, but later concluded that this species, with aborted anthers in the long-styled form, was gyno-dioecious, namely, having a female and an ordinary hermaphrodite form (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Asa Gray, 9 August [1862], n. 8). CD evidently thought that P. angustifolia might exhibit a transitional stage between the heterostyled and gyno-dioecious conditions. See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to W. E. Darwin, 14 May [1864]. For CD’s conclusions on P. angustifolia, see Forms of flowers, pp. 105–10.
See letter from W. E. Darwin, 8 May [1863] and n. 5. As part of his investigations into the relationship between the structure of flowers and insect pollination, CD carried out a series of observations and experiments on Corydalis lutea (Pseudofumaria lutea) in 1858, 1859, and 1861; his notes are in DAR 76: 13, 15–17, and DAR 157a: 43. CD’s continued interest in the species, a member of the Fumariaceae, is evident in his letters to Daniel Oliver of 12 [April 1862] and 15 April [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10). Further observations dated 22 May 1863, including notes on William’s observations, are in DAR 76: 19. CD gave a summary of his observations on C. lutea in a section on ‘Plants sterile without insect-aid’ in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 359.
CD did not publish a description of pollination in the Fumariaceae until 1874, in a short letter to Nature, 6 April [1874] (Calendar no. 9393). CD began experiments on the pollination mechanisms of Fumariaceae in 1858, after Asa Gray argued that the family was one in which perpetual self-fertilisation occurred (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to Daniel Oliver, 12 [April 1862] and nn. 7 and 8). CD’s observational notes on species of Fumaria, dated 1858, 1861, and 1863, are in DAR 76: 13–21. CD summarised his findings in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 366; as with Corydalis (see n. 4, above), these observations formed part of a discussion of plants that were apparently fertile without insect aid.
According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), the Darwins returned to Down from Leith Hill Place on Wednesday 13 May 1863.
‘Skimp’ was a family nickname for Horace Darwin (Freeman 1978). Horace had been unwell since January 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10).
George Howard Darwin. His and CD’s observations of insects visiting Orchis morio, made at Hartfield from 1 to 3 May 1863, are in DAR 70: 176–7.
In the three plants to which CD refers, when an insect lands on the flower, the pistil protrudes and applies the stigma to the insect’s body; pollen on the insect’s body adheres to the stigma, and cross-pollination is thus effected. CD discussed pollination in the kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) and in Lathyrus grandiflorus in the letter to the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 18 October [1857] (Correspondence vol. 6), and in the letter to the Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 13 November 1858] (Correspondence vol. 7).
CD refers to Phillip Carteret Fall, formerly a partner in the Southampton and Hampshire Bank, who was friendly towards William when he joined the bank in 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to W. E. Darwin, 17 [October 1861], and letter from W. E. Darwin, [17 November 1861]).
Bates 1863.


Thanks WED for his botanical specimens and observations.

Discusses Corydalis and the fertilisation of Fumariaceae.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Erasmus Darwin
Sent from
Leith Hill Place
Source of text
DAR 210.6: 111
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4151,” accessed on 13 December 2018,

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