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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Edward Gray   12 May 1863

British Museum

12 May 63

My Dear Darwin

I wish to draw your attention to a fact that has recently developed itself to me

There are in view to be observed on the Bank of the Thames near Kew two most distinct forms of the Common Wild Chervil Anthriscus Sylvestris & I think you will very likely see the same near Down   one is a larger bushy succulent pale green plant with thick stems with a few very large ridges on it, and rather larger flowers—

The other is a rigid hard slender comparatively slightly branched plant with thin stems with a number of small equal ridges a dark foliage with the leaves far apart & small flowers   The Stems & leaves are purpurea but sometimes rarely dark green   They grow on the same foot of soil   The branches of the two varieties being often intermixed—so that it cannot arise from difference of soil or situation1

I have observed a some what similar variety in the Wild Wood anemones under the same circumstance that is grown side by side the one green with white flower the other with a dark foliage & purple flowers, & having narrower petals

Now my dear friend there is a Theme for you   do consider why & how two forms of the same species should exist & grow abundantly (I could send you a barrow load of each) side by side on the same Soil & under the same circumstances

I think I have observed the same thing among other common Plants as the Ground Ivy & the Purple dead Nettle Lamium purpureum but I am not so sure of their being found exactly under the same circumstance as these are but will examine.

Ever yours sincerely | though not as convert2 | J. E Gray

I cannot find that even the greatest of Species splitters has noticed this form of Anthriscus any more that they had noticed anemone nemerosa purpurea 3


The plant described may have been Anthriscus caucalis (bur parsley) or A. cerefolium (garden chervil), both of which have smaller flowers than A. sylvestris, and both of which also occur in disturbed habitats (Stace 1991).
On Gray’s critical reception of Origin, see Correspondence vols. 7 and 8, and Gunther 1975, pp. 453–5.
A purple form of Anemone nemorosa, the wood anemone.


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

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Stace, Clive Anthony. 1991. New flora of the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Cites instance in which different varieties of same species of plant flourished side by side under same conditions.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Edward Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 165: 208
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4156,” accessed on 19 April 2024,

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