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Darwin Correspondence Project

From L. E. Becker   28 May [1863]1

Altham | Accrington.

May 28


At the risk of being troublesome I cannot refrain from expressing my thanks for your letter and the paper you have done me the honour to send me which I do indeed highly prize.2 I had seen an abstract of it, and this induced me to send you the Lychnis.3 I am of course much disappointed that it does not possess the interest you at first thought it might possibly have but I cannot regret having sent it as it has procured for me the pleasure and honour of the communications with which you have favoured me.4 The resemblance of the black powder on the anthers to the smut of wheat had struck me but I never thought of the obvious inference that it was a similar cryptogamic growth. And there are one or two points which still excite my curiosity   How is it that this parasite invariably attacks the hermaphrodites, and how does it get into the unopened buds? Can it be that the plant is weakened in the endeavour to perfect both stamens and pistils and so rendered liable to the attacks of disease. And does this presumed weakness in the plant account for the small size of the pistils?5

I found one solitary f⁠⟨⁠emale⁠⟩⁠ plant with small p⁠⟨⁠istils⁠⟩⁠ and upon watching it for three days to see if the pistils would grow, I cut off and send you the only flower expanded. Though the plant looks vigorous enough I suspect it is accidental weakness and not divergence of form which causes the peculiarity but I will try to save seed from it and also test the goodness of the seed of the hermaphrodites.

I am sorry to have troubled you with sending the roots now that they are not likely to prove interesting6   indeed I hope they will not do mischief by spreading among other plants the insinuating parasite with which they ⁠⟨⁠ar⁠⟩⁠e charged, and I beg you to believe that I am not so unreasonable as to expect you to give yourself any further trouble on my account though I should be very glad if my difficulties could be satisfactorily explained.7

Again thanking you for your extreme courtesy and kindness—I am Sir—yours much obliged and very respectfully | L. E. Becker


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters from L. E. Becker, 18 May 1863, 21 May [1863], and 23–4 May [1863].
The letter to Becker has not been found. Becker probably refers to ‘Two forms in species of Linum; however, her name does not appear on CD’s presentation list for the paper (see Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix IV).
The abstract has not been identified. Becker refers to Lychnis dioica (Silene dioica) (see letter from L. E. Becker, 18 May 1863).
These letters to Becker have not been found. However, CD was evidently interested in the specimens of Lychnis dioica because he thought they might be dimorphic (see letters from L. E. Becker, 21 May [1863] and 23–4 May [1863]).
In a missing letter, CD suggested that where the fungus had destroyed the pollen at an early stage, the pistil was developed in compensation (see letter from L. E. Becker, 23–4 May [1863], CD note, and Becker 1869). See also n. 7, below.
Becker concluded that the fungus induced the development of stamens in female plants of Lychnis dioica (Becker 1869).


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

‘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.]


Thanks for CD’s paper [not named].

Inquires whether Lychnis, as an hermaphrodite, is more susceptible to fungus, disease, other weaknesses.

Letter details

Letter no.
Lydia Ernestine Becker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 109
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4189,” accessed on 24 March 2023,

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