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Darwin Correspondence Project

From William Allport Leighton   [before 21 June 1863]1


Days ago I was at Lee’s3 with our fellow Lambert,4 &, as many species of Verbascum unknown to me were in blossom, I tried in all of them the phænomenon of their [irritability], with the greatest success in all of them. I remember having spoken to you about it; & as probably the English Verbasca are now in flower about Norwich I will be very glad if you observe it minutely. Strike with a stick & with some force, the stem of the plant under the branches 2 or 3 times & wait patiently for some minutes; you will see the limbus of the corolla move towards the centre, & afterwards the basis of the tubus slowly detach itself from the receptacle & fall—& immedly. the calyx close itself with impatience & embrace the seeds & that will happen to all the open flowers one after another.5 In Portugal6 I had observed it in the Verbascum Thapsi—sinuatum— Blattaria—now at Lee’s in many others & I wish I cod. observe all its species & the Celsiæ:— I know nothing analogous in other plants   Next year this will be followed up, & made a Memoir for our Society.7

Abbé Correa to Sir JES. in lit July 4. 1795   see Life of Sir JES. 2.2108

CD annotations

End of letter: ‘Life of Sir J. E. Smith.’ ink


The date is established by the reference to CD’s experimental notes on Verbascum lychnitis (see n. 5, below).
The letter with which this enclosure was sent has not been found. The enclosure is a copy of part of a letter from Abade José Francisco Correa da Serra to James Edward Smith, transcribed by Leighton from P. Smith 1832, 2: 210–11.
The reference is apparently to the Vineyard Nursery, Hammersmith, London, in which James Lee was a partner.
Probably the botanist Aylmer Bourke Lambert, a friend of Smith’s (DNB).
CD attempted to repeat this experiment with Verbascum lychnitis, but without success. His experimental notes, dated 21 June 1863 (DAR 108: 5), state: Verbascum lychnitis, when struck does not cast corolla, nor do sepals close over ovarium. I believe flowers do not close. I believe V. phœniceum does not cast flowers [interl]; certainly sepals do not close over ovarium.—
Correa da Serra was Portugese; he fled to Britain in 1795 to escape the inquisition (P. Smith 1832, 2: 198–224).
Correa da Serra apparently refers to the Linnean Society, of which both he and Smith were fellows; however, he did not publish a paper on Verbascum in the society’s transactions, and no paper by Correa da Serra on this subject has been found (see Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers, and Reuss 1801–21).
P. Smith 1832, 2: 210–11 (see n. 2, above).


DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Reuss, Jeremias David. 1801–21. Repertorium commentationum a societatibus litterariis editarum. 16 vols. in 15. Göttingen, Germany: Henricum Dietrich.

Royal Society catalogue of scientific papers: Catalogue of scientific papers (1800–1900). Compiled and published by the Royal Society of London. 19 vols. and index (3 vols.). London: Royal Society of London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1867–1925.

Smith, Pleasance. 1832. Memoir and correspondence of the late Sir James Edward Smith, MD. 2 vols. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman.


His observations of varieties of Verbascum.

Reference to Abbé Correa in the Life of Sir J. E. Smith.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Allport Leighton
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 108: 180
Physical description
encl 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4217F,” accessed on 25 February 2020,

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