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Darwin Correspondence Project

From L. E. Becker   31 July [1863]1

Altham | Accrington

July 31st.

Dear Sir

After repeated and fruitless search I at last discovered one of my marked plants of Lychnis which had ripened its seeds—2 I was so much surprised to see this solitary exception to the otherwise universal rule of sterility in the hermaphrodites that I suspected myself of error in marking it—but after soaking one of the withered flowers in water for a day or two I got out the remains of a stamen skin which I have enclosed and which seems to place beyond a doubt that in this one instance an hermaphrodite plant has ripened its seeds   ⁠⟨⁠I hav⁠⟩⁠e kept a few of the ⁠⟨⁠seeds⁠⟩⁠ to try if they will ⁠⟨⁠ger⁠⟩⁠minate and enclose the rest of the plant just as I picked it. It has occurred to me that the failure of the hermaphrodites to produce seeds may be owing not solely to imperfection in the ovarium but to difficulty in getting fertised, its own pollen being destroyed. The stigmas are very minute, wholly concealed within the calyx tube, and thickly covered with the mass of diseased stamens, so unless visited by an insect of an unusually pushing disposition it seems impossible that they ever should be fertilised. I tried to effect this artificially in some of the plants in my garden and have not yet had time to be quite sure that no results will follow though as yet there is no difference perceptible between the flowers operated on and the others.

Your great kindness in sending me your pamphlet3 must be my excuse for venturing to remark that I am watching with great interest a pot of scarlet Linum which I procured soon after reading it. The plants are blooming freely but all that have come out hitherto have been long styled flowers   Some of the styles are much shorter than others but all present the same characters.

I have two other pots of seeds of my own sowing and perhaps some of these plants will shew the other form when they come into flower

I remain Sir, | with much respect | yours sincerely | L E Becker


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from L. E. Becker, 8 July [1863].
See letter from L. E. Becker, 8 July [1863]. Becker reported her observations on Lychnis diurna in Becker 1869.
‘Two forms in species of Linum’.


Has found seeds produced by an hermaphroditic Lychnis and will send them. On structural obstacles to fertilisation of hermaphrodite Lychnis.

Letter details

Letter no.
Lydia Ernestine Becker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 111
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4258,” accessed on 30 March 2023,

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