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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Bradford   31 July 1863

Roy⁠⟨⁠al Military College | Sandhurst⁠⟩⁠

Dear Sir.

The interest which I had ⁠⟨⁠derived⁠⟩⁠ from your recent work on the ferti⁠⟨⁠l⁠⟩⁠isation of Orchids1 will I hope excuse my intrusion on your notice.

Some years since while stationed in Trinidad I gave much attention to plants of this family of which I collected and I may say domesticated about 80 species—2

One of the most common of these is the plant which is called Catasetum tridentatum— This I learn from your work you have been led to conclude is a male plant only—3

Now I am very confident that I never met with any flower having the forms called Monachanthus or Myanthus in the island   But recollecting that in my collection there was a dried specimen of what I considered a ripe fruit of Catasetum tridentatum I wrote to my friend Dr. Ha⁠⟨⁠n⁠⟩⁠ce of the British Consulate in China ⁠⟨⁠into⁠⟩⁠ whose ⁠⟨⁠hands they⁠⟩⁠ had passed, and he has ⁠⟨⁠sent the⁠⟩⁠ enclosed sketch of it. You may perhaps think it worth your notice—4

I must admit that I did not see the flower of this specimen but seen in its dried state it seems to me to shew enough of the withered antennæ to prove it to be a fertile Catasetum.

I submitted about 2 years since to the Linnean Socy. a paper descriptive of a large number of West Indian orchids   I was unfortunately unable sufficiently to revise it to fit it for publication—5

Had I when collecting possessed the light which your researches have cast on the subject, it might have been otherwise—

I remain Dear Sir | Very faithfully Yours | Edward Bradford.

31 July 1863.

Charles Darwin Esqr. F.R.S | &c &c &c


Extract from Dr. Hance’s le⁠⟨⁠tter dated⁠⟩⁠ 2⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ Ap⁠⟨⁠ril⁠⟩⁠

“You are perfectly right about Catasetum tridentatum— The specimen in my herbarium labe⁠⟨⁠lled⁠⟩⁠ as gathered by you in Trinidad in August 1845 has a large ripe fruit on it quite full of sacciform seeds— The accompanying sketch is a faithful representation of the fruit in question”.



CD annotations

1.1 The interest … species— 2.2] crossed pencil
4.1 Now … island 4.2] double scored pencil
4.1 confident] ‘confident’ added pencil
Top of letter: ‘Catasetum’ blue crayon
Verso of last page: ‘(Catasetum)’ pencil


Bradford was an army surgeon; he collected plants, especially orchids, while in Trinidad during 1845 and 1846 (R. Desmond 1994).
In Orchids, pp. 178–208, CD argued that the supposed species Catasetum tridentatum (a synonym of C. macrocarpum), Monachanthus viridis, and Myanthus barbatus, were in fact the male, female, and hermaphrodite forms respectively of a single species. Monachanthus viridis is a synonym of Catasetum macrocarpum, the jumping orchid. Myanthus barbatus is a synonym of Catasetum barbatum, the bearded catasetum.
See the enclosure. The reference is to Henry Fletcher Hance. See also letter from H. F. Hance, 10 May 1863.
Bradford refers to his paper entitled ‘Notes and descriptions of orchidaceous plants from Trinidad’, which was read before the Linnean Society on 21 June 1860 (Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society 5 (1861): xxxvii).
The sketch is reproduced at 60 per cent of its original size.


Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.


Doubts CD’s view in Orchids [pp. 236–46] that Catasetum tridentatum is exclusively male and has as its female form the genus Monachanthus. EB has grown many of this type in Trinidad; has never seen that female form.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Bradford
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 274, DAR 166: 95/1
Physical description
ALS 3pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4259,” accessed on 27 March 2023,

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