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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   12–13 August [1863]1


Aug. 13th.

My dear Hooker

Many thanks for Decaisne returned by this post.2 I have been glad to see it, though, as you say, it contains nothing new.3 I remember formerly he was much inclined to look at pears as descended from several aboriginal forms.4 As for the Larkspurs, I shall be astonished if he prove right.5 I will at once try them on a small scale. It will be marvellous to me that a flower shd. be so elaborately adapted to be sucked by bees, & not profit by its own structure.—6

I go on working at climbers & tendrils much to my own amusement & I have now on the table a Ceropegia which has caught firm hold of a stick, 26 inches distant from itself & centre of rotation.7 It troubles me much not knowing what is known:8 thus today I see that the peduncle of young leaves of Tropæolum Canariense are all very sensitive to touch, & as the top of shoot rotates, the peduncles are brought into contact with sticks & cling to them; which to me is new method of climbing.9 Virginian creeper is the oddest of climbers; contact promptly causing a cellular cushion to grow out on the back & sides of the point, & this exudes a resinous cement, or at least a cement, which essential oils & no other reagent act on.10 But good Lord, how I do maunder on to you about my hobby-horses. Your new plants are not yet recovered enough to observe.—11

I wrote the above yesterday & I now find out that Dutrochet has observed the spontaneous movements of the internodes of climbers & tendril-bearing plants.12 So that I have thrown away some good time; but I hardly regret it, for I have had some good sport. Possibly I may have observed enough new to draw up short paper, but I must get his papers in the Comtes Rendus.13

I wish some Botanist, like Oliver, would publish a full book on Bot. Phys & miscellaneous matter, with lots of references. It would be awfully laborious, but I shd. think very useful.14

There is going to be a marriage in our family, between my sister, Catherine who is only a year younger than I am, & Mr Langton, a widower of my wifes sister.15

Good night: I hope you will soon be rather less busy— goodnight | Yours affect.— | C. Darwin

Remember the medallion of Dr. Darwin by Wedgwood, which you had for a cast; do not let it be lost16


The year is confirmed by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 August [1863]. CD changed the date from ‘12’ to ‘13’.
CD presumably refers to Decaisne 1858–75, which CD placed on his list of ‘books to be read’ between 1858 and 1860 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, *128: 169). CD discussed Joseph Decaisne’s revised views on pear varieties (Decaisne 1863) in Variation 1: 350.
The reference is to Decaisne’s statement that the flowers of Delphinium (larkspur) self-pollinated in the bud and did not normally intercross (Decaisne 1863, pp. 10–11).
In Variation 2: 21, CD reported that experimental crosses in annual larkspurs (Delphinium consolida) showed that insect pollination was necessary for this species to achieve its full fertility.
CD’s experimental notes on Ceropegia, dated from 21 July to 10 August 1863, are in DAR 157.1: 10–17. His observations on Ceropegia were published in ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 4–5, 12–13, 16.
CD had unsuccessfully sought information from Hooker and Daniel Oliver on scientific literature relating to climbing plants (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 [June 1863], and letter from J. D. Hooker, [2]9 June 1863 and n. 3). CD was unaware of much of the research that had been done on this subject until receiving the letter from Asa Gray, 1 September 1863. See also n. 12, below.
This species was not discussed in ‘Climbing plants’.
CD’s experimental notes on the attachment of disks in Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, (which CD called Ampelopsis hederacea), dated August [1863], are in DAR 157.2: 66–7. CD published his observations on this species in ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 84–7.
Hooker sent CD several ‘tendrilliferous’ plants in July (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [31 July 1863]).
CD refers to René Joachim Henri Dutrochet and to Dutrochet 1843 and 1844 (‘Climbing plants’, p. 2 n.).
Dutrochet 1843 and 1844 appeared in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Academie des Sciences.
In addition to being an assistant in the herbarium and the librarian at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Daniel Oliver was professor of botany at University College, London (R. Desmond 1994, List of the Linnean Society of London). He also compiled botanical bibliographies for the Natural History Review. Oliver’s knowledge of European botanical literature had prompted CD to describe him as ‘omniscient’ (Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. D. Hooker, 11 June [1862]). Oliver did not publish an advanced text-book on physiological botany.
Emily Catherine Darwin, known as Catherine, was 53; on 8 October 1863 she married Charles Langton, widower of Charlotte Wedgwood (Emma Darwin (1915), 2: 180–1).
CD had lent Hooker a Wedgwood medallion of Erasmus Darwin (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 March 1863]).


‘Climbing plants’: On the movements and habits of climbing plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 2 February 1865.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): 1–118.

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

Decaisne, Joseph. 1858–75. Le jardin fruitier du Muséum ou iconographie de toutes les espèces et variétés d’arbres fruitiers cultivés dans cet établissement avec leur description, leur histoire, leur synonymie, etc. 9 vols. in 5. Paris: Firmin Didot Frères, fils & Cie.

Decaisne, Joseph. 1863. De la variabilité dans l’espèce du poirier; résultat d’expériences faites au Muséum d’histoire naturelle de 1853 à 1862 inclusivement. Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences 57: 6–17. [Reprinted in Annales des sciences naturelles (botanique) 4th ser. 20: 188–200.]

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.

Dutrochet, René Joachim Henri. 1843. Des mouvements révolutifs spontanés qui s’observent chez les végétaux. [Read 6 November 1843.] Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des Sciences 17: 989–1008.

Emma Darwin (1915): Emma Darwin: a century of family letters, 1792–1896. Edited by Henrietta Litchfield. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1915.

List of the Linnean Society of London. London: [Linnean Society of London]. 1805–1939.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Doubts Decaisne’s report of larkspur self-fertilisation.

Enthusiastically observes climbing plants. Needs to know how novel his observations are. Finds R. J. H. Dutrochet has made similar observations, so he has wasted some time. [See Climbing plants, p. 1 n.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 202
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4266,” accessed on 23 July 2024,

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