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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   26 September 1863

5, Westbourne Grove Terrace, W.

Septr. 26th. 1863

My dear Mr Darwin

I enclose you some flowers of a Melastoma just received from a friend at Singapore—1 Unfortunately he gives me very little information about them except that “in every case they were swarming with ants” Perhaps by examining the flowers you can find out something.2

My friend Mr. Tristram3 informed me the other day of an interesting fact on acclimatization of plants similar to that of the rhododendrons mentioned by Dr. Hooker.4 I note the particulars on the opposite page.

I have seen quite a number of striped horses in London— At least 4 or 5 Cab horses striped on the legs all more or less clay coloured, & lately a pony, with strong dorsal stripe, two shoulder stripes, & bands on fore legs.5

I hope you are now better in health & that we may soon hope to have your volume on “Domestication &c.”6

I have the bees comb of oval cells promised from two friends in the East but there seems some difficulty in getting it.7

With best wishes I remain | My dear Mr Darwin | Yours very faithfully | Alfred R. Wallace—

C. Darwin Esq.

“W. E. Surtees Esq. (of Seaton Carew, Durham),8 had a quantity of furze killed by the frost (Xmas 1860) at an estate of his in Devonshire, all except a small patch which he had raised himself from seed from the neighbourhood of Aberdeen

Communicated by Mr. Surtees to the Revd. H. B. Tristram, Greatham Vicarage, Durham

CD annotations

8.1 “W. E. Surtees … Aberdeen” 8.3] ‘Acclimatisation under Nature’ added pencil


This individual has not been identified.
CD was interested in the pollination mechanisms of the Melastomataceae, a family in which many genera have two sets of stamens of different length within the same flower; he suspected that they might exhibit functional dimorphism (see Correspondence vol. 10). He had sought information earlier in the year from a number of correspondents, apparently including Wallace, on the identification of insects frequenting flowers of species of Melastomataceae (see letter from A. R. Wallace, [23 January 1863?] and n. 2). In Melastoma the two sets of stamens are of very unequal length (J. C. Willis 1973).
The reference is to Joseph Dalton Hooker and to J. D. Hooker 1853–5, p. xi and n. CD cited Hooker’s observations in Origin, p. 140, stating: we have evidence, in the case of some few plants, of their becoming, to a certain extent, naturally habituated to different temperatures, or becoming acclimatised: thus the pines and rhododendrons, raised from seed collected by Dr. Hooker from trees growing at different heights on the Himalaya, were found in this country to possess different constitutional powers of resisting cold.
In Origin, pp. 163–7, CD explained the occasional appearance of stripes in horses and several other equine species in terms of reversion to an ancestral type; he added further examples to subsequent editions (see Peckham ed. 1959, pp. 313–7). CD also discussed the phenomenon in Variation 1: 56–61 and 2: 351.
Variation was not published until 1868.
No correspondence discussing this honeycomb has been found. In Origin, pp. 224–35, CD had sought to account for the cell-making instinct of hive bees in terms of natural selection, describing the gradation in form between the cells made by different species of bee. See Prete 1990.
William Edward Surtees had residences at Seaton Carew, West Hartlepool, Durham, and Tainfield House, Taunton, Somerset (Men-at-the-bar).


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

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1853–5. Flora Novæ-Zelandiæ. 2 vols. Pt 2 of The botany of the Antarctic voyage of HM discovery ships Erebus and Terror, in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. London: Lovell Reeve.

Men-at-the-bar: Men-at-the-bar: a biographical hand-list of the members of the various inns of court, including Her Majesty’s judges, etc. By Joseph Foster. London: Reeves & Turner. 1885.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Prete, Frederick R. 1990. The conundrum of the honey bees: one impediment to the publication of Darwin’s theory. Journal of the History of Biology 23: 271–90.

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

Willis, John Christopher. 1973. A dictionary of the flowering plants and ferns. 8th edition. Revised by H. K. Airy Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Encloses flowers of Melastoma from Singapore.

Acclimatisation of plants.

Striped horses in London.

Bees’ cells; has been promised information from the East.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Westbourne Grove Terrace, 5
Source of text
DAR 47: 146–7
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4308,” accessed on 1 April 2023,

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