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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Lucy Caroline Wedgwood   [April–May 1865?]1

Leith Hill Place, | Dorking.


Dear Uncle Charles

I looked at 3 or 4 bunches of oxlips this morning.

We commonly find them either in shady hedge-banks, or else in the woods, where primroses grow;— I think never in the open fields with cowslips.2

In one case there were 8 or 10 plants growing in a group (some very small), but no primrose or cowslips anywhere near (tho in a primrosy wood)   The others were mostly single plants or 2 together—none with primroses or cowslips very near.—3

Yr. affte. niece L C Wedgwood


The date range is conjectured from the relationship between this letter and the letter from L. C. or M. S. Wedgwood to [Emma Darwin?], [May 1865], and from the flowering time of the common oxlip. See also n. 2, below.
For several years CD had been asking his nieces in Surrey for help with botanical observations. He probably began to receive observations from Lucy Wedgwood and her two sisters, Katherine and Margaret, in 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to K. E. S., L. C., and M. S. Wedgwood, 4 [August 1862]; see also Correspondence vol. 12, letter from L. C. Wedgwood, [6 June 1864]). He rarely found oxlips near Down House (see Forms of flowers, p. 71). He published information on where primroses, cowslips, and common oxlips grew in ‘Specific difference in Primula, pp. 438 and 448, and Forms of flowers, pp. 57, 70, and 71, noting that in parts of Surrey, specimens might be found ‘on the borders of almost every field and small wood’ (Forms of flowers, p. 71).
CD had long been interested in whether oxlips were the hybrid offspring of primroses (Primula vulgaris) and cowslips (Primula veris); see Natural selection, pp. 128–33, and Origin, pp. 49–50. He had been making observations and carrying out experiments since 1862 to test his initial view that the three forms were varieties descended from a common parent (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to John Scott, 3 December [1862] and n. 13). Though CD seemed confident by 1864 of his experimental results indicating that the common oxlip was a hybrid resulting from the crossing of primroses and cowslips, he continued to test this conclusion over the next three years (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 June [1864] and n. 17, and letter to Charles Lyell, 9 June [1867] (Calendar no. 5566)). CD’s notes on these experiments, dated between 1862 and 1867, are in DAR 108 and DAR 157a. He published his conclusions in ‘Specific difference in Primula, pp. 443–7, and Forms of flowers, pp. 55–75.


Calendar: A calendar of the correspondence of Charles Darwin, 1821–1882. With supplement. 2d edition. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1994.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

‘Specific difference in Primula’: On the specific difference between Primula veris, Brit. Fl. (var. officinalis of Linn.), P. vulgaris, Brit. Fl. (var. acaulis, Linn.), and P. elatior, Jacq.; and on the hybrid nature of the common oxlip. With supplementary remarks on naturally produced hybrids in the genus Verbascum. By Charles Darwin. [Read 19 March 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 10 (1869): 437–54.


Observations for CD on oxlips, which she finds never grow near cowslips or primroses.

Letter details

Letter no.
Lucy Caroline Wedgwood/Lucy Caroline Harrison
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Leith Hill Place
Source of text
DAR 108: 171–2
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4370,” accessed on 17 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13