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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Daniel Oliver   [28 January – 8 February 1864]1

Botanists have no choice but to regard some tendrils as leaf—, & others as stem-formations. 2

In Vitis there seems no room whatever for a doubt but that the tendril is an axial or stem-structure. Analogy with other plants buildt up of similar sympodia—as they are called—or superimposed axes3—& especy the tendency constantly shewn in some vines to bear flowers upon tendrils appear to me to settle their case sufficiently.—

Passiflora is much more perplexing. From analogy I shd. expect the nature of their tendrils to be similar to that of Gourd-tendrils.

Some, however, do look as tho’ they might be axillary branches. They may, however, be the modified first leaf of an axilly. (or slightly extra-axilly.) shoot.4

I do not recollect seeing any clear discussion about Passion-flower tendrils & have carefully examined them.—5

Clematis. The genus Naravelia (close to Clematis) has the terminal leaflet & upper lateral leaflets converted into tendrils like Pea.6

CD annotations

Bottom of page: ‘Tendrils’ pencil


The date is established by the relationship between this letter, the enclosure attached to the letter to J. D. Hooker, [27 January 1864], and the letter to J. D. Hooker, [8 February 1864].
Sympodium: ‘An apparent axis or stem in a dichotomously branched plant, made up of the bases of successive branches so arranged as to resemble a simple or monopodial axis’ (OED).
Oliver is comparing Passiflora tendrils with those of gourds, a member of the Cucurbitaceae. For a definition of ‘axillary’, see the letter to David Oliver, 11 March [1864] and n. 7; see also letter from Daniel Oliver, 12 March 1864 and n. 4.
For CD’s eventual conclusions about the genesis of tendrils in the Vitaceae and in the Passifloraceae, which include passion flowers, see letter to J. D. Hooker, [27 January 1864] and n. 20. See also letter from Daniel Oliver, 12 March 1864.
Clematis and Naravelia were both members of the Ranunculaceae. For a reference by CD to Naravelia, see ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 34, 112.


‘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.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Botanists are obliged to regard tendrils as either leaf- or stem-formations. Vitis, Passiflora, and Clematis are discussed. [See 4398.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Daniel Oliver
Charles Robert Darwin
Source of text
DAR 157.2: 97
Physical description
Amem 1p †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4398F,” accessed on 24 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12