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Darwin Correspondence Project

To P. H. Gosse   7 April [1864]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Ap 7.

My dear Sir

If you place large sized pollen on the stigma of any plant & 12° or 18 hours afterwards place the pistil under rather a strong power of a simple microscope & with 2 needles gently tear up the stigma you will easily see the tubes.2 If the pollen be minute it is almost necessary to dissect under 110 inch focal distance; but by gently & blindly teazing the stigma & then transferring the object to the comp. micro: you can generally see the tubes.3 If you once get to know their appearance with any pollen as with geranium, you will never mistake them in any other plant.

I have been almost confined to my bed room for 6 months & therefore cannot aid you about the exchange of Orchids but I fear you will find it difficult to exchange Catasetums,4 for I lately applied to Messrs Veitch5 for species & they informed me that they were so little valued that there were none in the market.

I believe some bi-generic crosses have been made but as the seeds do not germinate, it is impossible to know that the seeds are really well developed

I wish I cd write at more length, Believe me | Sincerely yours | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from P. H. Gosse, 5 April 1864.
Gosse had asked CD how to identify pollen-tubes in orchids (see letter from P. H. Gosse, 5 April 1864).
For CD’s use of microscopes, see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Isaac Anderson-Henry, 2 May [1863], n. 9.
See letter from P. H. Gosse, 5 April 1864 and n. 6.
James Veitch (1815–69), until 1863 in partnership with his father, James Veitch (1792–1863), was the proprietor of a nursery on the King’s Road, Chelsea, and at Coombe Wood, Kingston Hill (Post Office London directory 1864, R. Desmond 1994).


Discusses microscopic observation of pollen tubes.

Unable to exchange orchids because of his illness.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Philip Henry Gosse
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Carroll 298: Charles Darwin papers B/D25.44)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4454,” accessed on 23 April 2019,

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