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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   [30 April 1864]

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Red cowslip pollen magnified 350 times Shortstyled yellow Cowslip magnified 350 times Longstyled yellow Cowslip magnified 350 times

CD annotations

Top of page: ‘April 30th 1864’ ink
Below sketch of red cowslip pollen: ‘Mid-styled i.e. style just below & touching anthers— a seedling from J. Scott plant—’1 ink
Verso: ‘Good Measurements by William of **2 forms [interl] of common **& Red [added below, blue crayon] Cowslip both dry & wet— 1864–1865’2 pencil; ‘Oxlip3 red crayon


William sketched pollen of the long-styled and short-styled forms of the cowslip (Primula veris), as well as an equal-styled, or mid-styled, red variety. The red cowslip, sometimes called equal-styled by CD, was grown from seeds that John Scott had sent from Edinburgh in 1863 following his experimental work with the plant (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to John Scott, 1 and 3 August [1863] and n. 13). CD was keen to work with the red cowslip partly because Scott had suggested this non-dimorphic form was a ‘new and distinct species’ (Scott 1864a, p. 108), that is, sterile when crossed with its parent forms; Thomas Henry Huxley had argued that a new species produced by selective breeding was needed as proof of the theory of natural selection (see T. H. Huxley 1863b, p. 107; Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix VI; Correspondence vol. 11, letter from John Scott, 21 May [1863] and n. 10; and this volume, letter to John Lubbock, [1 January 1864] and n. 4). See ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, pp. 426–30, and Forms of flowers, pp. 234–8.
In another sketch of pollen from the same three forms of cowslip, the grains are smaller (though the magnification is not given) and more angular, suggesting that they were sketched while dry (see memorandum from W. E. Darwin, [after 19 May 1864]). Fold-marks and pin-marks indicate that the two sketches had been attached to each other and represented at least two of William’s sketches of dry and wet pollen.
For CD’s ongoing work on the relationship between oxlips, cowslips, and primroses, eventually published in ‘Specific difference in Primula and Forms of flowers, pp. 55–75, see the letter from John Scott, 7 January [1864] and nn. 15 and 16.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 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.

‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’: On the character and hybrid-like nature of the offspring from the illegitimate unions of dimorphic and trimorphic plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 20 February 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 10 (1869): 393–437.

‘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.


[Outline sketches of pollen from long- and short-styled yellow cowslips and from red cowslip, magnified 350x.]

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 108: 84
Physical description
sketch ††

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4478,” accessed on 28 February 2020,

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