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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Roland Trimen   13 May 1864

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

May 13 1864

My dear Mr Trimen

I received your letter of Mar 14.1 some time ago & was fearful that the Oxalis would never arrive, but yesterday to my joy they came safe & alive & are now planted. Please give my sincere thanks to Mr Mac Gibbon2 & accept them yourself. The plants will be invaluable. My only fear is that each kind has been propagated by offsets from a single stock & if so they will all belong to the same form.3

I am sorry for my mistake about the Disa. I have sent an erratum to Linn. Journ.4

Thanks for the additional facts about Disa, but I am sure I do not know what I shall ever do with all my wealth of new facts.5

I am slowly recovering from my 10 months illness, but I do not know when I shall regain my old modicum of strength. I was pleased to see a nice little review evidently by Mr Bates on your Cape butterflies in that admirable journal the Nat. Hist. Review.6

By the way do you see the “Reader.” No English newspaper ever before gave half as good resumés of all branches of science: the literature is likewise well treated. I do not know who the Editor is so that my puffing is honest.7

Does Strelitzia reginæ grow in any gardens at the Cape? I strongly suspect it must be fertilized by some honey seeking bird; the structure is very curious & this wd be worth investigating8

with cordial thanks believe me yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Trimen’s letter has not been found. It apparently referred to the Oxalis bulbs that Trimen had sent in response to CD’s request (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Roland Trimen, 25 November [1863]). See also letter from Henry Trimen, 10 May 1864.
James McGibbon was superintendent of the Botanic Garden, Cape Town (R. Desmond 1994). See also McCracken 1997, p. 41.
CD had been investigating dimorphism in Oxalis since 1861 (see Correspondence vols. 9–11). In 1863 CD asked Trimen to look for dimorphic species of Oxalis at the Cape of Good Hope; his interest in Cape specimens increased after Trimen informed him that he had found species of Oxalis that presented three forms (long-styled, short-styled and mid-styled flowers), enclosing drawings and specimens (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Roland Trimen, 23 May [1863], and letter from Roland Trimen, 10, 13, and 18 October 1863). CD’s notes on Oxalis, including the Cape specimens, are in DAR 109. See also letter to George Bentham, 7 July [1864], and letter to Roland Trimen, 25 November 1864. CD published his observations on dimorphism in Oxalis in Forms of flowers, pp. 169–83; Trimen is acknowledged on p. 169.
CD had worked Trimen’s observations and watercolour sketches on the orchid Disa grandiflora into a paper for the Linnean Society (Trimen 1863). See Correspondence vol. 11, letter from Roland Trimen, 16 March 1863, and letter to Roland Trimen, 23 May [1863]. CD refers to an error in his description of the position of the viscid discs of the pollinia in relation to the passages leading to the nectary (see Poulton 1909, p. 227, n. 3). The erratum sent to the Journal of the Linnean Society has not been found.
Trimen’s additional observations on Disa grandiflora were presumably sent in his missing letter to CD of 14 March 1864. In Orchids 2d ed., p. 78, CD noted that Trimen had written to him in 1864 with the information that of seventy-eight flowers of this species that he had examined, only twelve had had one or both pollinia removed by insects, and only five had pollen on their stigmas. CD cited this as evidence of the remarkable rarity with which the flowers were visited by insects, despite their large supply of nectar and conspicuous appearance. CD published the additional information he had collected on Disa in ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 144 (Collected papers 2: 141), and Orchids 2d ed., pp. 77–8.
The reference is to Henry Walter Bates’s anonymous review of the first part of Trimen’s descriptive catalogue of South African butterflies (Trimen 1862) in the April 1864 issue of the Natural History Review ([Bates] 1864b). CD annotated the review in his unbound copy of the April 1864 issue in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
CD refers to the Reader, a weekly review of literature, science, and the arts. In 1864 the editor-in-chief was William Fraser Rae. For a discussion of the character of the Reader and the composition of its editorial board, see letter to J. D. Hooker, 26[–7] March [1864] and n. 17.
In Cross and self fertilisation, p. 371 n., CD reported that at the Cape of Good Hope Strelitzia is pollinated by birds of the family Nectariniidae. The Nectariniidae are small birds with long, narrow, curved bills. See also letter to Roland Trimen, 25 November 1864 and n. 7.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

‘Fertilization of orchids’: Notes on the fertilization of orchids. By Charles Darwin. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 4 (1869): 141–59. [Collected papers 2: 138–56.]

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

McCracken, Donal P. 1997. Gardens of empire: botanical institutions of the Victorian British empire. London and Washington: Leicester University Press.

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.

Poulton, Edward Bagnall. 1909. Charles Darwin and the origin of species. Addresses, etc., in America and England in the year of the two anniversaries. London: Longmans, Green & Co.

Trimen, Roland. 1862. Papilionidæ, Pieridæ, Danaidæ, Acræidæ, and Nymphalidæ. Pt 1 of Rhopalocera Africæ Australis; a catalogue of South African butterflies: comprising descriptions of all the known species, with notices of their larvæ, pupæ, localities, habits, seasons of appearance, and geographical distribution. Cape Town, South Africa: W. F. Mathew.

Trimen, Roland. 1863. On the fertilization of Disa grandiflora, Linn.... drawn up from notes and drawings sent to C. Darwin, Esq., FLS, &c. [Read 4 June 1863.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 7 (1864): 144–7.


Oxalis plants have arrived safely [see 4347].

CD regrets his mistake about Disa; will correct it.

Thanks RT for his additional facts about Disa.

Is recovering slowly from ten months’ illness.

Asks whether Strelitzia reginae grows in gardens at the Cape. Suspects it must be fertilised by a bird.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Roland Trimen
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Entomological Society (Trimen papers, box 21: 59)
Physical description
LS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4493,” accessed on 3 February 2023,

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