skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To Daniel Oliver   13 July [1864]1

Down Bromley Kent

July 13

Dear Oliver

I very much wish you wd observe one point for me, which will only require your looking once carefully at Nepenthes. Do the tips of the young leaves which catch hold of any support develope pitchers, or is it an alternative process of clasping or pitcher-forming?2

My plants will not grow vigorously, & will catch nothing; perhaps young plants do not climb.3 If you are able to observe this for me, please tell me whether the tips of the young leaves are naturally hooked, or only curved downwards, before catching. I wish you cd feel interest enough yourself on the point to put a twig under the tip of a young leaf & afterwards see if it catches hold & let me quote you.— I am much the most curious about the first point.

Many thanks for your paper on legumes which has interested me much.4 If I cd make out a little about Nepenthes I think I shd understand moderately well every class of climbers, & I do not yet quite despair of my plants growing

Dear Oliver | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

Mohl gives capital discussions in his little Book, on homologies of various tendrils,5 on which subject you were so kind as to aid me.—6 Of course, I do not pretend in the least to form any opinion of my own on such points.—


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Daniel Oliver, 21 July 1864.
See letter from J. D. Hooker, 9 [March] 1864 and n. 22. In ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 46–7, CD concluded that the tips of young leaves of Nepenthes coil around a stick in order to support the pitcher with its load of secreted fluid.
CD evidently obtained new specimens of Nepenthes from Joseph Dalton Hooker, and possibly from the Chelsea nursery firm of James Veitch (1815–69), to replace those that had died (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 June [1864], and letter from J. D. Hooker, 15 June 1864). In ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 46–7, CD noted that the plants showed no sensitivity or power of movement until they reached a height of sixteen inches.
The reference is to Oliver’s paper on the dehiscence of seed pods in Pentaclethra macrophylla (Oliver 1863). CD was interested in the movements of contraction and curling of the outer walls of the pods that accompanied this process (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to J. D. Hooker, [22–3 November 1863], and letter from Daniel Oliver, 27 November 1863, and CD’s note in DAR 157.2: 96).
Mohl 1827. Hugo von Mohl’s account of homologies is discussed in ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 48–9. An annotated copy of Mohl 1827 is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 590–4). See letter to Daniel Oliver, 15 June [1864] and n. 3.


‘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.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Mohl, Hugo von. 1827. Ueber den Bau und das Winden der Ranken und Schlingpflanzen. Tübingen: Heinrich Laupp.


If CD understood Nepenthes, he would understand every class of climbers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Daniel Oliver
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.10: 50 (EH 88206033)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4564,” accessed on 28 November 2020,

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