skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. C. Oxenden   1 August 1864


Augt. 1. 1864

Dear Sir

When I first found “Epipactis palustris”, in the Bogs wherein I shoot Snipes, there were but very few of them—

—These I carefully protected—& this year I have them in the greatest abundance— What effect the present dearth of Water & Grass may produce, I cannot yet tell— the Bucolic Mind is awfully avaricious—

—When they were in perfect splendour, I spent two days with them—& did not detect a single Moth-Visit to any one of the flowers—1 I was not able to give up the Nights also—

—I could easily give you two or three good Plants—but even then the result wd. be incomplete—inasmuch as, on the Bromley Hill-Side, the Especial Marsh Insect which waits upon this Epipactis wd. probably be wanting—

—In one very long day this Summer, I found about 400 plants of—Arachnites & Apifera—in flower— it was a fine sight—2

—Moreover, hardly a human Being all day— The Plants were in “Constellations”—seldom single—

—Belgium is especially rich in Orchids—having all those which we possess in England—& two or three which we do not possess— I am glad to say, Belgium holds “Orchis Hircina”—3

—In vast Areas of France, I find but little—

—I think I mentioned to you that “Epipactis grandiflora” is very abundantly haunted by Insects—4

With most kind regards | G. Chichester Oxenden

P.S.5 | In regard to our Dog-hole of an Earth, my own Conviction is that the great Law of Nature is “Graduality” & notSuddenism”, & that the Cataclysms which have disturbed our Crust are but the Exceptions which prove the Rule itself—


CD had asked Oxenden to observe the pollination of the marsh orchid Epipactis palustris by insects in June 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to A. G. More, 4 June 1861 and n. 2). In his second letter of 8 July 1862 (Correspondence vol. 10), Oxenden reported that he had observed no insects visiting the flowers. CD discussed the structure and pollination of Epipactis palustris in Orchids, pp. 98–100. In ‘Fertilization of orchids’, pp. 148–50 (Collected papers 2: 145–6), and Orchids 2d ed., pp. 99–100, CD added further observations, made by his son William Erasmus, of insects visiting the species. Oxenden’s assistance in supplying CD with information and specimens is acknowledged in Orchids, pp. 31–2 n., and Orchids 2d ed., pp. 25 n., 102.
Oxenden had supplied CD with specimens of Ophrys arachnites (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters from G. C. Oxenden, [before 30 May 1862] and 21 June 1862, and CD’s notes in DAR 70: 25). CD discussed the species in Orchids, pp. 72–3. See also ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 145 (Collected papers 2: 142), and Orchids 2d ed., pp. 50–9.
Oxenden had supplied CD with specimens of Orchis hircina, commonly known as the lizard orchid (see Correspondence vol. 10, letters from G. C. Oxenden, 30 May [1862] and 4 June [1862], and Orchids 2d ed., p. 25; see also CD’s note in DAR 70: 27).
Oxenden had offered to send CD specimens of Epipactis grandiflora in his letter of 4 June [1862] (Correspondence vol. 10).
The postscript, which is on a separate sheet, is conjectured to belong to this letter on the basis of matching paper, folding, and spike marks.


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. 28 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

‘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.]

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

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.


Spent two days watching Epipactis palustris in a bog. Never saw a moth.

Thinks "Suddenism" and not "Graduality" is the great Law of Nature.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Chichester Oxenden
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Broome Canterbury
Source of text
DAR 173: 62, 66
Physical description
ALS 5pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4581,” accessed on 22 May 2022,

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