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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Maxwell Tylden Masters   19 September 1864

Rye Lane | Peckham

Septr. 19. 1864.

My dear Sir,

Very many thanks for the very welcome packet received by this morning’s post1   The Lily is an example of a curious variety grown in old fashioned gardens under the name of the double White Lily—2

The Galium is a singular case of torsion of stem and consequent turning of branches to one side— It has been noticed more than once in Galium3   De Candolle figures it in Mentha 4 and I have in Linn. Proceedings described similar thing in Dipsacus 5—all square stemmed plants—

The Foxglove with spurs was so far as I remember first figured by Chavannes Mon. Antirrhin.6 but I am speaking without book   I know Dr. Bromfield Fl. of I. of Wight mentions it7 and I too have seen it before.

Dr. Gray’s note is the more interesting to me as I have recently laid before the Linn Soc. a description of a similar malformation in Ophrys aranifera8   In this there were also 3 lips and four perfect stamens— Referring to your diagram9 A2 & A3 were present in the form of supplementary lips quite detached from the ordinary labellum— one of these supplementary lips bore 12 an anther with one pollen mass! A1 was present, as usual and also a1, a2 a3 all in position! all perfect but small in size— so far all well—but then the pistil was two celled and had four parietal placentæ and had very much the appearance of a fusion of 2

I notice Dr. Gray says nothing of the ovary in his flower so suppose it was normal. May I print Dr. Gray’s note as a rider to my description10—wherein I have alluded to as many cases of Staminal deviation as I could find among orchid? It would be very desirable to do so but probably either you or he would prefer to do it

Again thanking you for remembering that “all is fish” to my peculiar net

Believe me | faithfully yrs. | Maxwell. T. Masters

Chas. Darwin Esq


CD had sent Masters specimens of abnormal plants and enclosed a note from Asa Gray on malformations in some specimens of the orchid Pogonia ophioglossoides (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 16 September 1864, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 September [1864], and n. 10, below). CD’s letter to Masters has not been found. Masters was a specialist in plant teratology, or the study of malformations and abnormal growth. For CD’s interest in Masters’s work in this field, see Correspondence vol. 8, letters to M. T. Masters, 7 April [1860] and 13 April [1860]. CD’s belief that new species were produced as a result of the gradual accumulation of small variations, and rarely from the sudden and abnormal development of existing forms, underlay this interest (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 12 July [1864] and n. 7).
Masters refers to Lilium candidum (see Masters 1869, pp. 375–6). For CD’s remarks on this species, see Variation 2: 137.
Examples of spiral torsion in Galium are discussed in Masters 1869, pp. 321–2, and an illustration of the specimen sent by CD is given on p. 323. There is an annotated copy of Masters 1869 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 571). CD’s interest in this specimen was related to his research on spiral twiners (see ‘Climbing plants’, p. 6 n.).
The reference is to Augustin Pyramus de Candolle’s diagram of spiral torsion in Mentha (A. P. de Candolle 1827, 1: 155 and plate 36, fig. 2).
Masters 1855. The specimen of Dipsacus fullonum is also described in Masters 1869, pp. 320–1.
Masters refers to Chavannes 1833; however, the book does not contain an illustration of a foxglove with spurs. The development of spurs in Digitalis purpurea is discussed in Masters 1869, p. 315.
William Arnold Bromfield collected a specimen of Digitalis purpurea with spurs on the Isle of Wight in 1849 (see Bromfield 1856, p. 344).
See n. 1, above. The note referred to some abnormal specimens of the orchid Pogonia ophioglossoides collected in a bog near Utica, New York (see n. 10, below). Masters also refers to Masters 1864, a study of peloric flowers in Ophrys aranifera and a number of other species of orchids, which was read before the Linnean Society on 16 June 1864.
Masters refers to CD’s diagram ‘Section of the flower of an orchid’ in Orchids, p. 292. A diagram showing the arrangement of parts in the malformed flower of Ophrys aranifera, together with a description, was published in Masters 1869, pp. 384–6.
Masters later published Gray’s description of the abnormal specimens of Pogonia ophioglossoides in Masters 1869, p. 386, recording his indebtedness to the ‘kindness of Professor Asa Gray and Mr. Darwin’. Masters included the description in a section of Vegetable teratology entitled ‘Increased number of stamens in orchids, &c.’ (Masters 1869, pp. 380–8).


Bromfield, William Arnold. 1856. Flora Vectensis: being a systematic description of the phænogamous or flowering plants and ferns indigenous to the Isle of Wight. Edited by William Jackson Hooker and Thomas Bell Salter. London: William Pamplin.

Candolle, Augustin Pyramus de. 1827. Organographie végétale, ou description raisonée des organes des plantes, pour servir de suite et de développement à la théorie élémentaire de la botanique, et d’introduction à la physiologie végétale et à la description des familles. 2 vols. Paris: Deterville.

Chavannes, Edouard Louis. 1833. Monographie des Antirrhinées. Paris: Treuttel et Würtz. Lausanne: Dépot Bibliographique.

‘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.

Masters, Maxwell Tylden. 1855. An abnormal stem of a species of Dipsacus. [Read 6 March 1855.] Proceedings of the Linnean Society 2 (1848–55): 369–71.

Masters, Maxwell Tylden. 1864. On a peloria and semidouble flower of Ophrys aranifera, Huds. [Read 16 June 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 207–11.

Masters, Maxwell Tylden. 1869. Vegetable teratology, an account of the principal deviations from the usual construction of plants. London: Ray Society.

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.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Explains several monstrous flowers sent by CD.

Letter details

Letter no.
Maxwell Tylden Masters
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 70
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4617,” accessed on 30 May 2020,

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