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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. H. Harvey   10 November 1864

4. Winton Road | Leeson Park, Dublin

10 Nov. 64

Dear Darwin

I have been disappointed in getting to town these last two days, & as it seems uncertain when I may be able to get in (as I have now lumbago to keep me to my chair) & as the weather is still very foggy (& bad for lungs) I think it best to send you as good an answer as I can without consulting books or specimens:1

The plants are Ipomœa argyræoides, DC. (I. cana, E Mey.)—& Ceropegia Bowkeri & C. sororia, both my own species.2

The Ipomœa appears to be common in the Eastern Provinces of the Cape— I have it from many correspondents, & if I remember right, also from Natal. All the native specimens I have seen give me the impression of a virgate, erect, rigid-stemmed plant, from 12 to 18 in. high—of compact, “neat” growth.

Seeds sent to Glasnevin3 by Mrs. Barber,4 accompanied by flowering dried specimens, have yielded a twiner, with laxly set foliage, which the last time I saw it was coiling up a pillar & at least 8 ft. (probably more) high. It had not flowered & showed then no sign of flowering; I dont know what it has since done—not having been to the garden. The wild, rigid specimens seem to be free flowerers.

Ceropegia Bowkeri & C. sororia are both from Caffirland;5 but the latter is also found in Uitenhage6 within the Colony. All the wild specimens I have seen are erect and straight stemmed, varying from 6 inches to 2 ft. high. They flower at all these heights.— At Glasnevin both have become twiners, requiring a stick to hold by, & grow 5–6 feet (prob. more) long. These also flower freely.—

I know a 3d Ceropegia with similar native habit (C. eriostoma, MS.), but it is not yet in cultivation.

I am disposed to think that even at the Cape species will vary as climbers or non climbers according to exposure. The common Cissampelos Capensis is either erect (when it grows on an exposed dry hill) or (like the rest of its brethren) a climber when it grows among bushes.—

I described (Thes. Cap. t. 51)7 a little Passifloreous plant, Tryphostemma Sandersoni, H., the first specimens of which I received were 4–6 inches high, bearing flowers & fruit—& therefore I supposed mature; these were quite erect. After some time came others 12–18 in. long, with larger leaves, but also erect. Since then I have been informed that on the borders of woods it grows 3–4 ft high, with a disposition to climb.

We poor botanists who are forced to describe from dried plants—unless assisted by carefully made notes—are sadly at the mercy of the Collector.

N.B. All the examples I have cited of erect plants becoming climbers, belong to families the majority of whose species have a climbing habit.—

Yours very truly | W. H. Harvey


CD had sought information from Harvey about climbing plants from the Cape region of South Africa (see letter from W. H. Harvey, 8 November [1864] and n. 2).
Ipomoea cana and Ipomoea argyreioides are synonyms of I. oenotheroides (W. H. Harvey and Sonder 1859–65). Ceropegia bowkeri and C. sororia (a synonym of C.bowkeri subsp. sororia) were both named by Harvey. C. bowkeri is described in W. H. Harvey 1859, pp. 254–5; C. sororia is described in J. D. Hooker 1866, tab. 5578. CD discussed Harvey’s specimens of Ipomoea and Ceropegia in ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 24–5, as illustrating that the power of climbing can lie dormant in plants for many generations, and then re-emerge in the proper conditions.
Harvey refers to the Botanic Garden in Glasnevin, a suburb north of Dublin (Survey gazetteer of the British Isles).
Mary Elizabeth Barber, a botanist in South Africa, was a friend of Harvey’s (DSAB).
Kaffirland or Kaffraria was a region on the eastern coast of South Africa, between Natal and Cape Colony (Stewart 1996).
Uitenhage is a town in the Eastern Cape province of the Republic of South Africa (formerly Cape Colony), twenty-one miles north-west of Port Elizabeth (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
The reference is to Thesaurus Capensis (W. H. Harvey 1859–63, 1: plate 51).


‘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.

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

DSAB: Dictionary of South African biography. Edited by W. J. de Kock et al. 4 vols. Pretoria and Cape Town: Nasionale Boekhandel Beperk [and others]. 1968–81.

Harvey, William Henry. 1859–63. Thesaurus Capensis: or, illustrations of the South African flora, being figures and brief descriptions of South African plants selected from the Dublin University Herbarium. 2 vols. in 1. Dublin: Hodges, Smith & Co. London: John van Voorst.

Harvey, William Henry. 1859. On a new genus and two new species of plants from the Cape of Good Hope. [Read 18 March 1859.] Proceedings of the Dublin University Zoological and Botanical Association 1: 253–5.

Stewart, John. 1996. The British empire. An encyclopedia of the Crown’s holdings, 1493 through 1995. Jefferson, N.C., and London: McFarland & Company.

Survey gazetteer of the British Isles: The survey gazetteer of the British Isles including summary of 1951 census. By John Bartholomew. 9th edition. Edinburgh: John Bartholomew & Son at the Geographical Institute.


Identifies South African species of plants that are normally non-climbers in the wild but climb freely when grown from seed at Glasnevin. Thinks there is probably a gradation in the wild between climbing and non-climbing varieties related to the degree of exposure each particular plant faces.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Henry Harvey
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 157.2: 112
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4668,” accessed on 4 October 2023,

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