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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Maxwell Tylden Masters   7 February 1865

Rye Lane | Peckham.

Feb. 7./65.

My dear Sir/

I had the pleasure of hearing a portion of the summary of your paper on twining plants at the last meeting of the Linn. Society and I hope you will not think me intrusive by writing to you on the matter—1 As unfortunately I only heard part of the abstract read I do not know the extent of ground you travel over and hence perhaps the contents of this note may seem irrelevant, if so excuse me and throw aside this letter—

As an accidental occurrence, growth in a spiral direction takes place in two ways either as a twisting of the stem, branch or leaf as the case may be, upon itself in which instances the fibres of the organ are only secondarily and indirectly affected or the fibres of the stem etc themselves may be chiefly and primarily implicated— This condition is very often associated with the first but not necessarily so.— Moquin speaks of the first cases as “Enroulements” of the latter not very happily as Torsions.2 The latter cases occur very generally in Plants with opposite or verticillate leaves e.g. Galium (for a specimen of wh. I am indebted to yourself)—Dipsacus—Valerian Equisetum, Labiates &c. &c.3 Comparatively rarely does this spiralism affect plants with alternate leaves— As a consequence of this twisting of the stem it often happens that the leaves & branches instead of retaining their usual opposite, verticillate or decussate condition become placed one over the other along one edge—sometimes though more rarely in two rows— I enclose a drawing from a Dipsacus stem which I showed at the Linnean Society when I first began to study Botany and which puzzled me so much at the time that the description I gave of it though substantially correct I believe is by no means lucid—4

Some of these cases of spiral growth—if not all are dependent upon some obstacle to upward growth—resistance to motion—5 Again they are very frequently associated with fasciation—

—Another point I noticed in the resumé of your paper was the assumption by a petiole of the characteristics of an axis so far as its wood circle was concerned—under certain conditions—6 from this you drew the inference (quite in accordance with what I have always thought and indeed expressed in print) that there is a closer relationship between leaf & stem axis and appendage than is usually surmised.7 In truth the arrangement of the woody bundles in a leaf stalk depends on or at least is associated with differences in form in the stalk itself thus when the petiole is cylindrical the woody bundles are arranged in a ring


instead of in a semi circle as they usually are in the channelled petioles


In all peltate leaved plants the petiole is cylindrical and the woody bundles arranged in a ring—8

In one of the recent volumes of the Brit Assoc. Reports there is an abstract of a paper on this subject by myself wherein I endeavour to show that the grooved petiole has reference to the protection of the axillary bud from undue pressure etc etc9

I have some thoughts of putting together my notes on spiralism as a teratological phenomenon so as to form a paper for the Linn. Soc. but I shall wait till I see the results of your labors in extenso—10 meanwhile if by supplying references or in any other way I can be of the least assistance I shall be glad to do so if only to compensate for boring you with what may be irrelevant matters

faithfully yrs. | Maxwell. T. Masters

CD annotations

3.1 Some … motion— 3.2] scored blue crayon
3.1 Some … fasciation— 3.3] crossed blue crayon
4.6 In truth … petioles 4.12] scored blue crayon
4.9 cylindrical] underl blue crayon
Verso of last page: ‘very interesting letter | Spiralism p 4— | Petioles— [showed] bundles are cylindrical— but, I think you will find that I have expressed myself with caution’11 blue crayon; ‘Put foot-note that I hear from Dr. Masters that is cylindrical [underl blue crayon] petiole—because petioles of Solanum apparently cylindrical & lose channelled structures, after clasping—12 | Give the reference to B. Assoc Year & page.’13 ink


An abstract of ‘Climbing plants’ was read at the meeting of the Linnean Society on 2 February 1865. Joseph Dalton Hooker mentioned a comment Masters made at the meeting in the letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 February 1865.
Moquin-Tandon 1841, pp. 178–82. CD’s heavily annotated copy of Moquin-Tandon 1841 (Eléments de tératologie végétale, ou histoire abrégée des anomalies de l’organisation dans les végétaux) is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 598–601); the only annotation on pages 178–82 is a scoring of the last sentence on page 182. CD’s reading notebooks record that he read Moquin-Tandon 1841 in 1846 (see Correspondence vol. 4, letters to J. D. Hooker, 10 April [1846] and [May 1846], and Appendix IV). For CD’s discussion of types of spiral growth in twining plants, see ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 5–7, 96–8.
In 1864, CD sent Masters several specimens of abnormal plants, including one showing an example of torsion in Galium; in his reply, Masters mentioned a similar torsion in Dipsacus (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from M. T. Masters, 19 September 1864). Examples of spiral torsion in Galium and other plants are discussed in Masters 1869, pp. 319–26, and an illustration of the Galium sent by CD is given on page 323. CD mentioned the hook-climber Galium aparine in ‘Climbing plants’, p. 105; see also DAR 157.1: 59. Masters cites CD’s findings on spiral torsion in ‘Climbing plants’ in Masters 1869, p. 320 n. There is an annotated copy of Masters 1869 in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 571).
Masters may refer to a paper he read at the Linnean Society on 6 March 1855 (Masters 1855). See Correspondence vol. 12, letter from M. T. Masters, 19 September 1864. The enclosure has not been found; Masters 1855 was published without an illustration. However, Masters discussed spiral torsion in Dipsacus in Masters 1869, pp. 320–1, with an illustration on page 321.
CD included this statement in ‘Climbing plants’, p. 6 n., and prefaced it by observing that it was well known that stems occasionally became spirally twisted in a monstrous manner. The note was inserted into a discussion of the probability that stems twisted themselves to gain rigidity for additional strength and for easier upward growth around rough surfaces. CD added that Master’s statement agreed with and might explain the normal axial twisting of twining plants, but that it did ‘not preclude the twisting being of service to the plant by giving greater rigidity to the stem’. CD may have sent this note and others to the Linnean Society for inclusion in the manuscript of ‘Climbing plants’ that he had already sent on 18 January 1865 (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 19 January [1865]).
In ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 42–3, CD noted the changes in a Solanum jasminoides petiole after it had clasped a stick. When examining cellular changes in a transverse slice of the petiole, he found that a ‘semilunar band’ of woody vessels had grown and been converted into a complete ring of hard tissue in the clasping petiole; he included a diagram of this change in ‘Climbing plants’, p. 43 (see also CD’s notes on these observations in DAR 157.1: 101–3). For a comment by Masters on petiole structure, made at the meeting during which the abstract of ‘Climbing plants’ was read, see the letter from J. D. Hooker, 3 February 1865 and n. 11.
For CD’s notice of the relationship between leaves and the stem axis as indicated by the Solanum petioles, see ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 43, 47, and 113–14. CD had read the paper in which Masters came to a similar conclusion regarding leaves and stems (see Masters 1862a, pp. 211–14, and Correspondence vol. 10, letter to M. T. Masters, 26 February [1862]). CD had considered the relationship between plant parts in 1864, also in relation to his work with climbing plants (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to Daniel Oliver, 11 March [1864], and letter from Daniel Oliver, 12 March 1864 and n. 9).
CD referred to Master’s points on the general structure and shape of petioles, and related these to the changes in the Solanum petiole, in ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 43–4 n. For CD’s addition of this note to the manuscript of ‘Climbing plants’, see n. 5, above.
Masters 1863b.
Only an abstract of ‘Climbing plants’ was read at a meeting of the Linnean Society on 2 February 1865; the paper was printed in full in the double issue of the Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) for 12 June 1865 (General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society, p. vi). Masters included a section on ‘Spiral torsion’, in which he cited ‘Climbing plants’, in Vegetable teratology (Masters 1869, pp. 319–26).
Evidently these are notes for CD’s reply; however, the letter to Masters has not been found.
See nn. 6–8, above. The leaf-climber Solanum jasminoides is described in ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 41–3.
CD did not cite Masters 1863b in ‘Climbing plants’.


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

General index to the Journal of the Linnean Society: General index to the first twenty volumes of the Journal (Botany), and the botanical portion of the Proceedings, November 1838 to June 1886, of the Linnean Society. London: Linnean Society of London. 1888.

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

Moquin-Tandon, Horace Bénédict Alfred. 1841. Eléments de tératologie végétale, ou, histoire abrégée des anomalies de l’organisation dans les végétaux. Paris: P.-J. Loss.


MTM heard part of the abstract of CD’s paper on climbing plants, read at the Linnean Society on 2 Feb. Offers CD his opinion and information on the subject, which he has studied for many years.

Letter details

Letter no.
Maxwell Tylden Masters
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 71
Physical description
ALS 7pp ††

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4766,” accessed on 25 June 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 13