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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. T. Moggridge   13 October [1865]1

Down Bromley

Oct. 13.

My dear Sir

I am especially obliged to you for your beautiful plates and letter press;2 for no single point in natural history interests and perplexes me so much as the self-fertilisation of the Bee orchis.3 You have already thrown some light on the subject and your present observations promise to throw more.4

I formed two conjectures first, that some insect during certain seasons might cross the plants, but I have almost given up this; nevertheless pray have a look at the flowers next season. Secondly I conjectured that the Spider and Bee orchises might be a crossing and self-fertile form of the same species.5 Accordingly I wrote some years ago to an acquaintance asking him to mark some Spider orchises and observe whether they retained the same character;6 but he evidently thought the request as foolish as if I had asked him to mark one of his cows with a ribbon to see if it would turn next Spring into a horse. Now will you be so kind as to tie a string round the stem of half a dozen Spider orchises and when you leave Mentone7 dig them up and I would try and cultivate them and see if they kept constant; but I should require to know in what sort of soil and situations they grow. It would be indispensable to mark the plant so that there could be no mistake about the individual. It is also just possible that the same plant would throw up at different seasons, different flower scapes, and the marked plants would serve as evidence.

With many thanks, my dear Sir, | Your’s sincerely | Ch. Darwin

P.S. | I send by this post my paper on climbing plants parts of which you might like to read.8


The year is established by the reference to ‘Climbing plants’ (see n. 8, below).
Moggridge sent CD three plates numbered XLIII to XLV, with descriptive text, from his book Contributions to the flora of Mentone (Moggridge 1865–8). The plates showed different forms of Ophrys insectifera, under which name Moggridge included O. aranifera (the spider ophrys), O. arachnites (the late spider ophrys), O. scolopax, and O. apifera (the bee ophrys). See also Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. T. Moggridge, 19 June [1864] and n. 7. The plates and text, annotated by CD, are in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. In ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 145 (Collected papers 2: 142), and in Orchids 2d ed., p. 58, CD referred to these plates and discussed Moggridge’s view that the above-mentioned species were all varieties of O. insectifera.
CD had remarked on the self-pollination of the bee orchis or ophrys (Ophrys apifera) in Orchids, pp. 63–72. He noted that, in addition to the adaptations that facilitated self-pollination, this orchid retained features associated with insect pollination, suggesting that ‘perhaps at very long intervals of time’, one individual of O. apifera was crossed by another (ibid., p. 71; see also Correspondence vol. 9, letter to A. G. More, 17 July 1861 and n. 2). In Orchids 2d ed., p. 58, CD speculated on whether this orchid would ever either revert to a cross-pollinating form or become extinct. CD’s notes on Ophrys are in DAR 70.
In ‘Observations on some orchids of the south of France’, Moggridge had observed two forms of Ophrys scolopax, one at Mentone that was never self-pollinated, and another at Cannes, where all the flowers he observed were self-pollinated (Moggridge 1864). See Correspondence vol. 12, letter to J. T. Moggridge, 19 June [1864] and n. 6.
CD evidently now doubted his earlier conclusion (see above, n. 3) about the possibility of cross-pollination in Ophrys apifera; he refers here also to the late spider ophrys (O. arachnites), calling it the spider orchid. In 1863 he had asked Philip Henry Gosse to observe whether insects ever removed pollinia from this species, referring to it as his ‘greatest puzzle’ (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to P. H. Gosse, 2 June [1863] and nn. 12 and 13). He added that he had recently confirmed the view, earlier expressed in Orchids, p. 73, that O. arachnites was not a mere variety of O. apifera as it was not capable of self-pollination. For CD’s speculations on the relation between these two species, see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to A. G. More, 7 June 1862 and n. 2. In Orchids 2d ed., p. 57, CD returned to the view that insects might ‘at rare intervals transport the pollinia from plant to plant’ in O. apifera; there are also relevant annotations on CD’s copy of Moggridge 1869.
The acquaintance may have been George Chichester Oxenden, who had provided CD with many orchid specimens, but no letter making such a request has been found (see however Correspondence vol. 10, letter from G. C. Oxenden, 8 July 1862 and n. 2).
Owing to chronic ill health, Moggridge spent most winters at Mentone (now Menton), a town on the French Riviera near the Italian border (R. Desmond 1994).
The reference is to ‘Climbing plants’, published in a double issue of the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) on 12 June 1865. No presentation list for this paper has been found.


‘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.

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

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

‘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.]

Moggridge, John Traherne. 1864. Observations on some orchids of the south of France. [Read 3 November 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 256–8.

Moggridge, John Traherne. 1869. Ueber Ophrys insectifera L. (part.) Dresden: E. Blochmann & Sohn. [Verhandlungen der Kaiserlichen Leopoldino-Carolinischen deutschen Akademie der Naturforscher 35 (1870): (3d paper) 1–16.]

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.


Discusses self-fertilisation in bee and spider orchids. Asks JTM to conduct experiment.

Comments on plates [see J. T. Moggridge’s contribution to Flora of Mentone and winter flora of the Riviera, including the coast from Marseilles to Genoa London 1866, 1871. Part II dated 1865; Part I, 1866].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Traherne Moggridge
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 146: 374
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4914,” accessed on 17 October 2021,

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