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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Fritz Müller   17 October [1865]

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

Oct 17.

My dear Sir

I received about a fortnight ago your second letter on climbing plants, dated Aug. 31st.1 It has greatly interested me, & it corrects & fills up a great hiatus in my paper.2 As I thought you could not object, I am having your letters copied & will send the paper to the Linnæan Soc.3 I have slightly modified the arrangement of some parts & altered only a few words, as you write as good English as an Englishman. I do not quite understand your account of the arrangement of the leaves of Strychnos, & I think you use the word Bracteæ differently to what English Authors do; therefore I will get Dr Hooker to look over your paper.4

I cannot of course say whether the Linnæan Soc. will publish your paper, but I am sure it ought to do so. As the Soc. is rather poor I fear that it will give only a few wood cuts from your truly admirable sketches.5 In my last letter I suggested your reading the Chap. on Catasetum in my Orchid book but I accidentally forgot to give the reason, viz that Dr Crüger of Trinidad fully confirms all that I say, & has sent me Humble bees with the pollinia adhering to their hairy bodies.6 Hence the force of the ejection. He further states that, as I anticipated the bees come to gnaw the fleshy labellum.7 I have now no doubt that all the extraordinary protuberances on the labella of exotic orchids serve to attract insects like the flesh round the stone of the cherry. But it is hardly worth while my troubling you with these details. If your paper is printed I will send you copies.

Believe me my dear Sir | yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

My health keeps so weak, that I can do nothing.


CD refers to the letter from Fritz Müller, 31 August 1865. Müller’s first letter on climbing plants was the letter from Fritz Müller, 12 August 1865. See the letter from Fritz Müller, [12 and 31 August, and 10 October 1865], for the missing portion of the letter of 31 August 1865 containing Müller’s botanical observations.
Müller’s letters contained information on branch-climbers; CD had not found tendrils modified from branches in the course of his research for ‘Climbing plants’ (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 October [1865]).
Parts of Müller’s first two letters, along with further observations from Müller’s third letter of 10 October 1865, were submitted by CD to the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) and are reproduced in this volume as the letter from Fritz Müller, [12 and 31 August and 10 October 1865].
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 October [1865]. CD later sent the letter to Daniel Oliver, who made corrections (see letter to Daniel Oliver, 20 October [1865], and letter from Daniel Oliver, 23 October 1865). The term ‘bracteæ’ does not appear in the published version of the Müller letter; the description of Strychnos mentions ‘rudimentary leaves’ at the tip of each tendril (see Müller 1865b, p. 344, and letter from Fritz Müller, [12 and 31 August, and 10 October 1865]).
Only one plate accompanied the published paper (see Müller 1865b and letter from Fritz Müller, [12 and 31 August, and 10 October 1865] and n. 5).
See letter to Fritz Müller, 20 September [1865]. CD’s discussion of the genus Catasetum is in ‘Three sexual forms of Catasetum tridentatum, and in Orchids, pp. 211–48. In his paper ‘A few notes on the fecundation of orchids and their morphology’, Hermann Crüger had argued that the adaptations he found in orchids supported CD’s theory of transmutation (Crüger 1864, p. 131). Crüger sent CD several specimens, including a humble bee, along with his paper, which CD submitted to the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany); see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Hermann Crüger, 21 January 1864, and letter to Daniel Oliver, 17 February [1864]. CD’s two annotated copies of Crüger 1864 are in DAR 70: 144–5; both copies have portions cut out. CD also annotated the article in his unbound issue of the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (no. 31), which is in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
In Orchids, p. 220, CD had proposed that an insect gnawing through the Catasetum labellum would touch the antennae of the rostellum, causing the pollinium to eject and forcing the pollen masses onto the insect. Crüger sent CD specimens of bees belonging to three species of Euglossa that he saw gnawing the inside of the labellum of Catasetum, thus confirming CD’s hypothesis (see ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 154 (Collected papers 2: 151); see also Orchids 2d ed., pp. 205–6). See Correspondence vol. 12, letter from Hermann Crüger, 21 January 1864 and nn. 1 and 5. In Orchids 2d ed., pp. 270–1, CD added similar observations by Fritz Müller on the labellum of Oncidium.


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

Crüger, Hermann. 1864. A few notes on the fecundation of orchids and their morphology. [Read 3 March 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 127–35.

‘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.

‘Three sexual forms of Catasetum tridentatum’: On the three remarkable sexual forms of Catasetum tridentatum, an orchid in the possession of the Linnean Society. By Charles Darwin. [Read 3 April 1862.] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society (Botany) 6 (1862): 151–7. [Collected papers 2: 63–70.]


Is sending FM’s two letters on climbing plants as a paper to the Linnean Society ["Notes on some of the climbing plants near Desterro, in south Brazil", J. Proc. Linn. Soc. Lond. (Bot.) 9 (1867): 344–9].

Adaptations for pollination in Catasetum.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Johann Friedrich Theodor (Fritz) Müller
Sent from
Source of text
The British Library (Loan MS 10 no 3)
Physical description
LS(A) 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4916,” accessed on 22 May 2022,

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