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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   24 December 1865


Dec 24/65.

Dear Darwin

I had a talk with Oliver about Cœlebogyne.1 He says that Baillon found a stamen here & there on the female flowers;2 & O. seems to disbelieve the “Virgin Mary plant”, as its discoverer Allan Cunningham called it.3 I examined many flowers without finding them, as did R. Brown,4 Decaisne,5 J. Smith,6 A. Braun7 & others.

The difficulty of enclosing the flowers in gauze8 is that they grow quite down in the nests of the rigid leaves, & that not 1 in 100 ever ripens a seed. This, & the fact that every ovary is 3 celled & only 1 cell usually produces a ripe seed, renders the search for pollen tubes interminable. I tried a great many in vain.

Ever aff yrs | J D Hooker

I take for granted you know that Lyell is most good naturedly working to get me the Copley medal,9 & after his funny & not-at-all-agreeable-to-me fashion, telling me all about it, & getting me to send him copies of my papers to send to Sir H. Holland,10 who he wants to saddle with me. Of course I must not tell him so, but it is God’s-truth, that not only shall I never think I deserve it if I get it; but that if I did deserve it, it would be far too dear at the cost of an after dinner Speech. These are things however which must take their courses

CD annotations11

End of letter: ‘coming [illeg del] | Gardening | Karsten | Lythrum x | Copley Medal’ pencil


Hooker refers to Daniel Oliver. On the controversy over parthenogenesis in Coelebogyne ilicifolia, see letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 December [1865] and n. 7, and letter from J. D. Hooker, [23] December 1865 and nn. 3–5.
In a paper presented to the Société Botanique de France in Paris, Ernest-Henri Baillon reported having possibly observed an immature or underdeveloped stamen in the female flower of Coelebogyne ilicifolia; however, he was unable to confirm that the material extracted from the supposed anthers was in fact pollen grains (Baillon 1857, pp. 695–6).
In 1829, Allan Cunningham had sent three specimens of a plant, subsequently named Coelebogyne ilicifolia, to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The plants had been collected at Moreton Bay on the east coast of Australia (see J. Smith 1839, p. 509, and n. 6, below). The genus name derives from the Latin for ‘celibate’ and the Greek for ‘female’. Cunningham later obtained specimens of the plant with male flowers, which he also sent to Kew (see Braun 1856, p. 327, and n. 7, below).
Robert Brown had collected specimens of Coelebogyne ilicifolia at Keppel Bay, on the east coast of Australia, in 1802 (J. Smith 1839, p. 509).
John Smith (1798–1888) had identified the specimens sent to Kew by Cunningham as a species of Euphorbiaceae, allied to Sapium, in a paper read to the Linnean Society (J. Smith 1839). See letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 December [1865], n. 7.
See letter from J. D. Hooker, [23] December 1865 and n. 5. In his 1856 paper on Coelebogyne ilicifolia, Alexander Carl Heinrich Braun described the male flower, based on specimens obtained from Kew, and concluded that the plant was dioecious and reproduced both sexually and parthenogenetically (Braun 1856, pp. 327–33). In a subsequent paper on polyembryony in C. ilicifolia, Braun commented that, as no contrary evidence had yet been provided, the prevailing view that the plant was parthenogenetic must stand (see Braun 1859, p. 117).
CD had suggested this procedure in his letter to Hooker of 22 December [1865].
Charles Lyell had written to the secretary of the Royal Society of London, William Sharpey, about the possibility of nominating Hooker for the Copley Medal in 1866; Lyell was concerned about the poor representation of botany on the society’s council, whose members voted on the awards (Charles Lyell to William Sharpey, 25 November 1865, American Philosophical Society (Lyell letters)). Hooker was not nominated for the Copley Medal in 1866. He was awarded the medal in 1887 (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 307–9). On the small proportion of botanists on the Royal Society council, see also the letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 and 28 [October 1865] and n. 3.
Henry Holland had been chosen to serve on the council of the Royal Society for 1866 (Royal Society, council minutes, 1 November 1865).
CD’s annotations are notes for his letter to Hooker of [31 December 1865].


Baillon, Ernest-Henri. 1857. De l’hermaphroditisme accidentel chez les euphorbiacées. [Read 26 June 1857.] Bulletin de la Société Botanique de France 4: 692–9.

Braun, Alexander Carl Heinrich. 1856. Über Parthenogenesis bei Pflanzen. [Read 23 October 1856.] Abhandlungen der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1857): 311–76.

Braun, Alexander Carl Heinrich. 1859. Uber Polyembryonie und Keimung von Caelebogyne. Ein Nachtrag zu der Abhandlung über Parthenogenesis bei Pflanzen. [Read 3 March 1859.] Abhandlungen der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1860): 109–263.


Oliver says H. E. Baillon found stamens on female flowers of Coelebogyne, but JDH and many botanists have never found any stamens.

Lyell wants to propose JDH for Copley Medal.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 51–2
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4955,” accessed on 4 October 2023,

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