skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Traherne Moggridge   15 February [1866]1

Maison Fontana | Mentone

Feb. 15

Dear Sir

As we are sending a parcel by Grand Vitesse to my brother at Leicester, I take the opportunity of enclosing a box of Ophryses for you.2

I have great doubts as to their fate, for the French railways do not really understand either speed or precision.

Thank you very much for your letter of Jan. 26, in accordance with which I am marking plants both under cultivation & wild.3

I am now so far restored to health that I do not think it likely that I shall return next year to Mentone; I shall therefore endeavour to get some one of my friends to carry out the scheme in 1867.4

I have, as you suggest, selected & marked some plants which correspond to the early forms figured in my Plates;5 but I find variation so very prevalent, that I generally prefer making careful sketches of each of the marked plants.—

I have, however, obtained one bit of evidence which would tend to shew that there is a considerable degree of stability in the early forms (such as A plate 43);6 for the other day I again gathered the flowers from a certain well marked & separate group of plants, which I have by chance observed as each of the last three previous Springs have come round, & they have uniformly presented the green sepals & petals of Oph. aranifera. Thus no marked change has taken place throughout four successive years.—7

I feel quite sure also that there is a great tendency among seedlings to retain a resemblance to the parent plant; as I always notice that when a few isolated plants are closely grouped together they almost invariably have most of their peculiarities in common.8

I am keeping a register of the difference of character which may frequently be found in flowers on the same spike: for I often find that though the lowest flowers may have a complex marking, those above present either the simple π marked or an approach to it, & vice versâ.9



or thus:–

Labellum of Fl:1 of Fl:2 of Fl:3

labellum of Flowers 1, 3, 4 of 2, 5 6

With respect to the Insects concerned in the fertilization of the Ophryses I have as yet no information to give, except indeed that one day lately I captured a small black ant gnawing the bracts of one of these plants.10 I am thinking of making an attempt to capture these mysterious visitors by smearing the labellum of a few plants with some viscid (& unattractive) matter

I find it a very accurate method for marking my Ophrys plants to fasten round each a little zinc label, such as they use in the Hotels here for the numbers on keys thus


—In this manner I can distinguish a very large series of individuals.

Believe me dear Sir | yrs very truly | J. Traherne Moggridge

Ch. Darwin Esqr

CD annotations

0.3 Dear Sir … careful sketches of each 5.3] crossed ink
4.1 I am now … Mentone; 4.2] 2 crosses in margin, pencil
9.1 With respect to … the labellum of a few 9.4] crossed ink
Top of first page: ‘Box | Health | Facts’ pencil


The year is established by Moggridge’s reference to 1867 as ‘next year’.
Moggridge refers to his father, Matthew Moggridge, who accompanied him to Mentone (Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London 1882–3, pp. 42–3) and to his brother Matthew Weston Moggridge, curate of St John’s Church, Leicester (Crockford’s clerical directory 1868). French railways offered two classes of goods service: grande vitesse, or express, and petite vitesse (Monkswell 1911, p. 85). Moggridge had sent a previous consignment of Ophrys specimens in December 1865 (Correspondence vol. 13, letter from J. T. Moggridge, 27 December [1865] and n. 2; see also Moggridge 1865–8, text accompanying plate XLV).
The letter of 26 January has not been found. CD had earlier written to Moggridge asking him to mark spider orchids at Mentone (probably Ophrys arachnites, the late spider ophrys) and subsequently to send them for cultivation at Down; CD’s object was to determine whether the plants ‘kept constant’ when planted in England (Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. T. Moggridge, 13 October [1865] and n. 5). It is likely, however, that this scheme was extended in a missing letter to include related forms of Ophrys described in Moggridge 1865–8. Moggridge could have marked plants of O. aranifera (the spider ophrys) and a closely related form in flower at Mentone in February, but not other forms (including O. arachnites) which flower later (see Moggridge 1865–8, text accompanying plates XLIV–XLV).
Moggridge evidently returned to Mentone during the winter of 1866 to 1867 and wrote from Mentone to CD on 6 March [1867] (Correspondence vol. 15). That letter prompted CD’s note dated 9 March 1867: ‘Mr M now informs me that with natural plants no marked change from last year.—’ The note is on CD’s annotated copy of part of Moggridge 1865–8 (Contributions to the flora of Mentone); the copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL and is bound together with the present letter. Specimens collected at Mentone in spring 1867 are also recorded in Moggridge 1869 (‘Ueber Ophrys insectifera L. (part)’).
CD had received copies of plates XLIII–XLV, and their accompanying text, from Moggridge 1865–8 (Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. T. Moggridge, 13 October [1865] and n. 2). The plates illustrated variation in the flowers of thirteen forms of Ophrys insectifera L., under which taxon Moggridge included O. aranifera, O. arachnites (the late spider ophrys), O. scolopax, and O. apifera (the bee ophrys), and were arranged in order of flowering date. For the earliest, that is those that flowered in February at Mentone, see n. 3, above. Moggridge refers to forms rather than species because his object was to identify forms that were intermediate between the named species (see Moggridge 1865–8, text accompanying plate XLIII).
Moggridge refers to Ophrys aranifera; in his copy of Moggridge 1865–8, CD annotated flower A, plate XLIII: ‘O. aranifera Hudson’.
In the text accompanying plate XLIV, Moggridge described his observations at Mentone, over four seasons, of a series of intermediate forms between the earliest flowering form, Ophrys aranifera, and the latest, O. apifera. By late February, he observed the first variant, a form having brown petals and pale sepals, rather than the green petals and darker sepals characteristic of O. aranifera (Moggridge 1865–8). In Orchids 2d ed., p. 59, CD wrote: ‘Mr. Moggridge further shows that in Italy O. aranifera flowers first, and O. apifera last, the intermediate forms at intermediate periods.’
A fuller account of parental influences on the inheritance of characters in Ophrys is given in Moggridge 1869, pp. 6–7.
Similar variation in the markings of flowers on the same spike of a form that was intermediate between Ophrys aranifera and O. arachnites is illustrated in Moggridge 1865–8, plate XLIV; a further example was considered in Moggridge 1869, p. 6.
CD had noted that in Britain Ophrys species were seldom visited by pollinating insects (Orchids, pp. 62, 66, 68). CD also referred to the pollination of the bee ophrys, O. apifera, as his ‘greatest puzzle’ (Correspondence vol. 11, letter to P. H. Gosse, 2 June [1863] and n. 12). See also Correspondence vol. 8, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [4–5 June 1860] (Collected papers 2: 34).


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

Crockford’s clerical directory: The clerical directory, a biographical and statistical book of reference for facts relating to the clergy and the church. Crockford’s clerical directory etc. London: John Crockford [and others]. 1858–1900.

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.]

Monkswell, Lord. 1911. French railways. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

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.


Is sending Ophrys plants marked as CD requested as wild or under cultivation. Discusses arrangements for a scheme planned for 1867 and his method for marking his Ophrys specimens.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Traherne Moggridge
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Maison Fontana, Mentone
Source of text
DAR Pamphlet collection G368 (bound in part of Moggridge 1865–8)
Physical description
4pp with sketches

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5008A,” accessed on 12 December 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14