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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Stacey Gibson   7 July 1866

Saffron Walden

7/7 1866


Knowing the interest you take in the investigation of the phenomena of nature, I venture to ask whether you have ever tried an experiment, which when first mentioned to me I put aside as too absurd to deserve attention, although I knew that a similar result had been reported for many years past. What first induced me to try it, was a visit I paid to an intelligent farmer in this neighbourhood two years ago, who asked me to look at some barley which he had grown from the seed of oats. He had several rods of ground, which he had sown the previous year with oats, but cut them down to prevent their flowering, and this year the whole of the plants were barley, of a luxuriant character. I immediately sowed some oats, cut them down in a similar manner, and all that survived the winter came barley; from one of these plants I cut 107 ears.

Last year I again sowed oats, and being a mild winter, most of it has lived, and all except about 3 or 4 plants, out of probably 50, are barley; the 3 or 4 are oats. My friend Joshua Clarke has also tried it, though with a less decided result; he has several plants of barley, one of wheat, and the rest remains oats. I believe many will try the experiment this year, as it is a very curious one: I cannot see any possible mistake in my experiment, and yet I can hardly conceive that the differences between two plants so widely dissimilar as oats & barley have only been caused by cultivation.1

Can you offer any solution of it? or if, as I expect, you will not believe the fact, will you object to try it for yourself?

I tried several other annual grasses last year in a similar way but without any change being apparent.

Hoping you will excuse the liberty I have taken as a stranger in thus addressing you I remain | yours respectfully | G S Gibson

Charles Darwin Esq


For earlier discussions of the relationship between oats, barley, and wheat, see Correspondence vol. 10, letter to J. B. Innes, 22 December [1862], and Correspondence vol. 12, letter from C. S. Bate, 6 January 1864. CD discussed these cereal plants in Variation 1: 312–20.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Asks CD if he can explain the results of an experiment that produced barley from oats that had been cut down to prevent their flowering.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Stacey Gibson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Saffron Walden
Source of text
DAR 165: 40
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5151,” accessed on 8 December 2021,

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