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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [24 July 1866]1



Dear old Darwin

Your Lupin is certainly L. pilosus admirably figured in Sibthorp’s Fl. Græca—2 (L. hirsutus is a little thing—quite different)—3 It is a Mediterranean species, very many thanks for the specimen.

I am groaning over my Lecture—4 I have done Madeira, & am at Canaries, I am utterly puzzled by the absence of alpine or even of subalpine plants in Madeira— it reminds me of what I have heard of Sardinia—I think—& indeed of all European mts south of Pyrenees5 & alps more or less; & of Atlas again.6 Then again I am more impressed & staggered than ever with the number of rare local things common to Madeira & Canaries, which are not littoral plants, & which I cannot account for without land extension7

Take Dracæna Draco., on mts. of Madeira, of Canaries & of Cape de Verds! or Bencomia, a dioeceous tree—of which one ♂ plant has been found at top of rocks in Madeira, & one female by a peasant & which is found only else in Canaries & then is excessively rare   Myrica Faya, found only in West Portugal, Madeira Azores & Canaries!—& so on. An Atlantis is the only possible guess that holds water8

Most of the alpine Cameroons plants are natives of Cape de Verd Mts, Canary Mts, & of Madeira & Azores.9

I have been reading Edd. Forbes again & with admiration, despite its faults:— how near he was to being a very great man; dear old fellow as he was— I had not read it for years, & it reminded me of how we had worked together & made me melancholy. I shall allude to it, as a Brit. Ass. affair—10 Was his the first scientific proposition of the Atlantis?11

How disappointing are the Introductory Remarks to Wollaston’s Catalogue of Mad & Canarian Coleoptera.12 Has he any where indicated the apterous proportion, or the strength of European elements in the Entomology of these groups.13 The Madeiran Catalogue remarks are the best of the two.14 If I remember aright, all the Kerguelens land insects were apterous, including the moth!15

Is it not odd that there is a direct relation between the numerical rarity & endemic character of Madeiran plants— thus out of 193 strictly indigenous species & varieties identical with European

134 are common (61. ccc) (very common)

59 are scarce (11 rrr) (very rare)16

Of 16 Madeiran plants that are local varieties of European

1 is a common plant

15 are scarce (4 rrr.)

Of 65 non European plants chiefly Madeiran, but a few common also to the Canaries

21 are common (5 of them ccc)

44 are rare (17 rrr.!)

the more endemic (or the ultra endemic as Wollaston calls them) the more rare.17

It looks as if later climatic conditions had favored the prevalence of the European elements at the expense of the Endemic.

Of the extra European types the most curious are Clethra & Persea species of very large American genera found no where in the Old World. Apollonias, a genus of Laurels, having only 2 species, this Madeiran & a Nilgherrie Mt one. The aforesaid Dracæna Draco & several tropical African genera, of trees as Pittosporum, Sideroxylon, Myrsine &c.18 It is also curious that the majority of the Extra European genera are arbroeous!19

I am now doing Canaries, the Vegetation is more peculiar than I thought—still no alpine or even cold temperate European plants except a few of the Cameroons ones.

It is curious that Wollaston finds the Insects proportionately fewer than in Madeira,20 for I think the Flora is proportionately richer—a good deal,

How does your health hold?

Ever yrs affec | Jos D Hooker

My wife takes the children to St. Alban’s for 6 weeks—21

CD annotations

2.2 even … Madeira—] scored pencil
2.2 subalpine] underl pencil
2.3 & indeed … less; 2.4] scored pencil
2.6 which are … extension 2.7] scored pencil
3.5 An Atlantis … water] double scored pencil
4.1 Most … Azores. 4.2] scored pencil
4.2 Madeira] underl pencil
5.4 Was his … Atlantis? 5.5] scored pencil
6.1 How … Catalogue] scored pencil
6.2 the apterous … elements 6.3] scored pencil
7.1 Is it … plants— 7.2] scored pencil
7.13 the more … rare.] scored pencil
8.1 It looks … Endemic. 8.2] scored pencil
9.5 It is … arbroeous! 9.6] scored pencil
10.1 still … alpine 10.2] scored pencil


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters to J. D. Hooker, 21 [July 1866] and 30 July [1866]. In 1866, 24 July was the only intervening Tuesday.
CD had enclosed a specimen of lupin for identification (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 21 [July 1866] and n. 1). Hooker refers to John Sibthorp. Lupinus pilosus is illustrated and described in Sibthorp 1806–40, vol. 7, plate 684 and p. 77.
CD had tentatively identified the specimen as Lupinus hirsutus (a synonym of L. pilosus, blue lupin; see letter to J. D. Hooker, 21 [July 1866]).
Hooker was preparing a lecture on insular floras for the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science to be held at Nottingham in August 1866 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 16 January 1866 and n. 9). For bibliographical details of the lecture, see the letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 August] 1866, n. 3. The full text of the lecture was serialised in the Gardeners’ Chronicle (J. D. Hooker 1866a) and later published, in a corrected version, as a pamphlet. This pamphlet has been reproduced with a critical introduction in Williamson 1984.
Hooker in fact refers to the mountains of the northern shore of the Mediterranean (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 31 July 1866).
In his lecture on insular floras (see n. 4, above), Hooker noted that many species were identifiable with those of a ‘mother continent’, and allowed for the possibility of a former connection between islands and their ‘mother continent’ (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 50). The absence of alpines on Madeira and the Canary Islands (ibid., pp. 6, 27) would have puzzled Hooker as an example of difference between island and continental floras. For comment on this topic, see Williamson 1984, pp. 55–8.
In his lecture, Hooker speculated on the causes of rarity among non-littoral endemic species on oceanic islands (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 7). Hooker also suggested that the rare endemics common to Madeira and the Canary Islands might be relics of a former distribution that extended over adjacent continents and intervening land that had since been submerged (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 50).
In his lecture, Hooker referred to the presence on Madeira of Dracaena, derived from Africa, and of a single female and male plant of Bencomia caudata from the Canary Islands. Hooker also referred to Edward Forbes’s hypothesis of Atlantis (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 50). According to Forbes, a continent had once linked the Iberian peninsula with the Azores and with Ireland, thus providing a land-bridge over which plant species dispersed during the Miocene period (Forbes 1845 and 1846). For extensive discussions of Forbes’s Atlantis hypothesis, and CD’s and Hooker’s earlier correspondence on the derivation of the floras of the Atlantic islands, see Correspondence vols. 3 and 5–7.
CD and Hooker had earlier corresponded extensively about the relationships of the plants of the Cameroon mountains (see Correspondence vols. 10 and 11). In a published account of those plants, Hooker enumerated forty-nine that grew at an altitude of 9000 feet or higher, and noted their geographical origins (J. D. Hooker 1863). In his lecture on insular floras (see n. 4, above), Hooker considered, in turn, the plant species of Madeira, the Canary Islands, the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 13 May 1866 and n. 13, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 16 May [1866] and n. 5.
Hooker refers to Edward Forbes and to his ‘On the distribution of endemic plants’ (Forbes 1846); a summary was published in the Report of the 15th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Forbes 1845; see also n. 8, above). Hooker had worked with Forbes for the Geological Survey of Great Britain between 1845 and 1847 (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 1: 206–22).
Forbes appears to have been the first to invoke an Atlantic land-bridge in the nineteenth century (see n. 8, above); however, Justus Lipsius had speculated in the seventeenth century on a migration of animals from Africa to America by way of Atlantis (Browne 1983, p. 12). Oswald Heer advanced a further Atlantis hypothesis in which Europe, Africa, and North America were connected by a land-bridge (Heer 1855 and 1860). See also Correspondence vol. 13, letter from Charles Lyell, 16 January 1865 and n. 19, and letter to Charles Lyell, 21 February [1865] and nn. 3 and 4.
Thomas Vernon Wollaston’s works on Coleoptera include Catalogue of the coleopterous insects of Madeira (T. V. Wollaston 1857), Catalogue of the coleopterous insects of the Canaries (T. V. Wollaston 1864), and Coleoptera atlantidum (T. V. Wollaston 1865), in which beetles of both Madeira and the Canaries are described. Hooker probably refers to Wollaston 1865.
In his letter to Hooker of 7 March [1855] (Correspondence vol. 5), CD had remarked on the ‘astounding proportion’ of Coleoptera that were apterous in Wollaston’s Insecta Maderensia (see T. V. Wollaston 1854, p. xii; see also T. V. Wollaston 1856, pp. 82–7). Wollaston also considered a few examples of similarities between Madeiran Coleoptera and European species in T. V. Wollaston 1856 (pp. 137–44), arguing that they provided evidence in support of Forbes’s hypothesis (see n. 8, above). CD referred to Wollaston’s work on Madeiran beetles in Origin, pp. 135–6, suggesting that insects without wings were less susceptible to being blown out to sea and were therefore favoured by natural selection.
See n. 12, above.
Hooker had visited Kerguelen’s Land, a subantarctic island in the south Indian Ocean, in 1840 (R. Desmond 1999, pp. 38–43), but found only three different species of insect there (Correspondence vol. 3, letter from J. D. Hooker, [mid-July 1845]). In his letter of [before 17 March 1855] (Correspondence vol. 5), Hooker had remarked, ‘The fact of Apterous Coleoptera strikes me too as extremely curious & reminds me of an old remark I made that not only the few beetles of Kerguelens land were apterous but the only Lepidopterous insect on the Island was so too!’
The categories r (rare), rr (very rare) and rrr (extremely rare), and the equivalent categories of c for commonness, are to be found in the first volume of A manual flora of Madeira (Lowe 1868), on which Hooker probably relied for his analysis of the flora of Madeira. See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 13 May 1866.
In his studies of beetles in Madeira, Wollaston had distinguished between endemic species, which he thought had been created in the places where they were found, and those that had migrated from another area; the former he termed ‘ultra-indigenous’ (T. V. Wollaston 1857, p. viii). In the account of Madeira in his lecture, Hooker noted that the islands contained many indigenous species that were also rare (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 7).
In his lecture, Hooker reiterated this information on insular species belonging to genera that elsewhere were represented only on distant continents; he referred to all the non-European genera named here, except Pittosporum and Sideroxylon (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 7). The Nilgiri Hills or Nilgiris are in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu (Times atlas).
Hooker intended to write arboreous.
See J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 27. For Wollaston’s statistics on the relative abundance of coleopterous insects in Madeira and the Canaries, see, for example, T. V. Wollaston 1864, p. xi.
Hooker and his wife, Frances Harriet, had four surviving children, William Henslow (aged 13), Harriet Anne (12), Charles Paget (11), and Brian Harvey Hodgson (6) (Allan 1967). St Albans is a market-town in Hertfordshire, England. The Hookers had friends in St Albans (Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, 29 March 1864; see also Allan 1967, p. 180).


Allan, Mea. 1967. The Hookers of Kew, 1785–1911. London: Michael Joseph.

Browne, Janet. 1983. The secular ark. Studies in the history of biogeography. New Haven, Conn., and London: Yale University Press.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Desmond, Ray. 1999. Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, traveller and plant collector. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Forbes, Edward. 1846. On the connexion between the distribution of the existing fauna and flora of the British Isles, and the geological changes which have affected their area, especially during the epoch of the Northern Drift. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and of the Museum of Economic Geology in London 1: 336–432.

Heer, Oswald. 1855. Ueber die fossilen Pflanzen von St. Jorge in Madeira. [Read 5 November 1855.] Neue Denkschriften der allgemeinen Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für die gesammten Naturwissenschaften n.s. 5 (1857): paper 2.

Lowe, Richard Thomas. 1868. A manual flora of Madeira and the adjacent islands of Porto Santo and the Desertas. Vol. 1, Dichlamydeæ. London: John van Voorst.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Sibthorp, John. 1806–40. Flora græca: characteres omnium, descriptiones et synonyma. 10 vols. London: Richard Taylor & Co.

Times atlas: ‘The Times’ atlas of the world. Comprehensive edition. 9th edition. London: Times Books. 1992.

Williamson, M. 1984. Sir Joseph Hooker’s lecture on insular floras. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 22: 55–77.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1854. Insecta Maderensia; being an account of the insects of the islands of the Madeiran group. London: John van Voorst.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1856. On the variation of species with especial reference to the Insecta; followed by an inquiry into the nature of genera. London: John van Voorst.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1857. Catalogue of the coleopterous insects of Madeira in the collection of the British Museum. London: By order of the Trustees.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1864. Catalogue of the coleopterous insects of the Canaries in the collection of the British Museum. London: By order of the Trustees.

Wollaston, Thomas Vernon. 1865. Coleoptera Atlantidum; being an enumeration of the coleopterous insects of the Madeiras, Salvages, and Canaries in the collection of the British Museum. London: J. van Voorst.


Working on "Insular floras" lecture for BAAS Nottingham meeting [see 5135].

Puzzled at distribution of Madeiran and Canaries plants and insects.

Supports Forbes’s Atlantis hypothesis [see 956], which he has reread and to which he will allude.

Wollaston disappointing on Madeiran insects.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.2 (letters): 239
Physical description
ALS 8pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5165,” accessed on 27 May 2024,

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