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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   10 December [1866]


Dec 10

My dear Hooker

Your letter which you speak of as containing nothing, interested me much.—1 I enclose 3 seeds of the Mimoseous tree, of which the pods open & wind spirally outwards & display a lining like yellow silk, studded with these crimson seeds, & looking gorgeous.2 I gave two seeds to a confounded old cock, but his gizzard ground them up; at least I cd. not find them during 48o in his excrement. Please Mr. Deputy-Wriggler explain to me why these seeds & pods, hang long & look gorgeous, if Birds only grind up the seeds, for I do not suppose they can be covered with any pulp.— Can they be disseminated like acorns merely by birds accidentally dropping them. The case is a sore puzzle to me.—3

Speaking of distribution Mr Norman sent me a woodcock’s leg with 8–9 gr. of dry clay clinging to its tarsus, & by Jove this morning a little monocot., like a microscopical rush, has sprung up: of course this fact does not really make the means any more probable, but it is satisfactory & all the more as the Bird is a migrant & belongs to the order which first visits oceanic islands.4

I have now read the last nor of H. Spencer: I do not know whether to think it better than the previous number;5 but it is wonderfully clever & I daresay mostly true. I feel rather mean when I read him; I could bear & rather enjoy feeling that he was twice as ingenious & clever as myself, but when I feel that he is about a dozen times my superior, even in the master art of wriggling, I feel aggrieved. If he had trained himself to observe more, even if at the expence, by the law of balancement, of some loss of thinking power, he wd. have been a wonderful man.— I have not yet read either Lyell’s great work or Huxley’s little work,6 for I have at present much reading for my book;7 & therefore will not borrow the papers on N. Zealand Glaciers.—8

I am heartily glad you are taking up the distribution of plants in New Zealand & suppose it will make part of your new book.9 Your view, as I understand it, that N.Z. subsided & formed two or more small islands & then rose again, seems to me extremely probable. Your fact about the annual plants is extraordinary, & I shall be very curious to hear whether the prevalence of annual plants under different climates & on islands, throws any light on the problem.10 When I puzzled my brains about N.Z. I remember I came to the conclusion, as indeed I state in the Origin, that its flora as well as that of other Southern lands, had been tinctured by an antarctic Flora which must have existed before the glacial period.11 I concluded that N.Z never cd have been closely connected with Australia, though I supposed it had received some few Australian forms by occasional means of transport. Is there any reason to suppose that N Z. cd have been more closely connected with S. Australia during the glacial period when the Eucalypti &c might have been driven further north? Apparently there only remains the line, which I think you suggested, of sunken islands from New Caledonia.12 Please remember that the Edwardsia was certainly drifted there by the sea.13

I remember in old days speculating on the amount of life, i.e. of organic chemical change, at different periods. There seems to me one very difficult element in the problem, namely the state of development of the organic beings at each period; for I presume that a Flora & Fauna of cellular cryptogamic plants, of protozoa & radiata wd lead to much less chemical change than is now going on.14

But I have scribbled enough.— Yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin

I sent the plants off last Wednesday.15


CD had received the seeds from Fritz Müller (see letter to Fritz Müller, [before 10 December 1866] and n. 6). Müller had described the pods in his letter of 1 and 3 October 1866. Hooker wrote at the top of the letter, ‘Adenanthera pavonina’, his identification of the tree.
CD had added a section on beauty as acquired through natural selection to Origin 4th ed., pp. 238–41. He had argued that the beauty of fruit served merely as a guide to animals to ensure seed dissemination and that seeds were always disseminated by being first eaten (Origin 4th ed., p. 240). Bright seeds with no nutritive value to potential dispersers presented a problem for CD’s hypothesis. CD recorded the experiment of feeding the seeds to the fowl in his Experimental notebook (DAR 157a: 80). For more on the dispersal of seeds like those of Adenanthera pavonina, see Galetti 2002.
CD refers to Herbert George Henry Norman (see letter from H. G. H. Norman, 30 November 1866). In his Experimental notebook (DAR 157a: 83), CD identified the plant as Juncus bufonius, toadrush. The woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) belonged to the Grallae or Grallatores, an order of birds that included all the waders. It now belongs to the order Charadriiformes, which includes gulls and shorebirds.
The reference is to instalment number 17 of Spencer 1864–7 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 December 1866 and n. 6). For CD’s comment on the previous instalment, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 30 June [1866].
CD refers to the first volume of C. Lyell 1867–8 and to T. H. Huxley 1866 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 December 1866 and nn. 3 and 8).
CD was preparing to send the manuscript of all but the last chapter of Variation to his publisher, John Murray (see letter to John Murray, 21 and 22 December [1866]).
Hooker had offered to send two papers he recently received from New Zealand (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 December 1866 and nn. 13 and 14).
Hooker had just finished the second volume of his handbook of New Zealand flora (J. D. Hooker 1864–7). He planned to write a general work on geographical distribution (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 December 1866 and n. 9).
Hooker had found hardly any annual plants indigenous to New Zealand (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 December 1866 and nn. 10 and 11).
See Origin, p. 399.
CD is probably referring to the argument made by William Branwhite Clarke and added to the fourth edition of Origin, that New Zealand and New Caledonia should be considered as ‘appurtenances’ of Australia (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from W. B. Clarke, 16 January 1862 and nn. 13 and 14, and Origin 4th ed., p. 466).
CD refers to the tree Edwardsia microphylla, a species known only in Chile and New Zealand. CD and Hooker had argued for years about whether seeds could be transported by oceanic migration. CD had recently found further support for his view that some seeds could survive exposure to salt water in an article by Henry Hammersley Travers in which Travers had suggested that seeds of Edwardsia had been carried by ocean currents from New Zealand to the Chatham Islands (Travers 1864, p. 143; see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 and 28 [October 1865] and n. 11).
Hooker had suggested that temperature was a factor in predicting the amount of living matter existing on the planet at a given time (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 4 December 1866). In Origin 3d ed., p. 142, CD had written that the amount of life (as opposed to the number of species) supported on any area must be limited by physical conditions.


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

Galetti, M. 2002. Seed dispersal of mimetic seeds: parasitism, mutualism, aposematism or exaptation? In Seed dispersal and frugivory: ecology, evolution and conservation, edited by D. Levey, et al. New York: CABI Publishing.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1864–7. Handbook of the New Zealand flora: a systematic description of the native plants of New Zealand and the Chatham, Kermadec’s, Lord Auckland’s, Campbell’s, and MacQuarrie’s Islands. 2 vols. London: Lovell Reeve & Co.

Lyell, Charles. 1867–8. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 10th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Origin 3d ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 3d edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1861.

Origin 4th ed.: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 4th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1866.

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.

Spencer, Herbert. 1864–7. The principles of biology. 2 vols. London: Williams & Norgate.

Travers, Henry Hammersley. 1864. Notes on the Chatham Islands (lat. 44030 S., long. 1750 W.). [Read 3 November 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): 135–44.

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


A confounded cock ground the crimson seeds up so CD could not find them in its excrement. CD is puzzled by how seeds can be disseminated if merely ground up by birds. Perhaps like acorns from seeds accidentally dropped by birds?

A woodcock’s leg with dry clay clinging to it, from which CD has grown a microscopical rush.

Spencer would have been wonderful if he had trained himself to observe more.

On New Zealand flora and connection with Australia.

Difficulty of speculating about the amount of organic chemical change at different periods.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 308, 308b
Physical description
ALS 6pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5300,” accessed on 1 April 2023,

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