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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   14 December 1866

Royal Gardens Kew

Dec 14/66

Nothing to answer

Dear Darwin

The Scarlet seed is that of Adenanthera pavonina a native of India.1 I am well acquainted with itself & with its habits from the year -[inf symbol] (minus infinity)— At that rather (Geologically) early period it was a low bush, & the seeds were all black, (an allied species has seeds half-black & half-red, which proves this statement).2 Gallinaceous birds were, after its creation, introduced into the part of the globe where I first saw it, & these sought the seeds with avidity: so that finally only those vars of climbing habit alone survived & thus got out of the way of the gallinaceous birds (which are not perchers)— its’ chances of dissemination being thus diminished, the tendency to scarlet next developed itself in excess, being determined by the perchers (whose gizzards would not grind the seeds) & which were attracted by the color, & soon led to the extinction of all but the full scarlet forms.

Nonsense apart, I should suppose that it is to imitate a scarlet insect & thus attract insectivorous birds, or frugiferous perchers, of weak digestions, that the color is acquired. The plant is a very common Indian one, & it would be easy to ascertain how far it is a prey to birds.3

It is all very easy for Spencer to wriggle without facts, & if he spent a fraction of his brain & time in observing & experimenting, he would not wriggle so lithely—he is all oil & no bone.4 Though I must confess that his sap & wood paper in the Linnean is a confoundedly good piece of scientific work—5 I was disgusted with his wriggles against facts in the matter of some Umbelliferous flowers, & utterly so when he declined to bring the specimen to analysis, preferring to argue on the bare possibility of being right, against Bentham’s Master’s & my assurances that he was wrong & would find himself so if he would be honest & look his observations in the face.6 I think he is now ashamed of this. He always reminds me of a thinking pump; though I can attach no meaning to the simile. it ought to have one.

I do not see how the Mts of N. Zealand S. Australia & Tasmania could have been peopled to so large an extent by Antarctic forms common to Fuegia, without some intercommunication, & I have always supposed this was before the immigration of Asiatic plants into Australia, & of which plants the temperate & tropical plants of that country may be considered as altered forms.7 The presence of so many of these temperate & cold Australian & New Zealand genera on the top of Kini Balou in Borneo (under the Equator) is an awful staggerer, & demands a very extended northern distribution of Australian temperate forms.8 It is a frightful assumption, that the plains of Borneo were covered with a temperate cold vegetation that was driven up Kini balou by the returning cold.9

Then there is the very distinct distribution of a few Australian types Northwards to the Phillippines China & Japan, that is a fearful & wonderful fact,—though as these plants are New Zealand too for the most part, the migration northward may have been East of Australia.

Bentham was at Zoolog. Soc. last night & heard a very interesting paper by Gunther on fishes of oceans E & W. of Panama being the same; a fact which staggered the conclave.—10 Considering the seabirds & short distance I should rather have wondered if it were not so. The Fish of the fresh water Lakes there seem very curious

I saw Grove at Athenæum— he had read abstract of my lecture in the publication of the meetings proceedings, & was so disappointed with the wind up, that he swears I have altered it—11 I had difficulty in assuring him it was not so, & that it was “all in the telling” which is quite what I all along expected, & one reason why I have delayed publication— The sooner after delivery it is read, the poorer it will appear to those who heard it read. Now that the abstract is out, I send the entire affair to Gard. Chron—where I intreat you to overhaul it—, as I shall immediately reprint it for private circulation.12 The G. C. will give me 40/ a column for it, which I am very glad of, as I have made a confounded fool of myself buying Wedgwood—13

I had not quite overlooked the state of development of life in the matter of bulk or weight of organic matter, but I think it may be wriggled through.14 true enough the cellulares15 would give rise to less chemical change if their vital phases were as slow as those of phenogams, but does not a Mucor effect more chemical change than a 10000 times bigger phenog. plant?16

I am so glad that you are at your big book.17

Huxley was telling me how much he wondered at the sensation of novelty that Grove’s paper excited in the hoi polloi (I forget the greek letters!)—& was amused when I told him what I believe the real facts of the case to be, viz. that Grove’s continuity doctrine was received at Nottingham as a sort of corollary flowing from, & subsequent to, your development theory!!!18 Of this I have no doubt whatever. Do not say that this is a cynical invention of mine, for I am sure it is a fact,—as it is that I am cynic enough to enjoy it—

Fancy my dining the next night after Lyell’s at the W. Spottiswoods, where Lecky turned up again!—it was a nice party, Huxley, Sir B & Lady Brodie   Greg (Creed of Cm.)—H Wedgwood,19—their house is a Gorgeous one. S. & his wife do a vast deal for their work-people, lecturing & so on, & are very nice & friendly but these London dinners are the ruin of Science, & I must now get on with “Genera Plantarum”.20

So no more from your affec | Jos D Hooker—

CD annotations

1.5 Gallinaceous … avidity: 1.6] ‘No gizzards— Mr Depty wrg21 I soaked the seed hours’ added pencil
3.2 he is … bone 3.3] scored blue crayon
3.9 He always … to have one. 3.11] double scored blue crayon
4.8 It is … vegetation 4.9] scored blue crayon
6.1 a very … being the same; 6.2] scored blue crayon
7.6 Now that … circulation. 7.8] scored blue crayon
10.6 Do not say … enjoy it— 10.7] scored blue crayon
11.1 Fancy … again!— 11.2] scored blue crayon
End of letter: ‘Crossing Experiment’ pencil; ‘Australian flora Revue Horticole’ blue crayon; ‘Plumbago’ pencil 22


Hooker refers to seeds, described by CD as crimson, which had been collected by Fritz Müller in Brazil. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 December [1866] and n. 2.
Adenanthera abrosperma and A. bicolor are species with red and black seeds.
CD had given some seeds of Adenanthera pavonina to a fowl, but reported to Hooker that they had been ground up in the bird’s gizzard (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 10 December [1866] and n. 3). ‘Frugiferous’: i.e. frugivorous.
In his letter to Hooker of 10 December [1866], CD referred to Herbert Spencer, whose Principles of biology (Spencer 1864–7) was appearing in instalments. CD and Hooker often discussed the latest number as they received it and commented on the speculative nature of Spencer’s writing (see, for example, Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 January 1864, and letter to J. D. Hooker, 3 November [1864]).
Spencer’s paper ‘On circulation and the formation of wood in plants’ (Spencer 1866) described the results of his experiments on the absorption of dyes by plants.
Hooker refers to George Bentham and Maxwell Tylden Masters. Spencer had argued that the size and shape of individual umbelliferous flowers were related to the density and shape of the inflorescences (Spencer 1864–7, 2: 157; see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from Charles and Emma Darwin to J. D. Hooker, [10 July 1865] and nn. 7 and 8, and letter from J. D. Hooker, 13 July 1865 and n. 24).
CD had discussed the possibility of a closer connection between Australia and New Zealand during a glacial period, allowing certain plants to move north, and at the same time, speculated about occasional transport as a means of distribution in his letter to Hooker of 10 December [1866]. Hooker had earlier favoured the explanation of a former land-bridge but had recently conceded that occasional transport was a viable means of distribution (J. D. Hooker 1866a). In Origin, p. 399, CD had suggested that New Zealand, South America, and other southern lands shared a common flora that came from the Antarctic islands before the Glacial Period.
Mt Kinabalu (4095 m), in the state of Sabah, in the northern part of the island of Borneo, Malaysia, contains one of the most diverse assemblages of plants in the world (Beaman and Beaman 1998).
Hooker meant to write ‘returning warmth’. In Origin, pp. 378–80, CD had argued that temperate forms of vegetation had migrated towards the equator from both northern and southern hemispheres during glacial periods, then receded when temperatures became warmer again, leaving isolated remnants on mountains, as in Borneo.
Hooker refers to George Bentham. An account of Albert Charles Lewis Günther’s paper, ‘Fishes of the states of Central America’ was given in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1866): 600–4. The complete monograph was later published in Transactions of the Zoological Society of London (Günther 1864–6). Günther reported that about a third of fish species were identical on either side of the Isthmus of Panama and suggested that at an earlier time the isthmus had been an island chain. He concluded that the species stayed the same even after the land-barrier separated the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans because the conditions on either side of the isthmus remained constant (see ibid., pp. 397–400).
Hooker refers to William Robert Grove, who was the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1866, and to the Athenaeum Club, Pall Mall, London. Hooker had given an evening lecture on insular floras at the British Association meeting at Nottingham on 27 August 1866 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 August] 1866 and n. 3). The abstract Hooker refers to appeared in a report of the meeting published in November 1866; the closing part of the lecture was quoted in full (see J. D. Hooker 1866b, p. 227).
The full text of Hooker’s lecture was printed in instalments in Gardeners’ Chronicle from 5 January to 23 February 1867 (J. D. Hooker 1866a). An offprint of the lecture with slight alterations to the text was printed for private circulation; CD’s copy is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. The offprint is reproduced in Williamson 1984.
Hooker had bought a number of items of Wedgwood ware at the sale of Susan Elizabeth Darwin’s effects (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [22 November 1866] and n. 5).
Hooker refers to the ‘plantae cellulares’ or non-vascular plants of some older classificatory systems, among which would generally be included mosses, lichens, and algae.
Mucor is a genus of filamentous fungus whose growth rate is several times that of a phaenogam (flowering plant).
Thomas Henry Huxley was commenting on popular reaction to Grove’s presidential address at the British Association meeting in Nottingham. On Hooker’s reference to the speech as the ‘Continuity’ address, see the letter from J. D. Hooker, [4 September 1866] and n. 10.
Hooker had been a guest of Charles and Mary Elizabeth Lyell on 11 December 1866 (see letter from J. D. Hooker, [12 December 1866] and n. 5). He refers to William Spottiswoode and his wife, William Edward Hartpole Lecky, Thomas Henry Huxley, Benjamin Collins Brodie, Philothea Margaret Brodie, William Rathbone Greg, and Hensleigh Wedgwood. He also refers to Greg’s book, The creed of Christendom (Greg 1851).
The second part of Genera plantarum (Bentham and Hooker 1862–83) was published in 1865, the third in 1867.
CD had referred to Hooker as ‘Mr. Deputy-Wriggler’ in his letter of 10 December [1866].
CD’s annotations are notes for his reply to this letter (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 24 December [1866] and nn. 5, 12, and 13).


Beaman, John H. and Beaman, Reed S. 1998. The plants of Mount Kinabalu 3. Gymnosperms and non-orchid monocotyledons. Kota Kinabalu. London: Natural History Publications (Borneo) in association with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

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

Greg, William Rathbone. 1851. The creed of Christendom; its foundations and superstructure. London: J. Chapman.

Günther, Albert Charles Lewis Gotthilf. 1864–6. An account of the fishes of the states of Central America, based on collections made by Capt. J. M. Dow, F. Godman, Esq., and O. Salvin, Esq. [Read 22 March 1864 and 13 December 1866.] Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 6 (1863–7): 377–494.

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.

Spencer, Herbert. 1866. On circulation and the formation of wood in plants. [Read 1 March 1866.] Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 25: 405–30.

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

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


Scarlet seed is Adenanthera pavonina. JDH’s suggestion on how disseminated.

On Herbert Spencer, "all oil no bone – a thinking pump", but his paper on sap and wood [Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 25 (1866): 405–30] is good science. His refusal to bring a specimen for analysis when confronted by JDH.

Bentham and Martin disagreement.

Speculations on New Zealand flora.

Albert Günther’s paper on fishes on each side of Isthmus of Panama [Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. (1866): 600–4].

On the quantity (bulk and weight) of organic life [matter].

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 121–6
Physical description
ALS 12pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5305,” accessed on 23 June 2024,

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