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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   9 January [1867]


Jan 9th

My dear Hooker

I like the first part of your paper in Gard. Chronicle to an extraordinary degree;1 you never, in my opinion, wrote anything better. You ask for all, even minute, criticisms.—2 In 1st. column, you speak of no Alpine plants, & no replacement by zones, which will strike everyone with astonishment who has read Humboldt & Webb on zones on Teneriffe: : do you not mean boreal or Arctic plants?3 In 3d. column you speak as if savages had generally viewed the endemic plants of the Atlantic Islands, now, as you well know, the Canaries alone of all the Archs. were inhabited.4 In 3d. column have you really materials to speak of confirming the proportion of winged & wingless insects on Islands?—5

Your comparison of plants of Madeira with islets of Grt. Britain is admirable.—6

I must just allude to one of your last notes with very curious case of proportion of annuals in N. Zealand.7 Are annuals adapted for short seasons, as in Arctic regions, or Tropical countries with dry season, or for periodically disturbed & cultivated ground? You speak of Evergreen vegetation as leading to few or confined conditions; but is not evergreen vegetation connected with humid & equable climate? Does not a very humid climate almost imply (Tyndall) an equable one?8

I have never printed a word that I can remember about orchids, & papilionaceous plants being few in islands on account of rarity of insects:9 & I remember you screamed at me when I suggested this apropos to Papilionaceæ in N. Zealand, & to the statement about clover not seeding there till the Hive Bee was introduced, as I stated in my paper in Gard. Chronicle.—10

I have been these last few days vexed & annoyed to a foolish degree by hearing that my M.S. “on Dom. An. & Cult. Plants”, will make 2 vols, both bigger than the “Origin”. The volumes will have to be full-sized Octavo, & I have written to Murray to suggest details to be printed in small type.11 But I feel that the size is quite ludicrous in relation to the subject. I am ready to swear at myself & at every fool who writes a book.—

Yours affect | C. Darwin

Seed of any Plumbago.12


CD refers to the first of four parts of Hooker’s article on insular floras (J. D. Hooker 1866a); the first part was published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 5 January 1867, pp. 6–7. Hooker wrote at the start of the article that it was ‘the substance of a Lecture’ that he delivered to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at Nottingham, on 27 August 1866. For Hooker’s and CD’s extensive discussions during Hooker’s preparation of the lecture, see Correspondence vol. 14. CD’s annotated copies of the Gardeners’ Chronicle are in the Cory Library, Cambridge Botanic Garden; all four instalments of J. D. Hooker 1866a are annotated. An abstract (J. D. Hooker 1866b), and a French translation (J. D. Hooker 1866c) were also published. The lecture also appeared in condensed form in the Journal of Botany (J. D. Hooker 1867).
In his letter of 14 December 1866 (Correspondence vol. 14), Hooker informed CD that his lecture was to be published in the Gardeners’ Chronicle (J. D. Hooker 1866a), and wrote: ‘I intreat you to overhaul it—’. Some of CD’s criticisms were incorporated when the Gardeners’ Chronicle version of the lecture was reprinted as a pamphlet; see Williamson 1984 for a reprint of the pamphlet. There are two annotated copies of the pamphlet in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Hooker wrote that the flora on mountains of small oceanic islands presented ‘few alpine or sub-alpine species’; in the next column he wrote that in ascending the mountains of Madeira, there was found ‘little or none of that replacement of species of a lower level by those of a higher northern latitude’, with which observers were familiar in ascending continental mountains of equal or less height (J. D. Hooker 1866a, pp. 6 and 7). CD refers to discussions on zones of vegetation changing with altitude in Alexander von Humboldt’s Personal narrative (Humboldt 1814–29, 1: 263–76), and in Philip Barker Webb and Sabin Berthelot’s Histoire naturelle des Iles Canaries (Webb and Berthelot 1836–50, 3 (part 1): 168–73). CD read Humboldt’s Personal narrative carefully and took it on the Beagle voyage; in his Autobiography, he wrote that he copied out long passages about Tenerife and read them aloud to friends (see also Correspondence vol. 1, letter to W. D. Fox, [7 April 1831] and n. 2, and Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV; see Humboldt 1814–29, 1: 111–293, for his discussions relating to Tenerife). A copy of Humboldt’s Personal narrative, made up of three different editions, is in the Darwin Library–CUL and is annotated (Marginalia 1: 415–20). For CD’s reading of Webb and Berthelot 1836–50, see Correspondence vols. 2–4.
When considering rare and local plants on the Madeiran group of islands, Hooker wrote: ‘Considerations … warrant our belief that such plants on oceanic islands are, like the savages which in many cases have been so long the sole witnesses of their existence, the last representatives of their several races’ (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 7). Hooker changed the wording slightly in his 1867 pamphlet (see n. 2, above, and Williamson 1984, p. 63). ‘Archs.’: archipelagos.
Hooker surmised that as oceanic islands subsided and lost plant species, pollinating insects also diminished, particularly the winged species that were known to be the most active pollinators (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 7), citing Thomas Vernon Wollaston’s observation that winged insects existed in smaller proportions than wingless on Madeira and the Canaries. CD had mentioned Wollaston’s observation to Hooker, and hypothesised that winged insects were more easily blown off islands (see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 March [1855]). CD had discussed Wollaston’s work on the proportion of wingless and winged beetles of Madeira in the manuscript of his ‘big book’ on species (Natural selection, pp. 291–3), and Origin, pp. 135–6. See also Correspondence vol. 5, letter from T. V. Wollaston, 2 March [1855] and nn. 10 and 11, and letter from J. D. Hooker, [before 17 March 1855], Correspondence vol. 14, letter from J. D. Hooker, [24 July 1866], and Wollaston 1854 and 1856.
In his article, Hooker pointed out that the flora of the Madeiran group was not dominated by species from the nearest continent, and compared the effect to that of finding unusual species isolated on single British islands or mountains (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 7).
See Correspondence vol. 14, letter from J. D. Hooker, 25 December 1866; in working on the second volume of his Handbook of the New Zealand flora (J. D. Hooker 1864–7), Hooker had found that only a small proportion of indigenous dicotyledons in New Zealand were annuals.
In his letter of 25 December 1866 (Correspondence vol. 14), Hooker commented: ‘I suppose there can be no doubt but that a deciduous leaved vegetation affords more conditions for vegetable life than an evergreen one’, and noted that more uniform climates tended to be characterised by more evergreen vegetation. CD refers to John Tyndall and his work on aqueous vapour and radiant heat (Tyndall 1864a and 1864b).
In his letter of 25 December 1866 (Correspondence vol. 14), Hooker wrote: ‘Orchids & Leguminosæ are scarce in Islets because the necessary fertilizing insects have not migrated with the plants. Perhaps you have published this’.
In 1858, CD learned that clover did not seed in New Zealand until hive-bees were introduced; he wondered whether the absence of small Leguminosae had been due to the absence of small bees, and suggested this to Hooker in his letter of 12 January [1858] (Correspondence vol. 7). For Hooker’s response, see ibid., letter from J. D. Hooker, 15 January 1858. CD sought more information from various correspondents in 1858 regarding the pollination of Leguminosae in New Zealand, and also continued conducting his own experiments on cross-fertilisation in the family (see DAR 157a); he published a letter on the subject in the Gardeners’ Chronicle in November (see Correspondence vol. 7, letter to the Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 13 November 1858] (Collected papers 2: 19–25)). The letter was also published as an article in Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 2 (1858): 459–65. See also Origin, pp. 94–5, and Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 and 28 [October 1865] and n. 14, and letter from George Henslow, 1 November 1865 and nn. 8 and 9.
CD refers to Variation (see letter to John Murray, 8 January [1867]). Variation was originally advertised under the title: ‘Domesticated Animals and Cultivated Plants, or the Principles of Variation, Inheritance, Reversion, Crossing, Interbreeding, and Selection under Domestication’ (Publishers’ Circular, 1865, p. 386).
After Fritz Müller wrote of finding a dimorphic Plumbago in


Autobiography: The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882. With original omissions restored. Edited with appendix and notes by Nora Barlow. London: Collins. 1958.

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

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.

Humboldt, Alexander von. 1814–29. Personal narrative of travels to the equinoctial regions of the New Continent, during the years 1799–1804. By Alexander de Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland. Translated into English by Helen Maria Williams. 7 vols. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown; J. Murray; H. Colburn.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

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.

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.

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


Criticisms and comments on JDH’s "Insular floras" in Gardeners’ Chronicle [(1867): 6].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 3–4
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5353,” accessed on 22 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15