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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   15 January [1867]


Jan 15

My dear Hooker

Thanks for your jolly letter.1 We are both heartily rejoiced, & this not in a parenthesis, that Mrs Hooker is safe through her affair.2 I have read your second article, & like it even more than the first, & more than this I cannot say.3 By mere chance I stumbled yesterday on a passage in Humboldt that a violet grows on Peak of Teneriffe in common with the Pyrenees.4 If Humboldt is right that the Canary I’s which lie nearest to the continent have a much stronger African character than the others ought you not just to allude to this?5 I do not know whether you admit, & if so allude to, the view which seems to me probable that most of the genera confined to the Atlantic I.s, I do not say the species, originally existed on, & were derived from, Europe, having become extinct on this continent. I shd thus account for the community of peculiar genera in the several Atlantic I’s.6 About the Salvages is capital; I am glad you speak of linking, though this sounds a little too close, instead of being continuous.7 All about St Helena is grand. You have no faith, but if I knew any one who lived in St Helena, I wd supplicate him to send me home a cask or two of earth from a few inches beneath the surface from the upper parts of the I., & from any little dried up pond, & thus as sure as I am a wriggler I shd revive a multitude of lost plants.8

I did suggest to you to work out proportion of plants with irregular flowers on islands; I did this after giving a very short discussion on irregular flowers in my Lythrum paper. But what on earth has a mere suggestion like this to do with meum & tuum?9

You have comforted me much about the bigness of my book, which yet turns me sick when I think of it.10

yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin | (Signed, whilst my wife writes)

Dear Dr Hooker

We shall be anxious to hear of Mrs Hooker going on comfortably.11 In my experience I used to be very flourishing for a few days & then not quite so well. Give her my kind love & congrats.

yours very sincerely | E. D


CD refers to Frances Harriet Hooker and the birth of her son, Reginald Hawthorn Hooker; Hooker announced the event in a parenthetical statement in his letter of [12 January 1867].
The second of the four parts of Hooker’s article on insular floras (J. D. Hooker 1866a) appeared in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 12 January 1867, p. 27. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 January [1867], n. 1.
Alexander von Humboldt wrote that he had seen Viola cheiranthifolia, which resembled V. decumbens, growing on the Peak of Tenerife (Humboldt 1814–29, 1: 183 and 273); the violet, commonly known as the Teide violet, is found only in Tenerife at altitudes up to 3500 m. CD evidently thought that the V. decumbens that Humboldt referred to was a Pyrenean species. For CD’s earlier reference to alpine plants on Tenerife, see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 9 January [1867].
Humboldt remarked that Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the two Canary islands lying closest to Africa, resembled Africa in climate and vegetation more than the other islands did (Humboldt 1814–29, 1: 123, 274). In his paper, Hooker wrote that though the Canary Islands were closer to Africa than Madeira was, the flora of the Canary Islands was not African, and contained ‘comparatively very few of the plants of that continent’; he also wrote that the least numerous group of plants on the Canaries was ‘a sprinkling of African plants’ belonging to a division he called Arabo-Saharan (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 27).
See Origin, pp. 397–9, 403–6. See also Correspondence vol. 14, letters to J. D. Hooker, 30 July [1866] and 3 and 4 August [1866]. In the margin of his copy of J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 27 (Cory Library, Cambridge Botanic Garden), CD wrote, ‘I suppose you look at whole Atlantic [’Flora‘ del] genera as having been common to Europe’, and ‘& most on is’d from continents’.
Hooker wrote that the Salvages, a group of rocky Atlantic islets, supported an Atlantic flora intermediate between that of Madeira and the Canaries, and surmised that, before subsiding, the islands had occupied an important botanical and geographical position in the Atlantic Ocean, ‘more or less closely linking the Canaries with Madeira’ (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 27). See Origin, p. 410.
Hooker described the destruction of the indigenous flora on St Helena, first by the introduction of goats and then by the introduction of exotic plants (J. D. Hooker 1866a, p. 27). He attempted to reconstruct the original flora by collating two herbarium collections, and cautiously surmised that it had primarily African affinities, with some Indian and American plants, and was therefore unique and interesting. Hooker noted that probably 100 plants had disappeared (ibid.): Every one of these was a link in the chain of created beings, which contained within itself evidence of the affinities of other species, both living and extinct, but which evidence is now irrecoverably lost. If such be the fate of organisms that lived in our day, what folly it must be to found theories on the assumed perfection of a geological record which has witnessed revolutions in the vegetation of the globe, to which that of the Flora of St Helena is as nothing. CD alludes to his conviction of the long-term viability of seeds; for Hooker’s initial scepticism and guarded change of mind, see Correspondence vol. 5, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 13 November [1855], and letters to J. D. Hooker, 14 November [1855], [23 November 1855], and 9 [December 1855] and nn. 1 and 3. For CD’s belief in the viability of seeds in pond mud and seawater, see Origin, pp. 386–8, 358–60.
See letter from J. D. Hooker, [12 January 1867]. In his letter to Hooker of 7 January [1865] (Correspondence vol. 13), CD suggested that Hooker compare the number of plants with irregular flowers in New Zealand with the number in England. CD briefly mentioned his view of the relationship between insect pollination and the structure of irregular flowers in ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria, pp. 175–6 (Collected papers 2: 111–12).
Emma Darwin wrote the postscript, inquiring after Frances Harriet Hooker (see n. 2, above).


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

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.

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.

‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria’: On the sexual relations of the three forms of Lythrum salicaria. By Charles Darwin. [Read 16 June 1864.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 8 (1865): 169–96. [Collected papers 2: 106–31.]

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


More comments on "Insular floras": community of peculiar genera in the Atlantic islands descended from European plants now extinct.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 5–6
Physical description
4pp (PS by Emma Darwin)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5361,” accessed on 25 January 2022,

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