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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Lydia Ernestine Becker   6 February 1867

Manchester Ladies’ Literary Society. | 10 Grove st | Ardwick

Feb. 6. 1867.

My dear Sir

I return you—with more thanks than I know how to express, the two papers which you were so good as to entrust to my care.1 Will you have the kindness to cause me to be informed of their arrival—having once lost a book-post packet I shall feel a little anxious till I hear they are again in your hands—and this induces me to give you the little extra trouble involved in registering the packet—for which I must apologise.

I have transcribed portions of them, and made large copies of the diagrams— I hope this was not wrong—without your permission, but I thought, as they were printed—I might do so without impropriety.

The arrangements in Lythrum are indeed most marvellous. It sets one wondering whether different sized stamens in the same flower can ever be quite without meaning, and if there is any difference in the action of the pollen of the long and short stamens in didynamous and tetradynamous flowers.2 In the N. O. Geraniaceae 3 it seems as if there might be some transition going on—for in Geranium each alternate stamen is smaller, and in the allied genus Erodium the alternate stamens have become sterile. Can it be possible that this genus was once dimorphic, and one of the female forms having by any means become exterminated, the corresponding set of stamens have shed away? If one of the forms of Lythrum were to disappear—two sets of stamens would be made useless to the species, and it is conceivable that they might then gradually become abortive.4

I obeyed your directions about the paper on Climbing Plants and the insight into their extraordinary and regular movements was a new revelation to all of us.5 I made large copies of the diagrams and dived into my herbarium for specimens of each class of climbers, bringing up enough to make a goodly show. Luckily a collection of ferns from the islands of the South Pacific recently presented to me contained a specimen of one named in your paper Lygodium scandens. Till I read it I had never dreamed of twiners in this class, as none of our British ferns have the habit,6 but as the “march of intellect” seems to be the order of the day, even in the vegetable world, there is no telling what they may accomplish in time!

Our society appears likely to prosper beyond my expectations   the countenance you have afforded has been of wonderful service, and I do hope that by becoming useful to its members it may prove in some degree worthy of the generous encouragement you have given us.

The ladies who had the privilege of listening to the paper desire to express their thanks to you for it, which I hope you will be pleased to accept.

Believe me to be | yours gratefully | Lydia E. Becker.


Becker refers to ‘Climbing plants’ and ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria. Becker had asked CD for a published paper of his that would be suitable for reading at the first meeting of the Manchester Ladies’ Literary Society (see Correspondence vol. 14, letter from L. E. Becker, 22 December 1866).
Didynamous plants have two long stamens and two short, while tetradynamous plants have four long stamens in two pairs and two short; both terms, which CD did not use, signified classes in the Linnaean classification system. Lythrum has three forms, one with six long and six short stamens, one with six long and six mid-length stamens, and one with six short and six mid-length stamens (see ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria). CD and Becker had earlier corresponded on the possible dimorphism in Lychnis diurna (see Correspondence vol. 11).
The ‘natural order’ Geraniaceae (Lindley 1853, p. 484).
CD discussed whether or not dimorphism and trimorphism were related to a gradual separation of the sexes, that is, to dioeciousness, in ‘Three forms of Lythrum salicaria, pp. 194–6 (Collected papers 2: 126–8).
CD’s letter to Becker with the directions has not been found (see n. 1, above). Becker presented ‘Climbing plants’ to the inaugural meeting on 30 January 1867 of the Manchester Ladies’ Literary Society, of which she was president (Blackburn 1902, p. 31); for the portion of her address preceding her presentation of the paper, see ibid., pp. 31–9. For more on Becker, see Shteir 1996, pp. 226–31.
CD mentioned Lygodium scandens in ‘Climbing plants’, pp. 14, 22–3. For his acquisition of this twining fern, see Correspondence vols. 11 and 12.


Blackburn, Helen. 1902. Women’s suffrage: a record of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the British Isles with biographical sketches of Miss Becker. London: Williams & Norgate.

‘Climbing plants’: On the movements and habits of climbing plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 2 February 1865.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): 1–118.

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–.

Lindley, John. 1853. The vegetable kingdom; or, the structure, classification, and uses of plants, illustrated upon the natural system. 3d edition with corrections and additional genera. London: Bradbury & Evans.

Shteir, Ann B. 1996. Cultivating women, cultivating science. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

‘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.]


Thanks CD for Lythrum paper [Collected papers 2: 106–31] and "Climbing plants" sent to Manchester Ladies’ Literary Society. Comments on Lythrum.

Letter details

Letter no.
Lydia Ernestine Becker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 115
Physical description
ALS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5391,” accessed on 20 March 2023,

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