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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Traherne Moggridge   6 March [1867]1

March. 6

St. Roch | Mentone

Dear Mr. Darwin

though I have lost several of my Ophrys plants which were marked & drawn last year, I have already watched five of them through all their stages: thus far the inference is that colour, markings & shape of lip, & pubescence—, which form the principal characters of difference, vary but little from year to year—2

One plant brought up a monstrous flower in which the petals & sepals were strangely combined; but even here the colour & markings remained almost unchanged.—

In number 19. there was a curious inversion of the position of last year’s markings.

Last year all the six lower flowers of the spike from this root, had a marking as at fig. 1. 〈    〉 at fig. 2.;


〈    〉 ones of Fig. 1.3

I am working now at the varieties of Viola odorata which are very numerous, & appear to be in several stages of advancement & fixity.4

I have also commenced a set of observations on Thymus vulgaris & I find that it differs from our Thymus serpyllum in presenting on separate plants several forms, in which the stamens are found in different stages of suppression.5

Thus the perfect hermaphrodite form is as represented at Fig. 1.; the next stage which I have as yet observed is as at Fig. 2 where the anthers though useless are still prominent & of a special texture; the third degree is that in which the plant has the anther-cells reduced to two minute, transparent lobes terminating the filament & similar to it in texture, as at Fig. 3.—6 — The style always remains perfect 〈    〉

I find that Rhamnus Alaternus is functionally diœcious though the organs are always complete in number, & not very markedly reduced in form.—7

The other day I heard a curious bit of information from the late Lord Brownlow’s gardner8 to the effect that when gardners wish to obtain seedling dwarf geraniums they always take the necessary pollen from the pair of shorter stamens of a Geranium (Pelargonium) flower; the offspring of this union being smaller than those bred from the longer stamens.—9

If there is no error here the statement may be suggestive.—

We fully purpose to return to Mentone next autumn & intend to leave our present quarters on our homeward route early in May next.—10

You know how gladly either commissions or hints for work will be recieved by yrs. very sincerely | J. Traherne Moggridge—.


Thymus vulgaris flowers cut open & greatly magnified11

CD annotations

1.1 though … fixity. 5.2] crossed blue crayon
9.1 The other … recieved by 12.1] crossed blue crayon
Diag.: labels crossed ink

Diag. 3:

[diagonal cross with dots between the arms here] added pencil

Above diag.: ‘N. B. To be reduced to one half of present scale.’ ink ‘Fig. 14’ blue crayon 12
Below diag.: ‘Sketch by Mr T. Moggridge’ ink

CD note:

‘March 19th 1867 Have seen one specimen of the Thyme, as in drawing— in Hermaphrodite flowers the pistil is evidently much shorter. He has sent me heads of a whole large plant, in which all the flowers were female with long protruding pistil, with anthers of proper shape [altered from ‘size’] & well-sized, but containing very little pollen & this pollen all bad & grains of very unequal size— What a gradation.’13 ink; ‘in which … well-sized,’ scored red crayon


The year is established by the date of CD’s note (see n. 12, below).
In his letter of 13 October [1865] (Correspondence vol. 13), CD had suggested that Moggridge mark his late spider orchids (Ophrys arachnites) so that he could compare the flowers produced in different seasons and check for variation.
CD excised a portion of the letter, but the fragment has not been found.
CD was interested in the small unopened (cleistogamic) flowers of Viola. His notes on V. odorata are in DAR 111. He discussed the species in Forms of flowers, pp. 317–18, 336.
Both Thymus vulgaris and T. serpyllum were examples of plants that CD later referred to as ‘gyno-diœcious’ because they possessed hermaphrodite and female, but no male flowers (see Forms of flowers, pp. 299–303).
The figure numbers refer to the enclosed sketches. CD included Moggridge’s diagrams in his discussion of Thymus vulgaris in Forms of flowers, p. 302.
CD discussed some Rhamnus species, but not R. alaternus, in Forms of flowers, pp. 293–7, 307–08. His notes on the genus are in DAR 109: A41–3, 50, and DAR 111. CD’s son William Erasmus Darwin had made several observations on R. cathartica for CD in the summer of 1866 (see Correspondence vol. 14).
John William Spencer Brownlow Egerton Cust, the second Earl Brownlow, had died in Mentone on 20 February 1867 (Burke’s peerage 1868). His gardener has not been identified.
In 1863, CD had questioned a similar statement made by Donald Beaton in the Journal of Horticulture about the production of dwarf plants in Pelargonium (see Correspondence vol. 11, letter to Isaac Anderson-Henry, 20 January [1863] and n. 10, and letter from Isaac Anderson-Henry, 26–7 January 1863).
Owing to chronic ill health, Moggridge spent most winters at Mentone (now Menton), a town on the French Riviera near the Italian border (R. Desmond 1994).
The sketches are reproduced at approximately 70 per cent of their original size.
These are CD’s instructions to the printer. In the printed version of Forms of flowers, p. 302, the diagrams appear as figure 15.
CD evidently added this note after receiving Moggridge’s letter of 15 March [1867], which contained the plant specimens. For CD’s earlier work on Thymus, see Correspondence vol. 12, letter to W. E. Darwin, 14 May [1864] and n. 8.


Burke’s peerage: A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom. Burke’s peerage and baronetage. 1st– edition. London: Henry Colburn [and others]. 1826–.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.


Observations on Ophrys plants and Thymus vulgaris. Encloses sketch of different forms of T. vulgaris [see Forms of flowers, p. 302].

Letter details

Letter no.
John Traherne Moggridge
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 109: A90–1, DAR 111: B47
Physical description
3pp inc ††, sketch †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5433,” accessed on 19 February 2020,

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