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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Robert Trail   5 April 1867

Aberlady Lodge | Drem

5th April 1867


I received yours of the 1st Instant last night and in reply beg to say that in listening to the very interesting and instructive paper by Mr Anderson Henry on the subject of Hybridization of Plants it brought to my recollection the experiment which I had made on the Potato a great many years before.1 I am afraid however that all I have to say on the subject will be very meagre and of very little use in a scientific point of view.—

The experiment was made with two sorts which are now supposed to have perished with the Potato disease.— They were at the period extensively cultivated in Forfarshire where I then was and were called the old Blue and the large American the latter a very coarse potato   The sets were cut with a very sharp knife and only one eye was left which was divided as near as possible through the middle and carefully joined to the eye of the other and kept in its place by a piece of bass.— There might be about Sixty sets so treated.— The results were very various. Some produced Potatoes all white, some all blue; Some with part all white and part all blue and a few probably four or five had the produce regularly mottled.—2 The only difference that I observed from the rest of the crop was that the Potatoes were much smaller in size though not less numerous

The two sorts experimented on, regularly produced the one white and the other blue flowers. Not having then any idea that the subject was of any interest I did not pay any attention to the colours of the flowers where the varieties seem to have united and in consequence of removal from the house and garden the experiments were not repeated as I had no opportunity at that time of continuing them and I had totally lost sight of the subject till I heard Mr Henrys valuable Paper

The foliage of the blue Potato was of a much darker green than the other.— If there are any further particulars which you would wish to know it will give me great pleasure to supply them.— I am scarcely a Botanist but have often amused myself producing new varieties of florists flowers by crossing

I am | Sir | Yours Faithfully | Robert Trail


CD’s letter to Trail of 1 April 1867 has not been found. Isaac Anderson-Henry had read a paper on hybridisation before the Botanical Society of Edinburgh on 14 March (Anderson-Henry 1867a). CD had read of Trail’s remarks in a report in the Farmer (see letter from Isaac Anderson-Henry, 3 April 1867, n. 2).
CD reported Trail’s remarks in Variation 1: 395–6, commenting that the potatoes that turned out part white and part blue, or mottled, afforded ‘clear evidence of the intimate commingling of the two varieties’. This was an example of one of the types of reproductive phenomena that he hoped his provisional hypothesis of pangenesis would account for (Variation 2: 357–404).


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


Reports on an experiment in crossing potato varieties.

Letter details

Letter no.
Robert Trail
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 178: 175
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5490,” accessed on 22 September 2021,

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