skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Francis Elliott Kitchener   9 November 1867

Rugby School, | Rugby.

Nov. 9th. 1867.


I hope I may, without impertinence, send you a flower of Aquilegia alpina, from Switzerland from a height of, about 7000, or 8000 ft—

You will notice that each spur is eaten away as if the insects prefered a short cut to the nectary. I found the same had happened in all the full-blown flowers which I gathered— As I gathered the specimens in clouds, I saw no insects about—so that I am unable to say who were the robbers.

The probability, I am afraid, is that they were not Lepidoptera, or the case might have affected the subject treated in p. 51 of your “Orchids”:1 I merely send the fact as possibly of use of you. Please do not trouble yourself to answer this in any way.

Yr obedient Servant | F. E. Kitchener.

Has any one yet investigated the fertilization of the Stapelia, to see, whether the putrid smell may be regarded as a mimetic resemblance to carrion, which benefits the plant by attracting flies, under false pretences of its being a suitable place to lay their eggs?2


In Orchids, pp. 49–52, CD conjectured that moths (Lepidoptera) sucked fluid from between the inner and outer membranes of the nectaries of Orchis pyramidalis (now Anacamptis pyramidalis), though he admitted that no case was recorded of moths penetrating a membrane with their probosces.
The pollination of Stapelia by flies attracted by the odour of the flowers was considered by Henri Lecoq (Lecoq 1862, pp. 270–1). There is an annotated copy of Lecoq 1862 in the Darwin Library–CUL.


Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.


Sends Swiss Aquilegia flowers in which insects have eaten away the spurs.

Suggests fetid smell of Stapelia attracts carrion flies.

Letter details

Letter no.
Francis Elliott Kitchener
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Rugby School
Source of text
DAR 169: 39
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5674,” accessed on 17 May 2022,

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