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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   2 December 1868


Dec 2 1868.

My dear Hooker

It is a splendid scheme, & if you make only a beginning on a Flora, which shall serve as an index to all papers on curious points in the life-history of plants, you will do an inestimable good service.1 Quite recently I was asked by a man how he cd find out what was known on various biological points in our plants; & I answered that I knew of no such book, & that he might ask half a dozen botanists before one wd chance to remember what had been published on this or that point.2 Not long ago another man, who had been experimenting on the quasi-bulbs on the leaves of Cardamine wrote to me to complain that he cd not find out what was known on the subject.3

It is almost certain that some early or even advanced students, if they found in their Flora a line or two on various curious points, with references for further investigation, would be led to make further observations. For instance a reference to the viscid threads emitted by the seeds of compositæ,—to the apparatus (if it has been described) by which oxalis spurts out its seeds,—to the sensitiveness of the young leaves of oxalis acetosella with reference to O. sensitiva.4 Under Latherus nissolia it wd better to refer to my hypothetical explanation of the grass-like leaves than to nothing.5 Under a twining plant you might say that the upper part of the shoot steadily revolves with or against the sun, & so when it strikes against any object it twines to the right or left, as the case may be.6 If again references were given to the parasitism of Euphrasia &c how likely it wd be that some young man wd go on with the investigation;7 & so with endless other facts. I am quite enthusiastic about yr idea; it is a grand idea to make a Flora a guide for knowledge already acquired & to be acquired. I have amused myself by speculating what an enormous number of subjects ought to be introduced into a Utopian Flora,—on the quickness of the germination of the seeds, on their means of dispersal, on the fertilization of the flower, & on a score of other points, about almost all of which we are profoundly ignorant. I am glad to read what you say about Bentham, for my inner consciousness tells me that he has run too many forms together.8 Should you care to see an elaborate German pamphlet by Herman Müller on the gradation & distinction of the forms of Epipactis & of Platanthera?9 It may be absurd in me to suggest, but I think you wd find curious facts & references in Lecoq’s enormous book, in Vaucher’s 4 vols, in Hildebrand’s Geschlechter-Vertheilung & perhaps in Fournier de la Fecondation.10

I wish you all success in your gigantic undertaking; but what a pity you did not think of it 10 yrs ago, so as to have accumulated references on all sorts of subjects. Depend upon it you will have started a new era in the Floras of various countries. I can well believe that Mrs Hooker11 will be of the greatest possible use to you in lightening your labours & arranging your materials.

Yours affectionately | Chas. Darwin


In his letter of [28 November 1868], Hooker had informed CD that he was going to write a ‘British Flora’ adapted to students’ purposes and containing references to papers.
CD may refer to Thomas Henry Farrer, who met him in London in November (see letter from T. H. Farrer, 21 November 1868 and n. 1).
CD may refer to John Price, who had worked on Cardamine pratensis (cuckoo flower or lady’s smock). Price referred CD to articles he had written on the topic, but made no mention of experiments or of not being able to find out what was known on the subject (see letters from John Price, 5 March 1868 and n. 4, and 28 October 1868). For Price’s discussion of the ‘plumule and radicule’ shooting from the base of leaflets of C. pratensis, see Price 1863–4, pp. 348–9.
The family Compositae is now Asteraceae; Oxalis acetosella is wood sorrel; O. sensitiva is now Biophytum sensitivum.
CD had hypothesised that the legume Lathyrus nissolia (grass vetchling or pea), which has grass-like leaves and is the only Lathyrus without tendrils, had developed from an ancestor in which the tendrils were not highly developed, and was a reversion to a primordial ancestor without tendrils (Climbing plants, pp. 114–15).
For CD’s description of the revolving movement in twining plants, see Climbing plants, pp. 2–25.
Euphrasia officinalis (eyebright) is a hemiparisite that grows on the roots of many grass species (Mabberley 1997).
For Hooker’s assessment of George Bentham’s Handbook of the British flora (Bentham 1865), see the letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 November 1868].
CD refers to Hermann Müller’s paper on Westphalian orchids (H. Müller 1868).
CD refers to Henri Lecoq and Lecoq 1854–8, to Jean Pierre Etienne Vaucher and Vaucher 1841, to Friedrich Hildebrand and Hildebrand 1867a, and to Eugène Fournier and Fournier 1863.
Frances Harriet Hooker.


Bentham, George. 1865b. Handbook of the British flora; a description of the flowering plants and ferns indigenous to, or naturalized in, the British Isles. For the use of beginners and amateurs. 2 vols. London: Lovell Reeve & Co.

Climbing plants: On the movements and habits of climbing plants. By Charles Darwin. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green; Williams & Norgate. 1865.

Fournier, Eugène Pierre Nicolas. 1863. De la fécondation dans les phanérogames. Paris: F. Savy.

Lecoq, Henri. 1854–8. Études sur la géographie botanique de l’Europe et en particulier sur la végétation du plateau central de la France. 9 vols. Paris: J. B. Baillière.

Mabberley, David J. 1997. The plant-book. A portable dictionary of the vascular plants. 2d edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Müller, Hermann. 1868. Beobachtungen an westfälischen Orchideeen. Verhandlungen des naturhistorischen Vereines der preussischen Rheinlande und Westphalens (Botanik) 25: 1–62.

Price, John. 1863–4. Old Price’s remains; præhumous, or during life. 12 pts. London: Virtue, Brothers & Co.

Vaucher, Jean Pierre Etienne. 1841. Histoire physiologique des plantes d’Europe ou exposition des phénomènes qu’elles présentent dans les diverses périodes de leur développement. 4 vols. Paris: Marc Aurel Frères.


Enthusiastic about JDH’s plan for a British Flora – "a grand idea to make a Flora a guide for knowledge already acquired & to be acquired". Gives examples of subjects.

No work exists on various biological points in plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 102–4
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6487,” accessed on 16 January 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16