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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. C. Tait   10 May 1869


May 10th 1869.

Charles Darwin Esqr.

Dear Sir,

I was sorry to see from your letter of the 18th. ultmo. that you had met with an accident and hope that ere this you have quite recovered from its effects.1

I have received the “Fertilization of Orchids” and pamphlet on climbing plants and am very much obliged indeed to you for them.2 I have looked into them here and there and find them very interesting   I hope soon to read them attentively   such subjects as these make me feel inclined to study botany— Curiously I yesterday afternoon when out for a walk found an orchis (of what species I do not know) which practically illustrated the mode of adhesion of the pollinia— How curious that a vegetable should be dependant on an animal— I suspect that many other instances will be discovered—

With respect to sheep I have written to a Portuguese agricultural periodical without as yet having received any answer regarding the rate of development of their horns.3

I have examined a few sheep on the Candal side of the river Douro4 and found the rams horned and some of the ewes had very small and shrivelled horns of about an inch or two in length—

Another shewed only two white spots where the horns usually spring from and some did not seem to shew signs of horns—

I shall not relinquish the subject until I get the opinion of experienced people—

I suppose you are trying to prove the elimination under domestication of the horns in the ewes of the merino breed— I think the effect of the pasturage should always be kept in view— We see the effect of soil on the vine for Port Wine cannot be produced at Oporto even with the proper vine but only (as yet) in a certain district in the neighbourhood of Regoa and Lamego—5

Tail-less Dogs— My pointer bitch only brought forth 6 pup 3 of them have stumps of tails like the father and mother two have 34 of a tail and another an apparently entire tail— 5 were dogs and one with 34 of tail was the only bitch. Here we have a new breed of dog! I do not know how I am to prove that it proceeds from mutilation with inheritance but the length of the stump seems to make it somewhat probable—6

I have examined minutely with glasses of different powers the Drosophyllum Lusitanicum but cannot see any motion—7

The purple disc on the top of the pedicle seems to become darker after an insect has clung to it for some time and they also appear drier   the liquid forms into white crystals. Three of the flowers have not come to maturity and one of the two remaining plants seems to be drying but we have really had such shockingly bad weather that all plants seem to have suffered—

The glands on the flowers differ somewhat from those on the leaves looking more like vegetable hairs—

It would be interesting to know whether the plants cross through insect agency   I should think it scarcely possible and a curious paradox. Also whether the plant can exist without insect food or be proved to be another plant dependant on animal life.

I beg to enclose Brotero’s description of the plant which may prove useful to you.8 There is a kind of beetle which swarms on flowers and may carry pollen about whilst feeding on some other part of the flower—

I am dear Sir | Yours very truly | William C. Tait.


Description of Drosophyllum Lusitanicum from Brotero’s Flora Lusitanica page 215.

“4 Spergula droseroides.

S Radice caulescenti: caulibus superne ramosis; foliis subulatis, carinatis, apice spiraliter tortis, pilsis, pilis rorido-glandulosis: seminibus pedicellatis

Lusit Herva Pinheira orvalhada

Drosera Lusitanica Linn.

Chamaeleontioides. Grisl Vir Lusit10 N 1351.

(Grisleyus in Virid Lusit nonnumquam eandem unicam plantam sub duplice nomine indicavit sic Apium hortense, Seleri dictum N 122 Seleri, sive Apium palustre sativum N 1309.

Quibus ambobus denotare voluit, Apium graveolens Linn var

symbol )

Hab. in Sabulosis aridis trans Tagum circa Seixal et Arrentella, circa Torres Vedras, Montejunto, Chaõ de Maçãas, Redinha, et alibi in collibus siccis ex Olisipone usque Aveiro ad quinque leucas ab Oceani littoribus   Fl æstate Perenn et quasi suffrutex.

Radix perennis, ramosa, superne crassitudine pennæ anserinæ, sensim quotannis extus terram sese erigens, seu duas ad quatuor uncias caulescens, foliis emortuis superne cincta: ibi nova folia, quasi ut in Palmis, progerminant, cum ad terram nulla, nisi á seminibus germinatione anno primo. Caulis in ætate plantæ tenera unicus, postea duo tres quatuorve ex apice radicis caulescentis, semipedales aut paulo altiores, teretes, paucifolia, erecti, superne ramosi, ramis alternis, erectis, unifloris, inferioribus sæpe altioribus, omnibus, uti caulio, pilosis, pilis apice capitato-glandulosis succumque glutinosum exsudantibus. Folia radicalia, et quæ in apice radicis caulescentis, in orbem congesta, erectiuscula, caule paulo breviora, subulata, carinata, super planiuscula apice spiraliter retorta, ad oras præsertim piloso glandulosa: caulina similia, alternum sursum versus caulis apicem sensim breviora. Flores quatuor ad septem, caulem et ramos terminantes. Calyx pentaphyllus, foliolis ovato-lanceolatis, acuminatis, intus glabris, extus ad oras piloso-glandulosis, corolla brevioribus.

Corolla petula lutea obovata.

Stamina constanter decem. Pistilla quinque   Capsula calyce fere duplo longior, glabra, glabra, unilocularis, quinquevalvis, valvis ovato-lanceolatis. Semina conica unam lineam longa, nigricantia, basi lata subconcava, ibique in media umbilicata, decem ad duodecem, nonnulla abortientia, omnia in fundo capsulæ, singulaque pedicello parvo imposita. Integumenta duo, membranacea.

Albumen semini conforme, sordide albidum, cartilagineum, apice ubi embryo, excavatum, Embryo inversus, minutus, albus, conicus, in apice angusto et excavato albuminis sedens— Cotyledones obovatæ, crassæ, hinc ad plumulum subconcavæ, inde convexæ. Plumula conica, alba, apice bifida, cotyledonibus dimidio brevior: radicula brevissima, acutiuscula.

Planta, carpologice considerata, sui generis; fructus enim nec Droseræ nec Spergulæ: loco tamen habitationibus sabuloso et arido, caule ramoso et foliato, numeroque staminum perpenso, potiori jure Spergulis, quam Droseris eam associandam esse, maxime in tyronum commoditatem, crediti. Succus glandularum papyrum colore saturate purpureo tingit.’

Portuguese names— Pinheiro moncoso

Caça [moscas]

Herva dos [Impigemo]

Herva Pinheira Orvalhada


The Douro (Spanish ‘Duero’) river flows from north central Spain into Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean at Oporto. Candal is a suburb of Oporto on the left bank of the Douro.
Regoa (now Peso da Régua) and Lamego are towns on the Douro river in the centre of the port wine grape growing region of Portugal.
See letters from W. C. Tait, 26 January 1869 and 19 February 1869, and letter to W. C. Tait, 24 February 1869.
Tait had sent CD specimens of Drosophyllum lusitanicum (see letter from W. C. Tait, 5 March 1869).
Tait refers to Félix de Avellar Brotero and Brotero 1804, 2: 215–17. Aside from minor errors, Tait’s transcription of Brotero’s diagnosis is correct.
For a translation of the Latin part of the enclosure, see Correspondence vol. 17, Appendix I.


Brotero, Félix de Avellar. 1804. Flora lusitanica: seu plantarum, quae in Lusitania vel sponte crescunt, vel frequentius coluntur, ex florum praesertim sexubus systematice distributarum, synopsis. 2 vols. Olissipone: ex typographia regia.

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

Grisley, Gabriel. [1661]. Viridarium Lusitanum: in quo arborum fruticum & herbarum differentiæ onomasti insertæ, quas Ager Vlyssiponensis vltrà citràque Tagum ad trigesimum usque lapidem profert. Lisbon: Antonius Craesbeeck.


Development of the horns of local sheep.

Results of breeding tailless pointers: of six puppies, three had stumps like parents.

Observations on Drosophyllum.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Chester Tait
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 58.1: 19–20, DAR 178: 47
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6742,” accessed on 30 March 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17