skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. W. Bennett to Nature   8 November 1869

Mr. Darwin has done me the honour of calling my attention to one or two points in my paper, published in your last number, “On the Fertilisation of Winter-flowering Plants.”1 He thinks there must be some error in my including Vinca major among the plants of which the pollen is discharged in the bud, as he “knows from experiment that some species of Vinca absolutely require insect aid for fertilisation.”2 On referring to my notes, I find them perfectly clear with respect to the time at which the pollen is discharged. My observation, however, so far agrees with Mr. Darwin’s, that I find no record of any fruit being produced in January; it was, in fact, the absence of capsules on the Vinca which induced me to qualify the sentence on this subject, and to say “in nearly all these cases, abundance of fully formed seed-bearing capsules were observed.”3 It is worthy of remark, that the Vinca is the only species in my list of apparently bud-fertilised plants not indigenous to this country.4 The second point relates to the white dead-nettle, with respect to which Mr. Darwin says, “I covered up Lamium album early in June, and the plants produced no seed, although surrounding plants produced plenty.”5 This again would agree with my conjecture that it is only the flowers produced in winter that are self-fertilised. I may, however, be permitted to suggest that the test of covering up a plant with a bell-glass is not conclusive on the point of cross-fertilisation, as it is quite probable that with plants that are ordinarily self-fertilised, the mere fact of a complete stoppage of a free circulation of air may prevent the impregnation taking place. Has the experiment ever been tried with grasses, which, according to the French observer, M. Bidard are necessarily self-fertilised?6

3, Park Village East, Nov. 8, 1869


CD’s letter commenting on Bennett 1869 has not been found.
For CD’s observations of Vinca fertilisation, see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 15 June 1861] and second letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, [before 14 September 1861]. Species in the genus Vinca are usually called periwinkles.
Vinca is indigenous to continental Europe, northern Africa, and central Asia (Mabberley 1997).
CD probably experimented with Lamium album (the white dead-nettle) in June 1869 (see letter from A. W. Bennett, 3 May 1869).
Bennett refers to Bidard’s article ‘On the structure of the flower of the Gramineæ, the function of the organs of which it is composed, and the phenomena which accompany the act of fecundation’ (Bidard 1869).


Bennett, Alfred William. 1869. On the fertilisation of winter-flowering plants. Nature 1: 11–13.

Bidard. 1869. On the structure of the flower of the Gramineæ, the functions of the organs of which it is composed, and the phenomena which accompany the act of fecundation. Annals and magazine of natural history 4th ser. 4: 134–5.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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


Discusses cross-fertilisation in Vinca.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred William Bennett
Sent from
3, Park Village East
Source of text
Nature 1 (1869): 58

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6978F,” accessed on 29 March 2023,

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