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Darwin Correspondence Project

From James Philip Mansel Weale   [25 May 1870]1


The Periglossum I was also uncertain about but think it may be “macrum’ as that species is spoken of as a Kaffrarian plant but I have no description.2

Our present house is so small that I have been unable to open any of my collections or I had intended sending you some larvæ of Dactylethra & the bee’s nest spoken of before.3

I am trying the introduction of English & other grass seeds on my farm & hope they will prove successful. It is most singular to see how some weeds take hold of the ground where manure is in plenty about old sheep kraals especially Xanthium spinosum, Datura stramonium, a solanum & numerous other plants. The French marygold I have never remarked before as a weed but here it grows abundantly & bears magnificent double flowers finer than I have seen in any garden.4

Revd. Mr. Henslow’s remarks on Medicago, Indigofera &c. & my own observations on Schizanthus, Muraltia &c   I have carefully watched various species of Polygala but have never noticed any movements.5

I have been much interested by observing a common species of Termes,6 the soldier of which has a pointed head. I have often remarked that a species of ant was always very active about their nests seizing the workers, but although much larger, retreated at once from the soldiers. As I had several times put my hand into a nest with the view of ascertaining whether the soldiers could hurt one I was the more surprised as I had never suffered any inconvenience although other species bite severely for their size, & the workers of this species have what look like formidable jaws although they never use them in defence: At last I found out the secret. I saw one

CD annotations

Margin: ‘J. P. Mansel Weale May 25— 1870 | Natal.— Instinct’ ink; ‘Soldier Termes’ pencil


The date is established by CD’s annotation.
Periglossum macrum is now Sisyranthus macer; Kaffraria was a region on the eastern coast of South Africa, between Natal and Cape Colony; it became part of Cape Colony in 1865 (Stewart 1996).
The genus Dactylethra is now Xenopus (clawed frogs). The reference to Weale’s previous mention of a bee’s nest has not been identified. However, Weale enclosed with this letter a manuscript paper about a bee’s nest that has not been found, and four other manuscript papers, with figures and specimens of the plants described, that are now in the archives of the Linnean Society (MSS SP1250, SP1251, SP1252, SP1253, Weale Misc, drawer 39). See letter to Richard Kippist, 28 July 1870, and letter to J. P. M. Weale, 30 July 1870. The four extant papers were published in the Journal of the Linnean Society (Weale 1870a, 1870b, 1870c, and 1870d). None of the figures were published, and Weale 1870c was substantially cut by CD.
Xanthium spinosum is the spiny cocklebur; Datura stramonium is the thorn apple or jimsonweed. Solanaceae is the potato family. The French marigold wass Tagetes patula (a synonym of T. erecta).
George Henslow’s observations on Medicago sativa (alfalfa) and Indigofera were published in the Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): 327–9 and 355–8 (G. Henslow 1865 and 1866). Weale discussed movement in the stamens of Muraltia in a letter of 7 July 1867 (Correspondence vol. 15); he described irritability of the stamens in Schizanthus in a letter of 23 October 1868 (Correspondence vol. 16).
Termes is a genus of the family Termitidae (higher termites).


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

Henslow, George. 1865. Note on the structure of Medicago sativa, as apparently affording facilities for the intercrossing of distinct flowers. [Read 16 November 1865.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Botany) 9 (1867): 327–9.

Stewart, John. 1996. The British empire. An encyclopedia of the Crown’s holdings, 1493 through 1995. Jefferson, N.C., and London: McFarland & Company.


Behaviour of ants.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Philip Mansel Weale
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 181: 43
Physical description
inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7201,” accessed on 23 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18