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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Charles Lyell   1 June 1872

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

June 1 1872

My dear Lyell

I am much obliged for Mr Wood’s1 interesting letter. There is plenty of evidence of most of our vars of fruit trees transmitting their characters to a large extent; but such close identity has not often been observed as in Mr Wood’s cases.2 Sometimes the diversity is surprizing as recorded with care by Decaisne.3

The most remarkable point in Mr Wood’s account is the sterility of his seedlings; but I must think, if they had been planted separately in good ground, they wd not have been so sterile after early youth. This is supported by the great fertility of seedling peach trees in N. & S. America & in Australia.4

I return Mr Wood’s letter with many thanks & remain | yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Brentwood, Essex.

May 19. 1872

Dear Sir Charles.

My father5 is obliged to you for the offer of a specimen of Unio littoralis from Grays and will be glad of it as an authentic example. He thinks that you should in your next edition of either “Elements” or “Principles” mention that you obtained the shell yourself at Grays as there does not seem to be any reliable personal statement extant of anyone having found the shell there and as it seems to be absent from the recent excavations in which the Cyrena in association with Unio pictoria occurs in myriads doubts would arise hereafter which such a statement by you may obviate6

It occurs to me that you may care to know my own experiments as to the state of things alluded to in your second Vol of the Principles bottom of page 306 & top of p 307—7 in 1859 (13 years ago) I planted a number of the pips of 3 varieties of apple. 1 was the Stone pippin 2 The Norfolk Biffin & 3 an eating apple which our gardener called a Cockle pippin   The offspring of 1 & 2 were robust plants. & I preserved some of them without grafting & they are now trees 12 to 15 feet high. Only one of these ungrafted progeny bore fruit and that was for one year only (about 1863 or 4). the rest never have borne fruit & I should judge by their appearance never will do so but so far as their leaves afford a criterion they are true apples of the same stock as their progenitors   they are however evidently barren, not producing even flowers save occasionally a blossom here & there which never comes to anything. The one tree which bore had only 3 apples on it & they were all 3 of them true stone pippins not distinguishable in any way from the parent apple. This tree never bore or blossomed again until this spring when it has now a few blossoms on it. Those individuals of the crop thus sprung from pips which I grafted or budded bore in 1863 & have done ever since. None of these ungrafted trees bear any greater resemblance to the wild crab than do the original fruit bearing trees from which they sprung & Dr. Hooker is quite right in saying that the wild crab is a different thing. But is not I think quite accurate in stating that the pips of apples produce “crabstates” of the varieties to which they belong.8 My experience & what I can learn from cottagers who have tried to raise trees from pips is that the apple produces true scions in its progeny but that most of these are barren or nearly so the rare exceptions which do occur of prolific individuals forming the new varieties from time to time introduced   The apple seems therefore to me to afford a striking example of the reason why some of our cultivated forms of the vegetable kingdom cannot become permanent wild species viz that they cannot reproduce themselves in sufficient force & number to compete in the battle of life. It is quite otherwise with the varieties of Brassica, for these are extremely fertile & so long as they are not allowed to intermingle produce a perpetual succession of the varietal form but as all the varieties freely intermingle with each other they when allowed to run wild become represented by the most reproductive variety among them & this is a sort of kale of which a few specimens (called rogues by gardeners) generally shew themselves in all sowings of every one of the cultivated varieties & are carefully eliminated by the gardener from the rest— The apple & the cabbage are thus it seems to me restrained from becoming wild species by precisely opposite agencies the one by feebleness of reproductive power & the other by the excessive reproductive power of one of its varieties— The wild crab is on the contrary extremely fertile—we have an old one here in a hedge that is covered every year with flowers & fruit—& the leaves are quite different from the apple progeny. The pips of no 3 produced very feeble plants & these died away in a year or two & their leaves were so entirely unlike apple or crab leaves that the late Dr Woodward9 who saw them in 1860 would not believe that they had sprung from apple pips   The leaves were trifid like those of the hawthorn & as apples and pears are sometimes grafted on the hawthorn, (I have some pears here which bear freely grafted by myself on simple hawthorns & others on a hawthorn hedge) I have wondered whether the Cockle pippin from which these feeble examples spring might not have been growing on a hawthorn stock & become so far affected by the hawthorn stock as to have shewn it in their pips progeny— I in the same year planted a number of peach & nectarine stones the progeny of which grew into good sized trees but were never healthy, always dying back in their branches— Our garden peaches are always budded on to plum stocks owing I suppose to this unhealthy constitution of the seedling peach. Some of them bore fruit sparingly but the fruit would never come to maturity invariably dropping off that of some of the trees at an early stage of growth & that of others at a more advanced but still immature stage. It is clear therefore that none of those could reproduce themselves as wild species for a similar reason to that which restrains the apple from becoming wild but I was told by a New Zealand colonist that the peach tree has sprung up along the river valleys of that island abundantly from stones thrown away (derived from garden peaches introduced) & that these wild peaches bear an abundance of fruit equal to the finest garden peaches of Europe.10 (I fancy that something similar occurs in America). It would then appear that the climatal conditions of a Pacific island remote from the parent Country of the wild almond from which the peach is supposed to have sprung are favorable enough to convert a garden fruit that cannot under the conditions of an European climate become wild into a true wild species.11

Many years ago I tried the seed of red geraniums of choice varieties & I found these produced for the most part barren progeny or at least geraniums with very few blossoms & those very poor.

I could also say much about what I consider to be the popular delusion of birds restraining the development of insect life having watched that problem many years but I have already I doubt exhausted your patience as well as my paper.

I am Dear Sir Charles | yours faithfully | Searles V. Wood Jn


In Variation 1: 350, CD suggested that seedlings raised from well-marked kinds of apple resembled ‘to a certain extent’ their parents.
CD discussed the considerable variability of cultivated fruit trees in Variation 1: 334–51, citing Joseph Decaisne for his work on variation in pears (see Variation 1: 350 and Decaisne 1863).
CD discussed the fertility of peach trees raised from seed in North America and elsewhere in Variation 1: 399.
In the most recent edition of his Elements of geology, in a discussion of the conflicting evidence for the post-Pliocene climate of Europe, Lyell had referred to the discovery at Grays, Essex, of remains of the freshwater molluscs Unio littoralis and Cyrena fluminalis (a synonym of Corbicula fluminalis, the Asian clam), neither of which were still to be found in northern Europe (C. Lyell 1871, p. 161). Lyell had also discussed these finds in Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863, pp. 157–60). Wood also refers to Lyell’s Principles of geology, the most recent edition of which was the tenth (C. Lyell 1867–8).
Wood refers to the eleventh edition of Lyell’s Principles of geology, in which Lyell, following Joseph Dalton Hooker, argued that cultivated varieties of plants left to grow in uncultivated soil, rather than reverting to a single parent form, would produce offspring still recognisable as different varieties; Hooker described cultivated apples that produced ‘crab states’ of the varieties when left to run wild, rather than producing true crab-apples (Hooker 1859, p. ix; C. Lyell 1872, 2: 306–7).
See n. 7, above.
Searles Valentine Wood (1798–1880) had given CD information about the fertility of peach trees grown from seed in New Zealand (Correspondence vol. 14, letter from S. V. Wood, 16 July 1866).
CD had discussed the evidence for peach trees’ descent from the almond in Variation 1: 339.


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

Decaisne, Joseph. 1863. De la variabilité dans l’espèce du poirier; résultat d’expériences faites au Muséum d’histoire naturelle de 1853 à 1862 inclusivement. Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences 57: 6–17. [Reprinted in Annales des sciences naturelles (botanique) 4th ser. 20: 188–200.]

Lyell, Charles. 1867–8. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 10th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Lyell, Charles. 1871. The student’s elements of geology. London: J. Murray.

Lyell, Charles. 1872. Principles of geology or the modern changes of the earth and its inhabitants considered as illustrative of geology. 11th edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Thanks him for interesting letter from a Mr Wood on heredity in fruit-trees.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Charles Lyell, 1st baronet
Sent from
Source of text
American Philosophical Society (Mss.B.D25.418); The University of Edinburgh Centre for Research Collections (Gen.117/6267-8)
Physical description
LS 6pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8366,” accessed on 23 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20