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Darwin Correspondence Project

To ?   12 July [1872–4]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

July 12

Dear Sir

I am sorry to say that I have no strength or time to hunt for the Herminium, unless for some very definite scientific purpose.—2 I have failed to make the seeds of Orchids germinate. From what I have heard, it seems probable that all kinds germinate at first as parasites on some mosses, lichens, or algæ.3

Dear Sir | Yours faithfully | Ch. Darwin


The year range is established by the headed notepaper, which is of a sort that CD used between 1872 and 1874. The correspondent has not been identified.
CD discussed Herminium monorchis, the musk orchis, in Orchids, pp. 74–5, and later described its unique manner of fertilisation in ‘Fertilization of orchids’, pp. 145–6. CD had found plants of this species growing on ‘Orchis Bank’ (the Darwin family name for Downe Bank; LL 1: 116). This orchid is rare in Britain.
At this time, the process of seed germination in orchids was recognised as not being well understood, although seeds had been successfully germinated as early as 1832 and a horticultural method described in detail by David Moore in 1849 (Arditti 1984, pp. 370–1). For more on the history of research on the topic, see Arditti 1984.


Arditti, David. 1984. An history of orchid hybridization, seed germination and tissue culture. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 89: 359–81.

‘Fertilization of orchids’: Notes on the fertilization of orchids. By Charles Darwin. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 4 (1869): 141–59. [Collected papers 2: 138–56.]

LL: The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. Edited by Francis Darwin. 3 vols. London: John Murray. 1887–8.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.


Has not strength or time to hunt for Herminium monorchis; has failed to make orchid seeds germinate.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
National Library of Russia (Collection of P. Waxell (F. 965): no 637)
Physical description
ALS 1p

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8406F,” accessed on 21 February 2024,