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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. J. Weir   31 July 1872

6 Haddo Villas | Blackheath SE

31 July 1872

My Dear Sir

I have met with a singular case which illustrates our perfect ignorance of the cause of variegation in the leaves of plants.—

A friend of mine at Eltham Mr. Dobell who lives in the house formerly inhabited by Sherard and Dillenius, has a large Acer pseudoplatanus with variegated leaves, this is an old tree perhaps even, planted by Sherard himself.—1

It seeds every year and an abundance of young trees are produced, but up to 1869 I cannot find that a single variegated leaved one has been found.—

The seed of 1868 however produced in 1869 16 specimens most beautifully variegated, but not one has been found since.—

Did the unusual heat of 1868 produce this effect?2

My friend has lived in the house some 20 years & therefore the observation is trustworthy, & I have personally taken the greatest interest in examing the spot from time to time

Yours very truly | J Jenner Weir

C Darwin Esqr


Henry William Dobell lived on the High Street, Eltham, Kent (Post Office directory of the six home counties 1870). James Sherard lived in Eltham from 1720; the garden he created there became renowned for its valuable and rare plants and its hothouses. Johann Jakob Dillenius, who had moved to England under the patronage of Sherard and who lived with him at Eltham, published an illustrated catalogue of the plants in Sherard’s garden (Dillenius 1732), in which he described several new genera (ODNB). The work does not mention Acer pseudoplatanus, the sycamore, which had been introduced into Britain from central Europe.


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

Dillenius, Johann Jakob. 1732. Hortus Elthamensis seu plantarum rariorum quas in horto suo Elthami in Cantio coluit vir ornatissimus et praestantissimus Jacobus Sherard. 2 vols. London: the author.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Post Office directory of the six home counties: Post Office directory of the six home counties, viz., Essex, Herts, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. London: W. Kelly & Co. 1845–78.


On variegated leaves; a feature not inherited consistently.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Jenner Weir
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 181: 84
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8440,” accessed on 19 May 2024,

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