skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hubert Airy   3 January 1873

27. Dacre Park. Lee. S.E.

1873. Jan. 3.

My dear Sir

My paper “On Leaf-arrangement” is in the hands of the copyist, and I hope shortly to be able to offer it to the Royal Society. I have asked my Father to “communicate” it, but he is doubtful if the President can do so— If his doubt continues, I hope you will let me make the same request of you, for no other Fellow of the Society knows the tenor of the paper—1

Will you kindly give me permission to use the following words in a note in the course of my paper—? Speaking of the arrangement assumed by a lot of marbles or bullets pushed up the throat of an inverted glass flask, I say “This illustration gains interest from a MS. note of Charles Darwin (dated June 11, 1863.) which the author kindly permits me to use:— Speaking of variation in the leaf-order of Euphorbia amygdaloides, he says ‘Now I can no more believe there is special law than for marbles shaking together, standing in intervals on others so as to pack closest!’.”2

Pray forgive me for presuming to write the words without first asking leave—, but I should be loth to lose them now.

I intend to have some big models and diagrams to illustrate the paper, and shall have great satisfaction when I can send you a copy of this treatise which you have helped through the bud-stage (in which the ideas assume their characteristic order).3

Allow me to offer the New Years compliments to yourself & Mrs. Darwin and your family, and believe me, with great respect | Yours very sincerely | Hubert Airy

Charles Darwin Esqre. M.A. | F.R.S. | Down, Kent.


Airy refers to his paper ‘On leaf-arrangement’ (Airy 1873); it was communicated to the Royal Society of London by CD and read on 27 February 1873. Airy’s father was George Biddell Airy, the president of the Royal Society (ODNB). CD and Airy had corresponded about leaf arrangement (phyllotaxy) in 1872 (see Correspondence vol. 20).
Only an abstract of Airy’s paper was published (Airy 1873); it does not include the suggested text. The manuscript note has not been found. For CD’s work on phyllotaxy in 1863, see Correspondence vol. 11. Euphorbia amygdaloides is wood spurge.
Airy alludes to his theory of phyllotaxy (see Correspondence vol. 20 and Airy 1873), according to which leaf arrangement was a consequence of efficient packing in the bud.


Airy, Hubert. 1873. On leaf-arrangement. Abstract. Communicated by Charles Darwin. [Read 27 February 1873.] Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 21 (1872–3): 176–9.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.


HA’s paper on leaf arrangement is almost ready; asks CD to communicate it to the Royal Society. Seeks permission to quote from CD’s notes.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hubert Airy
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Dacre Park, 27
Source of text
DAR 159: 24
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8720,” accessed on 18 January 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21