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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   8 January 1873

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Jan 8. 73

My dear Gray,

You sent me a letter dated Wilmington July 9. ’67 about Dionæa. It has no signature but you refer to it as written by Mr. Canlay or Canbay or Cawley.1 Will you be so kind as to write the name for me distinctly, for some people are so foolish as to say that your handwriting, like mine, is not very legible. The letter has interested me much in some respects & the gentleman seems very kind & willing to oblige. Does he reside at Wilmington now? And if so would you ask him to observe one point for me—namely whether the Dionæa catches large or small insects. It wd. be advisable to gather a dozen or score of leaves which are quite closely shut, bring them home, & open them. As “large” & “small” are such vague terms it wd. be very advisable, if not causing too much trouble, to measure the breadth of the broadest part & length (from end of head to end of abdomen) of an average sized captured insect; & then state how many exceeded or were less than this mean. But it shd. be particularly stated whether any of the captured insects were quite minute. Does your friend still abide by his conclusion that a leaf after catching an insect never acts again? this agrees with my small experience with Cultivated plants.

Owing to your kindness I have received a letter from Mrs. Treat of Vineland, saying that she wd. observe D. filiformis next Summer.2 You will see by this letter that I am obeying your orders & working on Drosera & Co.3

Yours most sincerely | Ch. Darwin


William Marriot Canby’s letter to Gray of 6 July 1867 was enclosed in a letter from Gray to J. D. Hooker, [after 6 July 1867] (Correspondence vol. 15). The letter was chiefly concerned with Dionaea muscipula (Venus fly trap). CD cited Canby for information on Dionaea in Insectivorous plants.
See Correspondence vol. 20, letter from Mary Treat, 13 December 1872, and this volume, letter to Mary Treat, 1 January 1873. Drosera filiformis is the threadleaf sundew.


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

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.


Has received, through AG, a letter on Dionaea [from W. M. Canby] which has greatly interested him. CD asks AG to question his correspondent on whether it catches large or small insects.

Mary Treat will observe Drosera filiformis.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University (102)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8728,” accessed on 21 April 2021,

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