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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   12 August [1873]1

Abinger Hall, | Wotton. Surrey (Post Town) | Gomshall (Station) S.E.R.

12 August | 11. am.


My dear Mr Darwin

I have a notion about that —— Coronilla. And if true he is a greater fool than I thought him. He is going all wrong—and the bees will do him.

The only place on which I can find a trace of juice is on the outside of the calyx.2 This is thick succulent & covered with shining glands.— When powdered with flour the flour sticks. Now think of the big unusual gap—(made black) in the annexed diagram) between


vexillum and wings & calyx. The bee puts his proboscis down the usual place—finds nothing: but then puts it out through the open door left for him by this gap & so to the outside of the calyx. where he finds something.

But why does he go to the inside of the flower at all? Why not get on the outside of one flower at once & rifle the whole umbel.—3 The only answer I can give to this is that the umbels are close: that the wings are a convenient lighting place—and that he is used to treat papilionaceous flowers in a reasonable way. But why then is the 10th stamen separate? Has the nectar originally been there? And is it not closing up? and are not—this closing: the production of nectar outside the calyx: and the curious gap between vexillum & other parts—all correlated

Here is at any rate a question

Sincerely yours | T H Farrer

(3)—12 Aug. 1.30 pm

I have just been to the garden and have seen my old friend the red-sterned humble-bee4 visiting Coronilla and poking his long proboscis through the gap and sweeping the outside of the calyx with it.

Hurrah! | T H F.

I was wrong in one thing about water & the leaves— The moisture at night generally condenses on the edges of the vine leaves & hangs there in round drops—& this with the sun does the harm—to the edges of the leaves on which the drops hang. Payne always opens the sashes at 6 oclock, to prevent this.5

I enclose a leaf thus injured— But there are also injuries from the wet condensing on the glass above the tender young leaves. In this case, Payne says, the mark is generally in a line across the leaf. If this is from west to east it looks as though it were the sun shining through the drop and casting its ray from west to east as it moves. This happens in the early summer with the young leaves

Please ask Payne to make any observations for you— It will give him the greatest pleasure. He will be an out and out Darwinite—if not a Darwinian—for he is very orthodox & Church of England—though an excellent fellow


Mr Wedgwood says “ite” means a personal follower—“ian” a reasonable believer.6

CD annotations

1.1 I have … Farrer 4.1] crossed pencil
10.1 Please … believer. 11.1] crossed pencil


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from T. H. Farrer, 12 August 1873.
See letter to T. H. Farrer, 10 August [1873] and n. 2. Farrer described these observations on Coronilla varia (purple crown vetch; now Securigera varia) in Farrer 1874, p. 169.
Inflorescences of Coronilla are umbels composed of several individual flowers (five to twenty in the case of C. varia).
Farrer probably refers to Bombus lapidarius, the red-tailed humble-bee or bumble-bee.
Hensleigh Wedgwood was the author of a Dictionary of English etymology, a second edition of which was published in 1872 (H. Wedgwood 1872).


Farrer, Thomas Henry. 1874. Fertilisation of papilionaceous flowers—Coronilla. Nature, 2 July 1874, pp. 169–70.

Wedgwood, Hensleigh. 1872. A dictionary of English etymology. 2d edition. London: Trübner and Co.


Further observations concerning the fertilisation of Coronilla by bees.

Reflections concerning the influence of cultivation (i.e., ploughing) upon variation.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st baronet and 1st Baron Farrer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Abinger Hall
Source of text
DAR 164: 76a–76b
Physical description
ALS 8pp inc?

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9005A,” accessed on 2 June 2023,

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