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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   13 August 1873

Bassett | Southampton

Aug 13. 1873

My dear Hooker

We return home on Thursday the 21st & I hope it will suit you & Gen. Strachey to come down to us on Sat.1 Let us hear beforehand. When you come to Down I want a little information from you, & if you do not yourself know, please to enquire of some of the wise men of Kew. Why are the leaves & fruit of so many plants protected by a thin layer of waxy matter (like the common cabbage) or with fine hair; so that when such leaves or fruit are immersed in water they appear as if encased in thin glass. It is really a pretty sight to put a pod of a common pea, or a raspberry into water   I find several leaves are thus protected on the under surface & not on the upper.

How can water injure the leaves? if indeed this is at all the case.2

When you were abroad I wrote to Mr Smith to ask for a plant of oxalis sensitiva; & he sent me one, but the leaves are so old that they will not act well. Could you give me a pinch of the seed, as perhaps I cd raise a few seedlings this autumn.3

I meant to have begun my letter by hearty rejoicing over Ayrton’s retirement. I hope his successor, Mr Adam, is a good sort of man; I never heard of him before.4

yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin


Richard Strachey and Hooker visited Down on 23 August 1873 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)). CD visited William Erasmus Darwin in Southampton from 9 to 21 August 1873 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
CD had enquired about leaves injured by water in his letter to T. H. Farrer, 10 August [1873] (see also letters from T. H. Farrer, 12 August 1873 and 12 August [1873]).
John Smith was curator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. CD’s letter to him has not been found. Seedlings of Oxalis sensitiva (a synonym of Biophytum sensitivum) were sent to CD on 16 August 1873 (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Outwards book).
Acton Smee Ayrton was first commissioner of works from late 1869 until August 1873 (ODNB). While he held the position he became involved in a rancorous dispute with Hooker concerning the running of Kew (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 January [1873] and n. 6). Ayrton did not retire but became judge-advocate-general (ODNB). William Patrick Adam was sworn into office on 11 August 1873 (London Gazette, 12 August 1873, p. 3769).


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.


Asks JDH why so many plants are protected by a thin layer of waxy matter or with fine hairs.

Wrote to John Smith for a plant of Oxalis sensitiva, but it has not acted well.

Rejoices over Ayrton’s retirement. Hopes W. P. Adam, his successor, is a good sort of man.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 94: 270–1
Physical description
LS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9007,” accessed on 12 September 2023,

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