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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Darwin   18 [August 1873]

Down, | Beckenham, | Kent. [Bassett, Southampton.]


My dear Backy

You have got hold of wrong theory about the brush on the pistil: it serves to brush the shed pollen out of the keel, & not to brush the bees.—1 The position of brush is correlated with the form of the keel, & whether the loose pollen is collected on proximate or distil end of the pistil. I find in Flora of Isle of Wight that it must have been L. sylvestris which William & I there observed.—2 I wish I knew where my note was about the manner in which Bees visited the flowers, & whether our remembrance is right about the pistil sometimes curving to the right side of flower.—3 The Garden var. grows in William’s garden; & in all the flowers the pistil curves (as in your flowers sent here) to the left. (In one of your flowers the young pod was bursting out to the left of single stamen.) I have been looking at these flowers, and in all the pistil curves to left, & bees have not bitten holes in any.4 The right side of keel is more open for biting than the left side: do the biting Bees bite through the staminal tube?? Or do they (after biting through the keel, insert their probosces) through the 2 nectar holes?? It wd. perhaps be worth while to cover up in net (not touching the flowers) a fine raceme of young flowers & to see if they would set pods without aid of Bees: I fancy that they would, though thank Heavens the seedlings would not be so fine as from crossed flowers. We return on Thursday by a train which starts at 7 A.M.5 The children declare that they will go to bed as soon as they get to Down. We have had a very nice visit here, & dear old William is as sweet & charming as ever, but rather languid & can never read to himself. He & Jemmy6 do a good deal of larking together.— I am in an idiotic state of idleness & long to awake again into life.

Your affect. Father | & idiot | C. Darwin

My affectionate remembrances to Amy & Mrs Ruck.—7


See letter to Francis Darwin, 15 August [1873] and n. 5. In Flora Vectensis (Bromfield 1856, p. 133), Lathyrus maritimus is described as very rare and possibly extinct on the island. Lathyrus sylvestris is described in the same volume as occurring in ‘great quantity under the cliff at Shanklin’ (ibid., p. 132). Shanklin was where CD remembered having observed L. maritimus with William Erasmus Darwin. In a note on L. maritimus, dated 13 July 1861 (DAR 49: 64), made while CD was at Torquay, Devon, ‘maritimus’ has been crossed out and replaced with ‘sylvestris’, but the substitution was probably made when CD was reviewing his notes for Cross and self fertilisation.
CD’s notes on the visits of bees to Lathyrus maritimus have not been found. See also letter to Francis Darwin, 15 August [1873].
See letter from Francis Darwin, 14 August [1873] and n. 3. Although many Victorian botanists considered the everlasting pea grown in gardens to be a variety of Lathyrus sylvestris, it was an introduced species, L. latifolius (see letter from Francis Darwin, [16 or 17 August 1873]).
CD returned to Down on Thursday 21 August 1873 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)).
‘Jemmy’ was a nickname for Horace Darwin (Darwin pedigree).
Amy Ruck and Mary Anne Ruck.


Bromfield, William Arnold. 1856. Flora Vectensis: being a systematic description of the phænogamous or flowering plants and ferns indigenous to the Isle of Wight. Edited by William Jackson Hooker and Thomas Bell Salter. London: William Pamplin.

Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

Darwin pedigree: Pedigree of the family of Darwin. Compiled by H. Farnham Burke. N.p.: privately printed. 1888. [Reprinted in facsimile in Darwin pedigrees, by Richard Broke Freeman. London: printed for the author. 1984.]


Pollination and floral structure of Lathyrus. Asks where bees bite through the flowers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Darwin
Sent from
AU 18 73
Source of text
DAR 271.3: 9; DAR 271.4: 1
Physical description
inc cov

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9015,” accessed on 12 June 2024,

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