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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Asa Gray   12 May 1874

Cambridge, Mass,

May 12, 1874

Dear Darwin

Here is a note & sketch, from Prof. Rood1 of New York, which is to the point as to ears.

I sent to Hooker, to forward to you two articles in Nation—on Insectivorous Plants2—written to reclaim your work, from Bennett— who began to appropriate it, &c, &c—3

It is already leading to discovery   A physician in Carolina—a good observer—already writes me—that in S. variolaris—the best of Sarracenias he thinks he finds the watery liquid anæsthetic (??) and the sweet secretion not.— But he says there is a line of sweeta trail, running from the sweet rim down the edge of the wing outside nearly to the ground, which lures up ants—(with which Wyman tells me the pitchers are crowded).—4 Just like the train of Indian corn which hunters scatter along the ground to lure wild turkies into the trap! Does not that beat all!

Also my articles have resulted in the discovery related in the paper enclosed.5 The take off of Thomson’s germs from another planet is good.6

I am in great haste but always | Yours sincerely | Asa Gray

[Enclosure 1]

Columbia College

May 4th. 1874

Dear Professor;

When Darwin’s book on the “Descent of Man” came out two or three years ago, I read it and afterwards always observed ears, particularly the “Animal Tips”—7 I have noticed a number of cases in which these were very much developed, but all my observations have been thrown into the shade by a pair of ears I saw a couple of months ago in one of our city banks. The gentleman was standing near me for several minutes, and immediately afterwards I made a rough sketch of the ear and of his profile, which was rather a refined one, with the intention of afterwards making a drawing for Mr Darwin— All parts of the ear were quite normal except the enormous tip— The truth lies between Nos 1 and 2. The ink line in No 1 and the sketches were made on the spot in the bank—and perhaps would be more interesting than the more finished drawing I proposed to make afterwards—8

Very truly | O. N. Rood

Prof A. Gray | Cambridge Mass.

[Enclosure 2]


CD annotations

End of letter: ‘It rejoices me to see your Handwriting again— | Wolf Story | What a poor [knowledge] of G [illeg] the work of H [3 words illeg]9 pencil


Gray’s articles appeared in the Nation, 2 April 1874, pp. 216–17, and 9 April 1874, pp. 232–4 ([A. Gray] 1874a). They were reprinted as ‘Do plants eat insects?’ in two parts in the Gardeners’ Chronicle, 2 May 1874 and 9 May 1874 ([A. Gray] 1874b).
Alfred William Bennett reported similar findings to those of CD on Drosera at the 1873 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Report of the 43d Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1873), Transactions of the sections, pp. 123–4).
Gray reported the observations of Joseph Hinson Mellichamp on Sarracenia variolaris (now Sarracenia minor, the hooded pitcher plant) in Nation, 6 and 13 January 1876, pp. 12–14, and pp. 30–2. See also Mellichamp 1874. He also refers to Jeffries Wyman.
Gray enclosed a spoof article ‘Crinoida Dajeeana. The man-eating tree of Madagascar’ (World, 28 April 1874, p. 7; see letter to Asa Gray, 3 June [1874] and n. 9). CD’s copy has not been found.
Gray refers to William Thomson’s theory that seed-bearing meteorites were responsible for life on earth (W. Thomson 1871, pp. civ–cv).
CD discussed vestigial pointed ears in monkeys and humans in Descent 1: 22–3. In Descent 2d ed., pp. 15–17, he revised the discussion and added a new illustration of the head of a foetus of an orang-utan.
The sketches were made on the back of a Bank of New York deposit slip.
The annotations are notes for CD’s letter to Gray of 3 June [1874]. The subject of the ‘wolf story’ has not been identified.


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.

Mellichamp, Joseph Hinson. 1874. Notes on Sarracenia variolaris. Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1874) pt B: 113–33.

Thomson, William. 1871. Presidential address. Report of the 41st Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Edinburgh (1871): lxxxiv–cv.


Encloses letter and sketch from O. N. Rood on pointed ears.

Reports observations on Sarracenia variolaris. A correspondent finds that the fluid in the pitchers is anaesthetic and that a sweet trail runs down the plant, nearly to the ground, to lure up ants.

Encloses two articles on insectivorous plants [Nation 18 (1874): 216–17, 232–4].

Letter details

Letter no.
Asa Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Cambridge, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 165: 184
Physical description
ALS 2pp †, encl ALS 2pp, sketch

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9455,” accessed on 19 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22