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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. A. Gammie   28 August 1874

Government of India

Note for Mr. Darwin on the fertilization of Hedychium Coronarium.1

I have watched the movements of Sphinx moths2 about the flowers of Hedychium Coronarium and captured a large number of them. They come to the flowers, with very rapid flight, immediately after dusk and flit about from flower to flower, hovering about an inch above the petals with their wings at right angles with the filament, and inserting their greatly lengthened proboscis in the tube. The wing, in its tremulous hovering, strikes the filament, about half way between the petals and anthers, causing it to vibrate with great rapidity, quite sufficient, in my opinion, to throw the pollen on to the stigma. I have never found the slightest trace of pollen on any part of the insect, neither have I ever seen the wings parallel with the filament— (which is the only position in which there would be any chance of the pollen being brushed on to the stigma by the insect) but always at right angles. Just before, and at dusk the small hawk moths are very active about the flowers and cause the stamens to vibrate in the same manner as the larger sphinxes do. I may remark that the flowers begin to throw out a much stronger scent towards dusk than during the day, doubtless for the purpose of attracting these night moths.

J. Gammie

Darjeeling | 28-8-74


Hedychium coronarium is the butterfly-lily or ginger lily. Gammie had also written to CD about H. gardnerianum (see letter from J. A. Gammie, 16 February 1874). CD had speculated that the flowers of H. gardnerianum might be pollinated by the wings of moths and had probably asked Joseph Dalton Hooker to write to his contacts in India about it (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 24 March 1874 and n. 1).
Sphinx or hawk moths are moths of the family Sphingidae.


Sends his observations on the method of fertilisation of Hedychium coronarium by Sphinx and other hawk-moths.

Letter details

Letter no.
James Alexander Gammie
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 6
Physical description
AmemS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9609,” accessed on 20 September 2020,

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