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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. R. Wallace   21 July 1875

The Dell, Grays, Essex

July 21st. 1875

Dear Darwin

Many thanks for your kindness in sending me a copy of your new book.1 Being very busy I have only had time to dip into it yet. The account of Utricularia is most marvellous & quite new to me. I am rather surprised that you do not make any remarks on the origin of these extraordinary contrivances for capturing insects.2 Did you think they were too obvious? I dare say there is no difficulty, but I feel sure they will be seized on as inexplicable by Nat. Select. & your silence on the point will be held to show that you consider them so! The contrivance in Utricularia & Dionæa, & in fact in Drosera too, seems fully as great & complex as in Orchids, but there is not the same motive force.3 Fertilization & cross fertilization are important ends enough to lead to any modification,—but can we suppose mere nourishment to be so important, seeing that it is so easily & almost universally obtained by extension of roots & leaves. Here are plants which lose their roots & leaves to acquire the same results by infinitely complex modes! What a wonderfull & long continued series of variations must have led up to the perfect “trap” in Utricularia, while at any stage of the process the same end might have been gained by a little more development of roots & leaves, as in 9999 plants out of 10,000!

Is this an imaginary difficulty or do you mean to deal with it in future editions of the “Origin”?4

Believe me | Yours very faithfully| Alfred R. Wallace


Wallace’s name is on the presentation list for Insectivorous plants (Appendix IV).
In Insectivorous plants, pp. 404–13, CD described the function of the small bladders of Utricularia (bladderwort) in capturing and absorbing insects.
Dionaea (Venus fly trap) and Drosera (sundew) were the principle genera discussed in Insectivorous plants. Wallace alludes to Orchids.
Apart from a reprint issued in 1876 with minor corrections, there were no further revisions of Origin published in CD’s lifetime (see Freeman 1977, pp. 80–1).


Freeman, Richard Broke. 1977. The works of Charles Darwin: an annotated bibliographical handlist. 2d edition. Folkestone, Kent: William Dawson & Sons. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, Shoe String Press.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Response to Insectivorous plants. Surprised that CD did not discuss origin of the contrivances. Critics will interpret them as inexplicable by theory of natural selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Alfred Russel Wallace
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 106: B121–2
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10085,” accessed on 28 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 23