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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Thomas Meehan   28 April [1878]1

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania | Board of Agriculture | Harrisburg | Botanical Department | Thos. Meehan, Botanist. | Germantown | Philadelphia, P.a.

April 28 1877

Mr. Charles Darwin,

My Dear Sir,—

Though there may not be much that is new to you in Dr. Wood’s Lecture on Insectivorous plants, I am sure you will like to see it, and I have begged a copy for you which I send by mail with this today.2

I took occasion to note recently that plants did not always behave in one place as they do in others,—and I incidentally referred to your experience with Linum perenne, to illustrate my point.3 I did this by no means to antagonize your observations, but quite on the contrary, to help strengthen them with those who might see cases like mine, and suspect there might be some error in the original observation. I endeavored to show a good reason for seemingly differing experiences. My friend Dr. Gray seems to take it another way, and writes to me that I might at least have waited to see whether or not the plant in America is heterostyled before making the remark,—that perhaps the L. Lewisii is not after all L. sibirica or L. perenne, but entitled to distinctive rank.4 So far there is a good point in the suggestion that we should go over again and examine the matter, and I am sure I shall look into it with much pleasure. But as we had all of us come to the conclusion that they were identical, the doubt did not occur to me,— so that while I am glad of the suggestion to examine our form again, I think I may be pardoned for having referred to it as I did.

Though I cannot quite see just as you do, as to the deductions to be drawn from some of the observations,—I am so much in accord with so many of your views, and am so much indebted indeed to all of your labors, that I should be annoyed to be thought an “antagonist”.

With best respects and wishes, believe me dear Sir | Very truly Yours | Thomas Meehan


The year is established by the reference to the letter published in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, December 1877 (see n. 3, below). Meehan evidently wrote 1877 in error.
Meehan enclosed a copy of Thomas Fanning Wood’s ‘Paper on the insectivorous plants of the Wilmington regions’, which had appeared in the Wilmington Daily Review, 8 May 1877 (Wood 1877). CD’s copy is in DAR 226.2: 168.
Meehan wrote, in a letter published in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, December 1877, p. 189: However, it is well to recognize the fact, that plants, and, no doubt, insects, behave differently in different places. For instance, Mr. Darwin from English experiments utterly denies that Linum perennne can fertilize itself by its own pollen. He says we may as well ‘sprinkle over it so much inorganic dust.’ But a single plant, which I brought with me from Colorado in 1873, bears fruit freely in my garden every year. It shows that how a plant may behave in one place is no rule as to how it will elsewhere. CD had written, ‘Now we know positively that, so far from Linum perenne being fertilised by its own pollen in the bud, its own pollen is as powerless on the stigma as so much inorganic dust’ (Forms of flowers, p. 98). Linum perenne is blue flax.
Some taxonomists gave specific status to blue flax from western areas of North America, including Colorado, referring to it as Linum lewisii; others considered it to be a variety of L. perenne. Linum sibiricum is a synonym of L. perenne. CD had already written to Asa Gray mentioning Meehan’s remarks on Linum perenne, and after consulting Joseph Dalton Hooker, expressed the opinion that the Colorado Linum was, at least functionally, a distinct species (see letters to Asa Gray, 21 [and 22] January 1878 and 17 February [1878]). For more on the controversy between CD and Meehan, see Baker 1965.


Baker, Herbert G. 1965. Charles Darwin and the perennial flax—a controversy and its implications. Huntia 2: 141–61.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Wood, Thomas Fanning. 1877. A paper on the insectivorous plants of the Wilmington regions. Daily Review (Wilmington, N.C.), 8 May 1877, p. [4].


Sends CD Dr Wood’s lecture on insectivorous plants.

Had no intention of antagonising CD with his observations on Linum; was anxious to account for its apparently different behaviour.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Meehan
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Germantown, Pa.
Source of text
DAR 171: 111
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10944,” accessed on 25 October 2021,