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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Asa Gray   17 February [1878]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Feb. 17th

My dear Gray

I thank you much for your pleasant letter of Feb. 3d.2 Hooker has been here 2 or 3 times (as Lady H. has been here for a fortnight as a sanatarium)3 & I told him about Linum perenne & he was interested & looked to his Colorado specimens.4 He finds “the American form is less strongly heterostyled than the European, & that the stamens & styles are even equal in some specimens”; but he also finds variability in length in the European specimens.—

If I was forced to wager I wd. bet that the American form would prove at least functionally a distinct species.— If you could get & send me seed of the Colorado form, I wd grow both forms & see if they could be intercrossed artificially, & I would try whether the homostyled individuals were self-fertile.—5

Yours affectionately | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Asa Gray, 3 February 1878.
Hyacinth Hooker stayed at Down with her baby, Joseph Symonds Hooker, for ‘rest & change of air’ (letter from H. E. Litchfield to Ida Farrer, 4 February 1878; DAR 258: 1635). According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), Joseph Dalton Hooker visited Down on 9 February 1878 and he and his wife left together on 12 February 1878.
CD had written to Gray about Linum perenne (blue flax) in his letter of 21 [and 22] January 1878. Thomas Meehan had written in a letter published in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, December 1877, p. 189, that the American form was self-fertile; CD thought Meehan had mistaken the species. In 1877, Hooker and Gray had visited Colorado as part of their botanical tour of the Rocky Mountains (see L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 205–15).
In Forms of flowers 2d ed., p. vi, CD wrote that a well-known reviewer (Asa Gray in his review of Forms of flowers) in the American Journal of Science stated that Meehan had mistaken Linum lewisii for L. perenne (A. Gray 1878b, p. 222). There is no record that CD made the experiment but it was made later at the University of California; it confirmed that these were two distinct species (see Baker 1965, p. 150).


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

Forms of flowers 2d ed.: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. 2d edition. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1880.

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


Heterostyly in Linum perenne. Believes the American form may be a distinct species.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Asa Gray
Sent from
Source of text
Archives of the Gray Herbarium, Harvard University (129)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11364,” accessed on 24 October 2021,