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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   22 July [1879]1

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

July 22d

My dear Hooker

If my memory serves me rightly Dyer has left Kew for his holidays, & so I write to you to ask you if by any chance you have seeds of Lathyrus aphaca or any young seedlings 2 or 3 of which could be potted.2 If I receive no answer I shall understand that you cannot aid me.— I want to try whether the tendrils are apheliotropic, for I record that they revolve very little, I conjecture that they may find a support by bending towards any dark object.—3

Our book on the movements of Plants will, I think, contain a good deal of new matter, but will be intolerably dull.4 I have been working pretty hard of late & want rest & change, so we all go on August 1st to Coniston for a month.5 It is an awful journey to me.— It is a long time since I have heard any news of you & yours, & what you are doing & intending to do. Frank comes back in the beginning of next month from Würzburg, where he has been working pretty hard on various subjects & practising dissection, cutting slices &c.—6

I have just read Balls’ essay. It is pretty bold. The rapid development, as far as we can judge, of all the higher plants within recent geological times is an abominable mystery. Certainly it wd be a great step if we could believe that the higher plants at first could live only at a high level; but until it is experimentally that Cycadeæ, Ferns &c can withstand much more carbonic acid than the higher plants, the hypothesis seems to me far too rash.7 Saporta believes that there was an astonishingly rapid development of the higher plants, as soon flower-frequenting insects were developed & favoured intercrossing.8 I shd. like to see this whole problem solved.

I have fancied that perhaps there was during long ages a small isolated continent in the S. hemisphere, which served as the birth place of the higher plants; but this is a wretchedly poor conjecture. It is odd that Ball does not allude to the obvious fact that there must have been alpine plants before the Glacial period, many of which wd have returned to the mountains after the glacial period when the climate again became warm. I always accounted to myself in this manner for the Gentians &c.—

Ball ought also to have considered the Alpine insects common to the Arctic regions. I do not know how it may be with you, but my faith in the Glacial migration is not at all shaken.9

Ever my dear old friend yours truly | Ch. Darwin

P.S. I shall have to return some plants to Kew when we leave home.— Your plant of Smilax aspera has been injured by scale insects which were only lately detected.—10 Is this worth returning? It is a large bush.


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from J. D. Hooker, 26 July 1879.
William Turner Thiselton-Dyer had not left Kew (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 26 July 1879). Lathyrus aphaca is yellow pea.
In a note dated 2 September 1879, CD wrote that he could detect no apheliotropism in tendrils of Lathyrus aphaca (DAR 209.7: 65).
Movement in plants was published in 1880.
The Darwins stayed at Coniston in the Lake District from 2 to 27 August 1879; they were in London on 1 August (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Francis Darwin joined the Darwins at Coniston on 4 August 1879 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
John Ball’s paper ‘On the origin of the flora of the European Alps’ was published in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography (Ball 1879). Cycadeae (a synonym of Cycadaceae, the family of cycads) were the dominant plants of the Mesozoic period. Ball hypothesised that higher plants emerged at high altitudes, where there was a lower concentration of carbonic acid in the atmosphere (Ball 1879, pp. 581–3).
Gaston de Saporta discussed the sudden appearance of many angiosperms (flowering plants) in the Upper Cretaceous in ‘Les anciens climats de l’Europe et le développement de la végétation’ (Ancient climates of Europe and the development of vegetation; Saporta 1878). In a letter to CD of 16 December 1877 (Correspondence vol. 25), Saporta argued that many flowering plants and insects, particularly sucking insects, must have evolved together.
The theory of glacial migration was part of CD’s theory of geographical distribution (see Origin, pp. 367–70).
CD had received a plant of Smilax aspera (rough bindweed) from Kew on 16 December 1878 (Outwards book, p. 486, Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). Scale insects are sap-sucking bugs of the superfamily Coccoidea.


Ball, John. 1879. On the origin of the flora of the European Alps. [Read 9 June 1879.] Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography 1: 564–89.

Movement in plants: The power of movement in plants. By Charles Darwin. Assisted by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1880.

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.

Saporta, Gaston de. 1878a. Les anciens climats de l’Europe et le développement de la végétation: conférence donnée au Congrès de l’Association française pour l’avancement des sciences, tenu au Hâvre en août 1877. Aix-en-Provence: Marius Illy.


At work on Movement in plants.

Discusses John Ball’s, G. de Saporta’s, and his own theories of higher plant origin. Their rapid development remains an "abominable mystery".

Frank is working in Würzburg.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 95: 485–8
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12167,” accessed on 27 November 2021,