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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   15 [May 1855]1



My dear Hooker

You have been a very good man to exhale some of your satisfaction in writing two notes to me,—you could not have taken a better line in my opinion,—but as for showing your satisfaction in confounding my experiments, I assure you I am quite enough confounded—those horrid seeds, which, as you truly observe if they sink they wont float.—

I have written to Scoresby2 & have had a rather dry answer, but very much to the purpose & giving me no hopes of any law unknown to me which might arrest their everlasting descent into the deepest depths of the ocean. By the way it was very odd but I talked to Col. Sabine3 for 12 an hour on the subject, & could not make him see with respect to transportal the difficulty of the sinking question! The bore is if the confounded seeds will sink, I have been taking all this trouble in salting the ungrateful rascals for nothing.—

Everything has been going wrong with me lately; the fish at the Zoolog. Soc. ate up lots of soaked seeds, & in imagination they had in my mind been swallowed, fish & all, by a heron, had been carried a hundred miles, been voided on the banks of some other lake & germinated splendidly,—when lo & behold, the fish ejected vehemently, & with disgust equal to my own, all the seeds from their mouths.—4

But I am not going to give up the floating yet: in first place I must try fresh seeds, though of course it seems far more probable that they will sink; & secondly as a last resource I must believe in the pod or even whole plant or branch being washed into sea: with floods & slips & earthquakes; this must continually be happening, & if kept wet, I fancy the pods &c &c wd. not open & shed their seeds.—5

Do try your Mimosa seeds at Kew.

I had intended to have asked you whether the Mimosa scandens & Guilandina Bonduc grows at Kew to try fresh seeds.— R. Brown tells me he believes 4 W. Indian seeds have been washed on shores of Europe.6 I was assured at Keeling isld. that seeds were not rarely washed on shore:7 so float they must & shall! What a long yarn I have been spinning.—

I am glad to hear of the elections for the Club,8 but very sorry about De la Rue:9 he does not appear like a gentleman, but all that he says at the Council seems very gentlemanlike & nice: I would not have the blackballing of such a man on my conscience for a couple of hundred guineas: what a mortification for him.—

Goodbye my dear Hooker | Ever yours | C. Darwin

If you have several of the Loffoden seeds,10 do soak some in tepid water & get planted with utmost care: this is experiment after my own heart with chances 1000—to 1 against its success.— Are they of the so-called Mimosa scandens?—


Dated on the basis of CD’s fish-feeding experiment (see n. 4, below).
William Scoresby, the Arctic explorer, was an authority on the temperature and properties of sea-water, particularly in the northern oceans.
Edward Sabine. CD visited London during the first week in May (Emma Darwin’s diary and letter to W. D. Fox, 7 May [1855]).
Described in a note dated 5 May 1855 in DAR 205.2: 115. For the text of the note, see letter to W. D. Fox, 7 May [1855], n. 5.
In a note dated 17 May 1855 (DAR 27.1 (ser. 7): 13), CD recorded the following experiment: In evening put quite open seed-heads of Tussilago farfara & Leontodon taraxicum into salt-water: they soon began to close by next morning heads closed. Their seeds floated whilst quite fresh., & this not owing to pappus, as seed itself rose first. Put old pods of Laburnum which were widely [interl] gaping into S.W. & they almost completely closed. so that seed cd not fall out.— Pods of Broom & Kidney Bean did not [‘sink’ del] open.— none of these pods sunk.— Heads of Luzula, with seed nearly ripe floated. The Compositæ sunk after a few days & every seed sunk, (even the capsule of Seakale after a few days in Hookers cellar Lit.
CD had expressed interest in this case reported in Correspondence vol. 3, letter from J. D. Hooker, 12 December 1844. The reference is to Robert Brown’s account of the seeds of Guillandina bonduc in Brown 1818, p. 481.
CD visited the Keeling Islands during the Beagle voyage in April 1836. See Correspondence vol. 1.
The members elected to the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society were George Busk, Thomas Henry Huxley, George Gabriel Stokes, and John Tyndall.
Warren De La Rue, son of Thomas De La Rue, a printer, had invented the first envelope-making machine. He had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1850 and was a member of the council. Bonney 1919, p. 41 n., states that at the meeting of 10 May 1855, ‘a candidate was proposed, but not elected’.
See letter from J. R. Crowe, 27 September 1855. The Loffoden Islands, off the north Norway coast, are now known as the Lofoten Islands.


Bonney, T. G. 1919. Annals of the Philosophical Club of the Royal Society written from its minute books. London: Macmillan.

Brown, Robert. 1818. Observations, systematical and geographical, on Professor Christian Smith’s collection of plants from the vicinity of the river Congo. Appendix 5 of Narrative of an expedition to explore the river Zaire, usually called the Congo, in South Africa, in 1816, under the direction of Capt. J. K. Tuckey, R.N., by James Kingston Tuckey. London. [Facsimile reprint. London: Frank Cass and Co. 1967.]

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


CD upset because salted seeds do not float.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 114: 147
Physical description
ALS 8pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1681,” accessed on 14 September 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5