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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. S. Henslow   17 May [1860]

Down Bromley Kent

May 17th

My dear Henslow

Many thanks for your note & information about my opposers.— I have sent for Literary Gazette.—   1 For the chance of your caring I send the characters by which I can divide all Primroses & cowslips into what I suspect will turn out Male & Female Plants. These two forms exist in about equal numbers.—   I have marked a set of both forms to see about seeding. The difference in state of pollen is very clear & invariable.2

I suspect it will turn out fine case for me: the first gradation in the formation of a dioicous plant.—   The Holly forms a second step, for here the male plant has anthers but no pollen.— The male cowslips have abundant pollen, but all grains small-sized.—

It will be curious if I can show that so common a plant is dioicous or nearly so.

Auriculas are in same state as far as I have seen.—

This is reason why I wanted to know whether you had observed long & short pistils in any other flowers.

Yours affectly | C. Darwin


*uCowslips Primroses MalePlants. Tube of corolla long, throat short— Stamens long— pollen in water about 96000 of inch in diameter. Pistil short, stigma far beneath anthers,— surface of stigma smoother Female plants:— Tube of corolla short, throat long.— Stamens short, pollen in water about 66000 of in inch in diameter.—3 Pistil long, stigma far above anthers, surface of stigma rougher.—


The Literary Gazette, 12 May 1860, p. 582, included a report on Adam Sedgwick’s and William Clark’s remarks about Origin at the Cambridge Philosophical Society meeting on 7 May 1860.
In CD’s paper on the dimorphic condition of Primula, read on 21 November 1861, the measurements were changed to 10-11/7000 of an inch for the pollen from short-styled plants and 77000 of an inch for that from the long-styled plants. By the time CD wrote this paper, he had found that the short-styled plants produced more seeds than the long-styled, and so he designated the short-styled ones ‘females’. See Collected papers 2: 49–51.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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.


Sends characters by which he can divide all primroses and cowslips into what he suspects will be male and female plants. Believes these forms are first step in formation of a dioecious plant.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Stevens Henslow
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 93: A72–3, A116
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2805,” accessed on 5 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8