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Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Obadiah Westwood   25 June [1860]1

Down Bromley Kent

June 25th

My dear Sir

I see in last Gardeners Ch. by signature “W”, that some one has sent you Hive-Bees & Humble-bees with pollen-masses of Orchids, sticking to them;2 as I have so long watched orchids & never seen a Bee visit one,3 I shd much like to see these specimens, if you would lend them to me & not think that I am giving you too much trouble.—4 I know the pollen-masses of most orchids, & think that I could recognise the genus, & perhaps species of orchis.—   I shd. like to know locality, where taken.—

Hoping that you will excuse, me, | I remain | My dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin

I hope that you will have a pleasant meeting—5 my health is too bad to come.—

I shall soon go from Home for a week,6 so that your specimens, if kindly sent, will not be returned immediately.—


Dated by the reference to a notice in the Gardeners’ Chronicle (see n. 2, below).
In the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 23 June 1860, p. 580, in the section entitled ‘Notices to correspondents’, there is an editorial note that reads: ‘W W. The appendages on the nose of the honey and humble bees sent are not fungoid. They are the pollen masses on some Orchis. See Mr. Darwin’s late paper on this subject in Gardeners’ Chronicle.   W.’ The correspondent ‘W. W.’ has not been identified. The author of the note was presumably Westwood, who frequently contributed entomological articles to the Gardeners’ Chronicle.
Although CD only rarely observed insects visiting the flowers of orchids, he was convinced that they effected the transfer of pollinia between flowers. In Orchids, p. 35, he cited information from Westwood confirming that bees sometimes visit orchids.
Westwood sent CD the specimens (see letter to J. O. Westwood, 9 July [1860], and Orchids, p. 35).
CD refers to the forthcoming meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford. Westwood read two papers on entomological topics at the meeting.
CD’s journal records that he visited Edward Wickstead Lane’s hydropathic establishment at Sudbrook Park in Surrey from 28 June to 7 July 1860 (‘Journal’; Appendix II).


Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.


Would like to borrow the bees that, as reported in Gardeners’ Chronicle, were sent to JOW with pollen-masses of orchids sticking to them. CD has never seen a bee visit an orchid. He believes he could identify the genus and perhaps species of the orchids the pollen comes from.

His health is too bad to attend the meeting [of British Association for the Advancement of Science].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Obadiah Westwood
Sent from
JU 26 60
Source of text
Oxford University Museum (Hope Entomological collections)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2844,” accessed on 18 September 2020,

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