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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   12 July [1860]

Miss Wedgwood’s | Hartfield | Tonbridge Wells

July 12th

My dear Hooker

Many thanks for newspaper. I have had a little, but very interesting, note from Falconer;1 he tells me how capitally things went on at Oxford.

Poor Etty, I find, very little better; but what shade of difference there is, is certainly on the right side. It is most disheartening to us.—

I did so thoroughily & greatly enjoy my little visit to you.—2 I want two questions answered; I know how busy you are. Do you think Mr Oliver would think me unreasonable, if I asked him to answer them?3 If he would, pray tell him, I shd. be very much obliged.

Firstly name of enclosed Saxifrage    it is often kept in pot in Houses4    on account of slightly curved pistil towards nectar-secreting surface.—& impregnation by Diptera

Secondly the name of that wonderful hot-house flower, with rectangularly-bent pistil, which has been falsely said to turn round. This flower5 has stuck in my throat ever since: I was a fool not to have accepted your offer of taking it home to examine.—6 I want to know whether a sort of fold at base of each petal secretes nectar: a closely similar fold at base of 2 upper petals in an orange-coloured Alstrœmeria does secrete nectar. I care for this case because it is strongest apparent exception to my rule of bent pistil & gangway into nectary.

Is not this position of parts? Instead of the pistil revolving, would not large insect successively visiting the supposed nectaries, brush over anthers & stigma; so that the pistil is bent into the circular gangway to the nectaries?

(N.B I find common Martagon Lily with curved pistil so like in all respects that I can make out above points.)7

I have been examining Orchis pyramidalis, & it almost equals, perhaps even beats, your Listera case:8 the sticky glands are congenitally united into saddle-shaped organ, which has great power of movement & seizes hold of bristle (or proboscis) in admirable manner, & then another movement takes place in pollen-masses, by which they are beautifully adapted to leave pollen on the two lateral stigmatic surface.—   I never saw anything so beautiful.—

Ask your scientific gardener to have another try at fertilising Leschenaultia & mark the flowers;9 for the ovaria of two flowers of which I stirred up the pollen in indusium before going to Sudbrook have swollen to twice diameter of any other ovaria: hence I feel pretty sure that I am on the right road.—

I have been thinking a bit about your Book & the more I think of it the more awfully difficult it seems, & therefore the more worthy of your attempting.10 One of the first points seems naturally to occur viz difference between plant & animal! And then, as I suppose you will allude to unicellular plants, what makes an individual!! And thirdly the difference between propagation by gemmation & sexual generation! Nice simple little subjects to discuss!—

Yours ever affectionately | C. Darwin

Do not you answer; if you do not like to ask Mr. Oliver, let this note sleep, for everything will keep.


CD visited Hooker on his way to Down from Edward Wickstead Lane’s hydropathic establishment at Sudbrook Park, Richmond, Surrey. See letters to J. D. Hooker, [2 July 1860], [3 July 1860], and [4 July 1860].
Daniel Oliver was an assistant botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
CD added the phrase ‘it is often kept in pot in Houses’ in pencil above the line (see Manuscript alterations and comments).
The text from ‘This flower’ to ‘the circular gangway to the nectaries?’ was deleted by CD. It has been included in the transcription because the following sentence ‘(N.B I find common Martagon Lily … above points.)’ relates to it.
CD refers to his visit to Hooker at Kew (see n. 2, above).
CD presumably deleted the passage preceding this sentence when he realised that his questions had been answered through his examination of the martagon lily (Lilium martagon).
CD refers to Hooker’s paper on Listera (Hooker 1854b). For a summary of CD’s findings, see the letter to Asa Gray, 3 July [1860].
CD was encouraging Hooker to write a general book on botany. See letters to J. D. Hooker, 8 February [1860], 14 February [1860], and 12 March [1860].


Floral anatomy; pistil curvature and pistil movement. CD’s rule that bent pistils occur in "gangway" into nectaries.

The book JDH is planning, which he and CD discussed at Kew, should deal with plant reproduction.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Wedgwood, S. E. (b) Hartfield
Source of text
DAR 115: 67
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2864,” accessed on 24 June 2017,

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