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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener   [before 27 January 1863]1

Few facts in vegetable physiology are more remarkable than the well-ascertained influence of the pollen of one species or variety on the seed and fruit of another species or variety whilst still attached to the female plant. There are several old accounts, and the case has been well proved by Gärtner of the colour of the pea in one variety of the Garden Pea, being changed by the direct action of the pollen of another differently-coloured variety.2 So, again, the famous St. Valery Apple tree produces many different kinds of fruit, according to the nature of the pollen used; for the singularly-constructed flowers yield no pollen, and they are annually fertilised by a party of French girls, who bring pollen from other trees, and mark with ribbons the flowers thus fertilised.3 About a year ago Mr. Beaton gave an analogous case, far more remarkable than any hitherto recorded, for he showed (if my memory does not deceive me) that the pollen of one species acted on the footstalk of the seed-capsule of another species, and caused it slowly to assume a position which it would not otherwise have acquired.4 I forget the name of the plant, and have vainly spent an hour in trying to find the passage, though I am sure I marked it. Will Mr. Beaton have the kindness to repeat the statement? and I am sure it is worth repetition.5 If he grant this favour, will he inform us whether his observations were made on several flowers, and during one or more years? I remember some difficulty in finding the name of the plant in such catalogues as I happened to have at hand, which led me to suppose that it had, like too many plants, more names than one.—

Charles Darwin.


CD’s letter appeared in the Journal of Horticulture on 27 January 1863, under the title ‘Influence of pollen on the appearance of seed’.
Gärtner 1849, pp. 80–7. Karl Friedrich von Gärtner’s experiments with peas are discussed in Appendix V (see, especially, ‘Beaton’s first response to the letter from Charles Darwin to the Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, [before 27 January 1863]’ and n. 7). In Variation 1: 397–403, CD included a section entitled: ‘On the direct or immediate action of the Male element on the Mother Form’, in which he cited Gärtner’s work (Variation 1: 397).
The case of the artificially pollinated St Valery apple is mentioned in Variation 1: 350 and 401.
In an article on crossing flowers, Beaton reported an observation that he termed ‘the most curious thing I know of among plants’ (Beaton 1860, p. 254): The pods of Imatophyllum miniatum stand erect as the umbels of flowers, and the pods of I. cyrtanthiflorum hang down as the flowers do. By crossing the two, the pods of the former become as pendent as those of the latter CD double scored this passage in the margin of his unbound copy of the journal, which is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
For Beaton’s replies, see Correspondence vol.11, Appendix V.


Beaton, Donald. 1860. Crossing flowers. Cottage Gardener 24: 253–5.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Gärtner, Karl Friedrich von. 1849. Versuche und Beobachtungen über die Bastarderzeugung im Pflanzenreich. Mit Hinweisung auf die ähnlichen Erscheinungen im Thierreiche, ganz umgearbeitete und sehr vermehrte Ausgabe der von der Königlich holländischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Remarks on the influence of pollen of one species or variety on the seed and fruit of another while still attached to the female plant. Refers to a remarkable case previously given by D. Beaton and asks whether Beaton will repeat the details.

[CD’s letter is followed by notes by D. Beaton in which he answers CD’s question, dissociating himself from some of his remarks, and in particular denying C. F. v. Gärtner’s claim that colour of one variety of pea can be changed by the direct action of the pollen of a different variety.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Journal of Horticulture
Sent from
Source of text
Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener n.s. 4 (1863): 70

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3951,” accessed on 3 December 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11