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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Henrietta Emma Darwin   [14–21 April 1866]1

My dear Etty.

I doubt whether the Ophrys which you sent had been self-fertilised;2 it is more probable that the pollen-mass had by some accident been knocked on to the stigma.— In the Bee both pollen-masses fall quite symmetrically & spontaneously on the stigma.—3 I am so sorry about all the illness of your companions.4

Try & find out from Battersby whether he has himself observed changes in same plant from O. aranifera into O. scolopax & O. apifera.—5 Tell him I shd. be most grateful for information, but I suspect, that what he says is borrow shd. be most grateful for information, but I suspect, that what he says is borrowed from Moggridge.—6 If your Ophrys is not O. lutea, you will have to eat humble-pye to Mogg.—7

Mamma is better to day; but we have had a poor House— Everything now looks brighter; & I for one am nearly on the sound list8

My dearest Etty— yours affect | C. Darwin

Mamma tells me to add that your Mentone Letter has arrived & is satisfactory. It begins to appear a terribly long time since you left us.9

My dear Etty | Yours affect. C. D


The year is established by the endorsement. The date range is established by the reference to Emma Darwin’s and CD’s poor health (see n. 8, below), and by the absence of any mention of CD’s visit to London from 21 April to 2 May, which suggests that the letter was written prior to this visit.
It is likely that Henrietta sent a specimen either of Ophrys lutea or of O. fusca (see n. 7, below); no letter from Henrietta mentioning the specimen has been found. Henrietta apparently believed that she had found another example of self-fertilisation in Ophrys; however, CD had noted that the condition was rare among orchids generally, and that O. apifera was the only species of Ophrys to be self-fertile (see Orchids, pp. 358–9).
In his letter to J. T. Moggridge, 13 October [1865] (Correspondence vol. 13), CD wrote, ‘no single point in natural history interests and perplexes me so much as the self-fertilisation of the Bee orchis’. CD described the pollination mechanism of the bee ophrys (Ophrys apifera) in Orchids, pp. 63–72, noting that, despite its adaptations facilitating self-pollination, it retained features associated with insect pollination.
Henrietta was in France with Elinor Mary Bonham-Carter and Elinor’s aunt, Julia Smith (letter from H. E. Darwin to G. H. Darwin, [March 1866] (DAR 245: 276)). Henrietta’s letters indicate that both of her travelling companions were unwell for much of April (Emma Darwin to H. E. Darwin, [6 April 1866] (DAR 219.9: 40), and H. E. Darwin to George Darwin, 2 May 1866 (DAR 245: 270)).
Charles Henry Battersby was an Irish physician who practised medicine part of the year in Cannes, France, and collected plants in that region (R. Desmond 1994); in Orchids 2d ed., p. 106 n., he is acknowledged for supplying CD with specimens.
In Contributions to the flora of Mentone (Moggridge 1865–8, pls. XIX, XLIII–XLV), John Traherne Moggridge had classified Ophrys apifera, O. aranifera, O. arachnites, and O. scolopax as varieties of a single species, O. insectifera. See letter from J. T. Moggridge, 15 February [1866] and nn. 5 and 7.
Moggridge described Ophrys lutea in Contributions to the flora of Mentone (Moggridge 1865–8, pl. XLVI), expressing some uncertainty about its classification as a distinct species, and noting its close relationship with O. fusca. Henrietta met Moggridge in Cannes around 10 May. See also letter from H. E. Darwin, [c. 10 May 1866].
Emma Darwin and CD both had influenza during the second and third weeks of April; Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242) records that CD had a cold from 6 April, and influenza from 8 April, recovering by 14 April; while Emma had influenza from 9 April. In his letter to Asa Gray, 16 April [1866], CD wrote that Emma was still unwell.
The letter has not been found. Henrietta visited Mentone twice during her stay in France (letter from Emma Darwin to H. E. Darwin, [6 April 1866] (DAR 219.9: 40), and letter from H. E. Darwin to G. H. Darwin, 2 May 1866 (DAR 245: 270)). According to Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242), Henrietta went abroad on 15 March.


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

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.

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.


Discusses some observations on, and the fertilisation of, Ophrys.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Henrietta Emma Darwin/Henrietta Emma Litchfield
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 185: 59
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5074,” accessed on 23 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14