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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Francis Darwin   22 October 1873


Oct 22 1873

My dear Frank

Thanks for the capital case of inheritance. I want you to do a job for me at Kew, that is if Hooker to whom I will write, can manage it on a Sunday.1 It is to look thro’ the dried collection of Desmodium, and to observe.

(1) whether many of the species bear only 3 leaflets, & the usual relative size of the 2 laterals to the terminal one.—2

(2) I see in Steudel that next to D. gyran is D. gyroides;3 look closely to the leaves of this, and if they are nearly like those of D. Gyrans please to make a plan with compasses, of the length of the main petiole, of the sub-petioles of the leaflets, of the leaflets themselves, & of the large terminal leaflet—

(3) I judge by the names that some of the species are climbers,4 & I want to know whether any bear tendrils. Especially I want to know whether the lateral leaflets have ever been converted into tendrils, whilst the terminal one is still a leaflet: I know of no such case, perhaps Hooker may.

In any species in which the 2 lateral leaflets are very small, observe whether the apex is produced into a free point, as if the leaflet had once existed as a tendril. Take this paper with u as a mem—

& you had better take compasses if you have them.

Yours affection— | Ch. Darwin.


CD mentioned Francis’s visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, in his letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker of 23 October [1873]. See also letter to Francis Darwin, 10 October 1873.
CD discussed the movements and structure of Desmodium gyrans (now Codariocalyx motorius, the telegraph or semaphore plant) in Movement in plants, pp. 357–62. He compared the leaf structure of D. gyrans with other members of the genus in Movement in plants, pp. 362–4, arguing that the lateral leaflets in D. gyrans were rudimentary, at least in function. The lateral leaflets are noted for their rapid movements.
CD did not discuss Desmodium gyroides (now Codariocalyx gyroides) in Movement in plants. There is an annotated copy of Ernst Gottlieb Steudel’s Nomenclator botanicus (Steudel 1841) in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 788–9).
In his copy of Steudel 1841, 1: 493–6, CD marked, as well as Desmodium gyroides (see n. 3, above), D. adhaesivum, D. adscendens, Hedysarum uncinatum (a synonym of D. ancistrocarpum), D. polycarpum, D. prehensile, D. reptans, D. retinens, D. spirale, and D. uncinatum. Desmodium adhaesivum is now D. aparines; D. polycarpum is now D. heterocarpum; D. reptans is now D. axillare; D. spirale is now D. procumbens. None of them is a climber; none is discussed in Movement in plants. CD had discussed the gradation in the form of leaflets from leaf-climbers to tendril bearers in Climbing plants, p. 111.


Climbing plants: On the movements and habits of climbing plants. By Charles Darwin. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green; Williams & Norgate. 1865.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Movement in plants: The power of movement in plants. By Charles Darwin. Assisted by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1880.

Steudel, Ernst Gottlieb. 1841. Nomenclator botanicus: seu: synonymia plantarum universalis, enumerans ordine alphabetico nomina atque synonyma, tum generica tum specifica, et a Linnaeo et a recentioribus de re botanica scriptoribus plantis phanerogamis imposita. 2d edition. 2 parts. Stuttgart and Tübingen: J. G. Cotta.


Lists observations he would like FD to make on the dried species of Desmodium at Kew.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Francis Darwin
Source of text
DAR 271.3: 10
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9106,” accessed on 13 November 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21