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Darwin Correspondence Project

To J. D. Hooker   17 November [1861]1

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 17th

My dear Hooker

What two very interesting & useful letters you have sent me.2 You rather astound me with respect to value of grounds of generalisation in the morphology of plants.3 It reminds me that years ago I sent you a grass to name & your answer was “it is certainly Festuca — (so & so) but it agrees as badly with the description as most plants do.”!4 I have often laughed over this answer of a great Botanist.— All that which you say about “chorisis” is as new to me as the term itself:5 I will be cautious; the notion seemed to me monstrous, & I should still think it so, unless in an allied plant I can show gradation towards it; & then surely you would admit that it was at least possible.— But I have not yet looked at Bonatea, & the longer it soaks in Spirits the better.—6

Lindley, from whom I asked for an orchid with simple Labellum has most kindly sent me a lot of what he marks “rare” & “rarissimo” of peloric orchids &c; but as they are dried, I know not whether they will be of use.7 He has been most kind & has suggested my writing to Lady D. Nevill who has responded in wonderfully kind manner & has sent a lot of treasures.8 But I must stop, otherwise by Jove I shall be transformed into a Botanist. I wish I had been one: this morphology is surprisingly interesting. Looking to your note, I may add that certainly the 15 alternating bundles of spiral vessels (mingled with odd bead-like vessels in some cases) are present in many Orchid; the inner whorl of anther-ducts are oftenest aborted.— I must keep clear of Apostasia, though I have cast many a longing look at it in Bauer.—9

What a very interesting case that of the Crucifer with many stamens & its relation to Papavers!—

Your note about St. Thomas is wonderfully curious: the mammals in Fernando Po show it was anciently united to mainland: but as far as I can remember I concluded on investigation that the mammals in St. Thomas were all introduced, & that the isld. had always been an island. Do you not think that this will bear on non-migration during glacial period. Is there not great dearth of temperate forms on Teneriffe?10

Pray thank heartily that living index, Oliver, for telling me of French Book, which is ordered.—11

I hope I may be well enough to read my own paper on Thursday, but I have been very seedy lately:12 I see that there is paper at Royal on same night at Royal, which will more concern you on fossil plants of Bovey;13 so that I suppose I shall not have you; but you must read my paper when published, as I shall very much like to hear what you think. It seems to me a large field for experiment.— I am now trying one on Heterocentron roseum a Melastomatous plant with 2 sorts of anthers.14 I shall make use of my Orchid little volume in illustrating modification-of-species-doctrine; but I keep very very doubtful whether I am not doing a foolish action in publishing. How I wish you would keep to your old intention & write a book on Plants.15

Adios my dear old friend | C. Darwin

It strikes me as a fundamental point in value of Homologies of Ducts, in what course they are developed & I cannot find out this: when a petal is first formed, is the duct in it a prolongation upwards from a bundle below, or downwards from the petal to join a previously existing duct.— If the latter one can see how the ducts might go astray.—

(By odd chance I have just stumbled on dispute on this point in Bull. Soc. Bot. & I see both opposite views stoutly maintained.)16


The year is provided by the reference to CD’s Primula paper (see n. 12, below).
Hooker’s letters have not been found.
In his discussion of spiral vessels being used as a basis for tracing the homologies of orchids, CD mentioned Hooker’s assertion that he had ‘never known them to speak falsely’ (Orchids, p. 293).
The species was Festuca pratensis. See Correspondence vol. 5, letter to J. D. Hooker, 5 July [1855].
The term ‘chorisis’, the ‘splitting of an organ into two parts, each of which is as perfect as its original’ (OED), was proposed by Michel Félix Dunal (Dunal 1829); his explanation of the term was quoted by John Lindley (Lindley 1848, 1: 332).
See letters to J. D. Hooker, 10 November [1861] and 14 November [1861].
See letter to D. F. Nevill, 12 November [1861].
Bauer 1830–8. Apostasia is a genus of tropical orchids indigenous to Asia, Malaysia, and Australia. In Orchids, CD mentioned the genus only in passing, most notably to suggest that its structural differences from most other orchids perhaps served ‘to show the state of the order in ancient times, when none of the forms had become so widely differentiated from each other and from other plants’ (Orchids, pp. 331–2).
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 November [1861]. In a note pinned to his copy of the issue of the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society in which Hooker 1862 was published, CD wrote: ‘Hooker in letter says that Mann found at top of St. Thomas 7200 ft not one temperate form— Now I think St. Thomas no Mount Fernando Po [here]—’ For earlier references to CD’s inquiries concerning the relationship between the faunas of Fernando Po and St Thomas (São Tomé) and the mainland fauna, see Correspondence vol. 6, letters from W. F. Daniell, 8 October – 7 November 1856 and 14 November 1856.
CD was scheduled to read a paper on the two forms of Primula before the Linnean Society of London on Thursday, 21 November 1861 (see Collected papers 2: 45–63).
At a meeting of the Royal Society of London on 21 November 1861, Charles Lyell communicated two papers that described deposits found near Bovey Tracey, Devon: William Pengelly’s paper on the lignites and clays (Pengelly 1862) and Oswald Heer’s paper on the fossil flora (Heer 1862) (see Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (1861): 449–55). In 1855, Hooker had published a paper on the seed-vessels found in the Bovey Tracey coal, the first announcement of the discovery of identifiable fossils from the deposit (Hooker 1855).
There are notes dated ‘Oct 28th. 1861—’ and ‘Oct 29— 1861’ on Heterocentron roseum in DAR 205.8: 44 and 45. CD continued his experiments to test the relative fecundity of the purple- and yellow-leaved forms in 1862. He had apparently been given the plants by John Lindley.
In 1860, CD tried to persuade Hooker to prepare from his published materials a general work on botany (see Correspondence vol. 8, letters to J. D. Hooker, 8 February [1860] and 14 February [1860]).
The reference in the Bulletin de la Société botanique de France has not been traced.


JDH’s letter on grounds of generalisation in plant morphology.

Faunal distribution and the glacial period.

Orchid homologies.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 115: 131
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3322,” accessed on 26 May 2018,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9