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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Hermann Müller   7 August 1876

Down, Beckenham, Kent

Aug: 7 1876

My dear Sir

— —I was much interested by your brother’s article on Hedychium;1 about two years ago I was so convinced that the flowers were fertilized by the tips of the wings of large moths, that I wrote to India to ask a man to observe the flowers and catch the moths at work, and he sent me 20 to 30 sphinx-moths, but so badly packed that they all arrived in fragments!2 and I could make out nothing.— —

Yours sincerely | Ch. Darwin


Hermann Müller had been writing a series of articles for Nature on the fertilisation of flowers (H. Müller 1873–7). The fourteenth article, ‘Flowers fertilised by the wings of butterflies’ was published in Nature, 22 June 1876, pp. 173–5. It contained an account of observations made by Fritz Müller detailing how pollen from a red-flowered Hedychium (Hedychium is the genus of ginger lilies) attached to the wings of Callidryas philea (a synonym of Phoebis philea, the orange-barred sulphur butterfly). Fritz Müller had noted that, on the first day on which a flower opened, the anthers were more likely to be struck by the wings of the butterfly; on the second day, the stigmas were more likely to be hit, thus ensuring cross-fertilisation.
CD had requested information on Hedychium and specimens from James Alexander Gammie (see Correspondence vol. 22, letters from J. A. Gammie, 16 February 1874 and 28 August 1874).


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

Müller, Hermann. 1873–7. On the fertilisation of flowers by insects and on the reciprocal adaptations of both. Nature, 3 July 1873, pp. 187–9; 10 July 1873, pp. 205–6; 25 September 1873, pp. 433–5; 20 November 1873, pp. 44–6; 1 January 1874, pp. 164–6; 18 June 1874, pp. 129–30; 12 November 1874, pp. 32–3; 10 December 1874, pp. 110–12; 31 December 1874, pp. 169–71; 20 May 1875, pp. 50–1; 8 July 1875, pp. 190–1; 13 January 1876, pp. 210–12; 10 February 1876, pp. 289–92; 22 June 1876, pp. 173–5; 8 February 1877, pp. 317–19; 29 March 1877, pp. 473–5; 11 October 1877, pp. 507–9.


Comments on Fritz Müller’s article on Hedychium.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Heinrich Ludwig Hermann (Hermann) Müller
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 146: 437
Physical description
1p inc

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10572,” accessed on 17 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24