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Darwin Correspondence Project

From P. A. Hanaford   3 September 1876

770 Grand St. | Jersey City, N.J.

Sept. 3—1876

To Charles Darwin, Esq.

Dear Sir:—

Permit a stranger to you personally, but one who, on this side the ocean, reads your books with great interest, to address you.

I have recently perused your volume on “Insectivorous Plants”,1 and enjoyed it as well as my limited knowledge of chemistry and natural history would allow; learning also from it many things concerning the peculiarities of the plants mentioned that will henceforth enhance the value to me of that page of the Great Book of Nature on which they appear.

I write, to thank you for all this, and to say that a widely known florist, Mr. Peter Henderson, (who is my neighbor, and was formerly yours more than mine, since he came hither from “auld Scotia”) has become inclined to try the experiment of feeding a certain number of plants of the Dionaea Muscipula with insects and of keeping a similar number without the presence of insects, in order to enable him to decide for himself whether the insects were food for the plants, a matter about which he has some doubt.2 Yet he has read your book with great interest, and receives your conclusions, in the main, with great hospitality.

It seemed to me that the fact might be an encouraging one to you, since it would prove that your writings do not fail to awaken thought and the spirit of investigation, in America as well as Great Britain, feeling assured that as truth is your ultimatum you will be gratified by his efforts and success, whether his experiments confirm your theories, or harmonise with your observations or not; if only he helps us to understand better the facts of natural history.

I send with this the business annual of the gentleman,3 and most heartily echo his expressed wish that the great naturalist whom I address could visit his extensive conservatories, and gardens, and enjoy the marvels of beauty and of creative skill continually presented there in leaf and flower.

Yours very respectfully | Phebe A. Hanaford


Henderson’s experiments on Dionaea muscipula (Venus fly trap) were evidently similar in nature to those performed by Casimir de Candolle (see letter from Casimir de Candolle, 30 July 1876 and nn. 2 and 4). Henderson did not publish a description of his experiments, but later reported that over a six-month period, he observed no difference between plants fed with insects and plants that were not, and concluded that they derived no benefit from insect food (Henderson 1884, p. 223).
Henderson’s catalogue (Annual descriptive catalogue of choice and select flower, vegetable and agricultural seeds, horticultural implements, fertilizers, &c., for sale by Peter Henderson & Co. seedsmen, 35 Cortlandt St., New York 1876) has not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.


Henderson, Peter. 1884. Garden and farm topics. New York: Peter Henderson & Co.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.


PAH’s friend, a florist, is repeating CD’s experiments with Dionaea muscipula.

CD’s works stir interest in America.

Letter details

Letter no.
Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Jersey City, N.J.
Source of text
DAR 166: 92
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10588,” accessed on 18 September 2021,

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