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Darwin Correspondence Project

To W. T. Thiselton-Dyer   31 August [1877]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.

Aug 31st

My dear Dyer

The Schrankia, which I received from Mr Ellacombe, shed at first all its leaves, but now has put forth new ones; yet does not look very healthy & will not stand any sun.— I suspect that we have kept it too much watered.— I send it off today to Kew, as it is precious & you may be able to doctor it.—2

I also send a Legum: plant from Queensland, which I raised from seed. My taller plants are really almost the most elegant plants, which I have ever seen; so that Kew ought to have it. If you know what genus it is, I shd. much like to hear, for in that case I will observe it.—3

Thirdly: do you know enclosed leaves from little very unhealthy tree at Abinger sent to Farrer from Kew: from what I could see it wd be worth observing if I could have a healthy plant on loan.—4

Very many thanks for your valuable & in many ways interesting letter of the 28th; but I really did not expect you to write about the Trifolium.— The differences in the epidermic cells are what I said with the addition that there are differently shaped glands on the two sides.—5

Pray thank Mr Lynch for his good & full observations on sleep of Erythrina.6 The case seems like that of Phaseolus which in my garden did not sleep during early part of summer out of doors, but did sleep in the greenhouse.7

Notwithstanding all our hard work (& very hard it is) God knows whether we shall make much of our subject.

I hope that you saw Cohn’s letter in ‘Nature’: it has pleased me immensely after the rejection of Frank’s paper by the Royal Socy.—8 The referees seemed to think that if the filaments were not protoplasm, the discovery was worth nothing, which seems a strange conclusion.

I hope Hooker will return before very long & then you will be not so hard-worked I hope.—9

I did not intend to have scribbled so much.

Yours gratefully | Ch. Darwin

P.S. I see that Sachs (p. 786 of your Edit). speaks of some Scitamineæ going to sleep.10 Have you any notion to what he refers? Would Mr. Lynch look to any? I have a Hedychium & will look to it, but it seems incredible that this shd. sleep.11 Sachs also says that species of Œschinomene & Smithia are irritable to a touch; or rather when shaken: can you help me to any species?12


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 7 August 1877.
Henry Nicholson Ellacombe sent CD a plant of Schrankia uncinata (a synonym of Mimosa microphylla, littleleaf sensitive-briar) on the understanding that it would later be sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (see letter from H. N. Ellacombe, 30 July [1877]). The plant was received at Kew on 3 September 1877 (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Inwards book).
According to the record of receipt in the Inwards book (3 September 1877, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), the plant was an Acacia.
CD had visited Abinger Hall, the home of Thomas Henry Farrer, from 20 to 25 August 1877 (see ‘Journal’ (Appendix II)). Thiselton-Dyer wrote the name of the tree, identified from the leaves CD had enclosed, as Gleditschia sinensis, after this sentence in the letter. Gleditschia sinensis is a synonym of Gleditsia sinensis (Chinese honey locust). Thiselton-Dyer’s reply has not been found.
CD probably refers to Thiselton-Dyer’s letter of 25 August 1877; no letter from Thiselton-Dyer dated 28 August 1877 has been found. CD had mentioned that the underside of only half of each lateral leaflet of Trifolium resupinatum (Persian clover) had bloom on them and that the epidermal cells were of two different shapes on the upper and under sides of the leaf (see letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, [20–4 August 1877] and n. 4).
See letter from R. I. Lynch, [28 August 1877]; Erythrina crista-galli is the cockspur coral tree.
CD’s notes on sleep in Phaseolus, dated 11 and 12 July and 15 and 17 August 1877, are in DAR 209.10: 66–9.
CD had forwarded parts of two letters from Ferdinand Julius Cohn to Nature; Cohn’s letters discussed observations he made confirming some of Francis Darwin’s observations in F. Darwin 1877b (see letter to Nature, 15 August [1877] and nn. 2 and 3). Francis’s paper had been read at the Royal Society of London, but only an abstract had been published by the society (F. Darwin 1877a).
Joseph Dalton Hooker was away on a three-month-long botanical trip in America (L. Huxley ed. 1918, 2: 204–17).
Thiselton-Dyer had assisted with the English translation of Julius Sachs’s Text-book of botany (Sachs 1875). In Bentham and Hooker 1862–83, 3: 636–57, Scitamineae was a natural order of plants that included plants now within the families Musaceae (banana), Zingiberaceae (ginger), and Marantaceae (arrowroot). Sachs’s description of Scitamineae leaves with the lamina attached to the petiole by a cylindrical contractile organ (Sachs 1875, p. 786) probably refers to the pulvinus of leaves in some plants in the Marantaceae such as Thalia dealbata, which CD observed for Movement in plants. The pulvinus is the joint-like thickening at the base of these leaves that facilitates movement, allowing them to sleep.
Hedychium is a genus of plants in the family Zingiberaceae (ginger; see n. 10, above). Richard Irwin Lynch, foreman of the propagating department at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, had been providing CD with both specimens and observations on sleep in plants (see, for example, letter from R. I. Lynch, [28 August 1877]).
In Sachs 1875, p. 787, Sachs referred to irritable movement in Smithia sensitiva and Aeschinomene sensitiva (a synonym of Aeschynomene sensitiva, sensitive joint-vetch).


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


Discusses plants to be sent to Kew.

Thanks for letter about Trifolium

and for R. I. Lynch’s observations on sleep of Erythrina.

Mentions letter from F. J. Cohn, dealing with discovery by Francis Darwin, that CD has had printed in Nature ["The contractile filaments of the teasel", Nature 16 (1877): 339; Collected papers 2: 205–7].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
William Turner Thiselton-Dyer
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Darwin: Letters to Thiselton-Dyer, 1873–81: ff. 89–91)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11122,” accessed on 17 September 2021,