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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   2 October 1877

Abinger Hall, | Dorking. | Gomshall S.E.R. | Station & Telegraph.

2 Oct/77

My dear Mr Darwin

A neighbour—Mrs Rate,1 shewed me a thing yesterday which is new to me.

Their Tritoma’s2 are very late in flower, and are full of nectar, so that it runs down the branch. The bees are much attracted. (hive bees)— But many of them are caught in the long tubes: cannot get out; and are killed there:— On each stem—in the drawing room flower pots were five or six bees, dead & closely enshrouded by the half withered corolla—wrapt as tight as a mummy.3

I dont suppose the plant means to do this, or gets anything out of the bees—but it seems to shew a curious ignorance or maladaptation on the part of the bee. In all the cases I saw the corolla was withered. But Mrs Rate tells me it is curious to watch the great efforts of the bee to escape from the mature flower.

I dare you know analogous cases—but it is the first I have seen & therefore send it to you.

We are winding up for a move to London— Never was the country prettier than for the last fortnight—Elms glorious.4

Sincerely yours | T H Farrer


Alice Gertrude Rate was the wife of the banker and lawyer Lachlan Mackintosh Rate, who purchased Milton Court in Dorking, Surrey, in 1871; the gardens developed by Alice Rate were widely admired (Cattermole 2011, pp. 40–1, 373, 375–8).
Tritoma is a synonym of Kniphofia (the genus of red-hot pokers or torch lilies).
Thomas Charles Renshaw had already observed this phenomenon and passed the information on to CD in 1875 (see Correspondence vol. 23, letter from Thomas Belt, 17 October 1875).
Farrer and his wife Katherine Euphemia lived in Abinger Hall, near Dorking, Surrey.


Cattermole, Paul. 2011. A history of Milton Court and part of the manor of Milton. Dorking, Surrey: Unum.

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


Hive-bees captured in tubes of nectary of Tritoma. Seems a maladaptation of the bees.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Abinger Hall
Source of text
DAR 164: 85
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11164,” accessed on 26 September 2021,