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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. M. Asher to John Murray1   1 November 1877

8 Cambridge Terrace; Railton Road | London.

Nov. 1. 77

Dear Sir

Would you kindly communicate the following fact to Mr. Darwin:

On the steppes along the river Wolga a kind of wheat called Cubanka or White Turkish wheat is cultivated; which only maintains its original character as long as the soil is nearly virgin; then changing over into another kind well known in the English market as “Saxonca”.2 These two kinds of wheat, are as regards the plant (not so much as regards the corn itself) as plainly different from each other as any two kinds of the same plant can be. What is most strange is that (by my inexperienced eye at least) no intermediate forms could be discovered; but that on the same field 〈and〉 from the same seed side by side you find Saxonca and Cubanka wheat. As regards the seed, the Saxonca is shorter and rounder as well as smaller, the Cubanka larger, thicker and heavier; The colour also is mostly for the Cubanka whiter than for the Saxonca. The variations are alltogether so great that I witnessed wheat from the same neighbourhood being sold for about 15/– and about 7/– 〈a〉 hundredweight.

If Mr. Darwin should think the matter interesting I shall try to obtain for him specimens of seed and either this autumn or at all events next autumn specimens of the plants: stating how long the seeds have been, from the same 〈  〉ginals, sown on the same field.3 It would however I believe be well worth some young botanist’s while to go to the Russian steppes and to collect specimens.

Close inquiry will no doubt show an extraordinary disposition to vary; and at the same time a jumping passage from 〈one〉 variety to another which is, I believe contrary to the generally assumed laws of variation. | Dear Sir | Yr truly | Dr. G. M. Asher


Murray is identified as the addressee from a note at the top of the letter, ‘NB. Writer not known to me— JM | Novr 2’, in Murray’s handwriting.
Asher, a Russian-born historian, had spent time after 1870 studying German communities along the Volga in Russia. Saxonka and Kubanka were common wheat varieties in northern Russia (Saunders 1889).
Asher sent seeds to CD in 1878 (Correspondence vol. 26, letter from G. M. Asher, 14 February 1878). CD sent them to Alexander Stephen Wilson (ibid., letter to A. S. Wilson, 24 April 1878), who reported the results of his experiments in Wilson 1879–81. Wilson concluded that Saxonka and Kubanka did not transform into one another, but that Saxonka, being more fertile and having greater vitality, generally came to predominate when a mixture was planted.


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

Wilson, Alexander Stephen. 1879. Experiments with kubanka and saxonica wheat: first year’s experiments and results. Gardeners’ Chronicle, 24 May 1879, pp. 652–4.


Describes case of two varieties of Russian wheat, the kubanka (or White Turkish) and the saxonka, which grow side by side with no intermediate varieties. As kubanka gradually yields place to saxonka, thinks an unusual tendency to jumping variation [saltation] operates; suggests CD urge some young botanist to investigate [see ML 2: 419–22].

Letter details

Letter no.
Georg Michael Asher
John Murray
Sent from
London, Cambridge Terrace, 8
Source of text
DAR 159: 116
Physical description
3pp damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11222,” accessed on 20 September 2021,