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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Gaston de Saporta   31 January 1878

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

Jan 31. 1878

Dear Sir,

I sent the drawing according to your request to Sir J. Hooker and he has asked his various assistants including Prof. Oliver (who has a wonderful knowledge of plants) and Mr. Thiselton Dyer to consider the case well.1 They all think the form a most curious and interesting one. They do not think it is a dicotyledon; but more probably some extinct type of vascular cryptogam. Hooker suggested Botrychium;2 but on careful examination the venation was found fundamentally different. The Aroideae3 was then suggested and the Herbarium was searched. Mr. Dyer remarks in a letter to me “that dichotomy in leaves is almost unknown in phanerogams. In some of the large compound-leaved Aroids however the ultimate divisions of the leaf have a distribution of veins like Saporta’s sketch and I send a fragment (enclosed) of a remarkable plant which we have from West Africa which, size apart, has some similarity to the sketch”.4 I fear that these remarks will not be of the least use to you; but I have thought it better to send them (to) you, as showing how your sketch has perplexed the botanists at Kew.

You will probably have heard from Lesquereux of his remarkable discovery of several plants in the Cincinatti Lower Silurians. Prof. Williamson wrote to me a week ago informing me of this discovery. He says that Lesquereux has found Lepidodrenoid stems (of) Sphenopsylla annulariae and the Devonian genus Psilophyton. Prof. Williamson then says “add all this to Saporta’s Silurian fern” and he than asks “are we going to have an unchanged flora from the base of the Silurians to the summit of the Carboniferous beds? It looks like it!”5

My dear Sir | Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin


Joseph Dalton Hooker, Daniel Oliver, and William Turner Thiselton-Dyer all worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. See Correspondence vol. 25, letter from Gaston de Saporta, 16 December 1877 and n. 26, and this volume, letter to W. T. Thiselton-Dyer, 31 January [1878].
Botrychium is the genus of grape-ferns or moonworts.
The Aroideae or Araceae are the family of arums. (Araceae is now the accepted family name.)
Thiselton-Dyer’s comments were in the missing part of his letter to CD of 29 January 1878.
Leo Lesquereux and William Crawford Williamson; see Lesquereux 1877 and letter from W. C. Williamson, 19 January 1878 and n. 5. Sphenopsylla annulariae is a slip for Sphenophyllum and Annularia.


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


Has sent GdeS’s drawing to Hooker. He, Oliver, and Thiselton-Dyer have been perplexed by it.

L. Lesquereux’s discoveries in the Cincinnati Lower Silurian beds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Louis Charles Joseph Gaston (Gaston) de Saporta, comte de Saporta
Sent from
Source of text
Petit and Théodoridès 1959, pp. 210–11

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11341,” accessed on 20 January 2022,