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Darwin Correspondence Project

To George Bentham   30 November [1856]1

Down Bromley Kent

Nov. 30th

My dear Sir

I am extremely much obliged to you for answering my loose questions so fully & clearly.— I see I was quite wrong (as might have been expected from so vague a guide as Loudon’s Encycl.) in regard to few trees having papilionaceous flowers.—2

I was not in the least aware that those Leguminosæ, which have apetalous flowers, “were almost without anthers”: you once told me before, about the apetalous Leguminosæ, & I think I wrote down other names besides Ononis, Lespediza & Clitoria: I will, if I do not hear to the contrary quote this fact on your authority, viz the apetalous condition of “many” Leguminosæ, which in this condition are almost without anthers & yet produce more seed than the ordinary flowers.3 I wish to Heaven this case was more general, it would be splendid for me, as it would seem that pollen must be brought from some other flowers, without indeed it be a case of agamic seeding.— I have for many years watched insects on flowers,—them carrying pollen &c &c, & I have some curious little facts; however, loose & wild the speculations are, which they tend to lead me to. In my enemies the Leguminosæ, or rather in some of them, I cannot conceive how it is that the Bees do not carry pollen from one variety or individual to another, & yet in some cases, as in Sweet Peas, I have good evidence that the varieties never cross.—4 How strange it is that the Cruciferæ shd. cross to such an extent as they do! I suppose there is no common English Leguminous plant, which has apetalous flowers; I shd. so like to watch it & insects.—

I thank you warmly for your very kind offer of giving me further information; but I will not be exorbitant, yet sometime I daresay I may trouble you again

Your’s very sincerely | C. Darwin


Dated by the relationship to the letter to George Bentham, 26 November [1856].
No quotation from Bentham on this subject appears in Natural selection or in Origin.
CD summarised his views in Natural selection, pp. 68–71. His conclusions were repeated in a paper on ‘Bees and fertilization of Kidney beans’ published in 1857 (see letter to Gardeners’ Chronicle, 18 October [1857]).


Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.


Thanks GB for information on Leguminosae, especially about those with apetalous flowers and almost without anthers.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
George Bentham
Sent from
Source of text
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Bentham Correspondence, Vol. 3, Daintree–Dyer, 1830–1884, GEB/1/3: f. 685)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2005,” accessed on 3 August 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6