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Darwin Correspondence Project

FromC. W. Crocker   17 May 1862

South St.   Chichester

May 17th. 62

Dear Sir

Could you see the pleasure your book has already given me, for I have just dipped into it, and the continued pleasure I shall receive in perusing it and trying all the points within my reach, it would repay your kindness better than any words of mine could do.1 I shall give up the attempt to try and thank you, for it would be impossible to do it properly; all I can say is that you have furnished me with a great amount of pleasure of the highest and purest kind. That I appreciate your present I need hardly say.

I had already begun to examine the structure of Orchis maculata before the book reached, before it had been in my possession ten minutes I understood its peculiarities. clearly.— Have you ever examined Sobralia   I do not find the name in the index and have not yet read the whole book.2 A friend of mine sent me a flower of S. macrantha which I kept in water for some days for I did not like to sacrifice the pleasure of seeing it even to the curiosity of examining its structure. It yesterday began to shrivel and I then tried taking away the sepals and petals   I saw there was a passage leading to the nectary. An insect going in would disturb nothing but in coming out would lift up a cup, hinged at the top, and covering the pollinia. These so quickly set that after about half a minute I had some little difficulty in removing them from the object to which they were attached. If the insect failed in removing them the lid fell back into its former position to keep all moist.— I had only one flower to examine and know the danger of judging from such meagre materials but if you examine this plant yourself I think you will find this the plan of operation.

I am terribly afraid I shall be obliged to lose a twelvemonth in the case of the Hollyhock experiment. I cannot get the necessary plants.3 Everybody discards the plants which have a tendency to be single and the very double ones would be useless for the purpose. It would be of no use to write to the nurserymen for they would grow none but what they term first class plants. I have tried every garden near us with the same result. I shall however do the best I can with the plants such as they are and should the result be unsatisfactory will make sure of single plants from someb〈ody’s〉 seed-bed for the following year.

I have been trying to make myself acquainted with the history of Ranunculus Ficaria, and you will see the result in the little paper I post with this.4 I mentioned some points connected with it in the Chronicle hoping to get light especially upon the point as to what enemies it has to fight against in the struggle for life. Two correspondents said they had found the young tubers to be eaten by the common wood pigeon.5 Th〈is is un〉satisfactory to me; the tubers 〈    〉 〈    〉 those formed the preceeding 〈    〉 upon the surface of the ground. This was not the point I wished for information upon— I wanted to know what killed them in the second year— there are hundreds produced every spring from last summer’s tubers for every single plant which grows on the second year. What kills them after they have once made a good start? They dont rot away because they keep very well even under water. It is not due to the pigeons because I dont believe they would dig them out (in the second year the tubers are buried an inch or so below the surface) and because the wholesale destruction is going on where pigeons are rarely if ever seen. When a root does manage to live on it grows much stronger and flowers more early and more plentifully than the plants from last year’s tubers.

I enclose a copy of my notes upon Primula sinensis but look upon them as very unsatisfactory because the plants were quite exhausted with flowering.6 In other places 〈    〉 I visited I found only two or three 〈    〉 blooms.

Primula sinensis Garden No. 1— —Garden No 2. Long styled —— 8 — 4 Short styled — 4 — 5 Medial — — 2 — 1?

Since I wrote to you last I have lost my poor Mother after a most trying illness. She only survived my father for a little more than six months.7

With many thanks for your kind present I remain, dear Sir, | yours very respectfully | Chas. W. Crocker

C. Darwin Esqre.

CD annotations

5.4 Primula … respectfully 7.1] crossed pencil and ink
End of letter: ‘These are nearly last remnants of flowers’ ink


Crocker’s name is included on CD’s presentation list for Orchids (see Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix IV).
In Orchids, p. 269, CD reported that he had been unable to obtain any living flowers of the Arethuseae, the orchid tribe to which Sobralia belonged. He included an account of S. macrantha in Orchids 2d ed., pp. 91–2.
Crocker 1862. There is a copy of the number of the Gardener’s Weekly Magazine in which Crocker’s article appeared in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. CD cited Crocker 1862 on the non-production of seeds in England by Ranunculus ficaria in Variation 2: 170 n., where the paper’s publication date is mistakenly given as 1852.
Crocker’s query concerning Ranunculus ficaria was printed in the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 7 December 1861, p. 1070. The two responses were printed in the issues for 21 December (p. 1117) and 28 December (p. 1136).
Crocker had been making observations for CD on the prevalence of an equal-styled form in this species, which CD had previously considered dimorphic (see letter from C. W. Crocker, 22 April 1862 and n. 4). There are notes recording Crocker’s and other observations on the proportions of the three forms in DAR 108: 66 and 29; these findings were later incorporated into ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, p. 415 (a paper not included in Collected papers).
Crocker’s mother, Mrs Charles Crocker, died at his home on 27 April 1862 (Sussex Advertiser, 6 May 1862); his father died on 6 October 1861 (DNB).


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

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

Crocker, Charles William. 1862. The lesser celandine, Ranunculus ficaria. Gardener’s Weekly Magazine, and Floricultural Cabinet 4: 68–70.

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’: On the character and hybrid-like nature of the offspring from the illegitimate unions of dimorphic and trimorphic plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 20 February 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 10 (1869): 393–437.

Orchids 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Comments on presentation copy of Orchids. Has CD studied the orchid Sobralia?

Cannot get material for hollyhock experiment.

Sends his notes on Primula sinensis.

He is experimenting on Ranunculus.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles William Crocker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 108: 133, DAR 161.2: 258
Physical description
5pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3557,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10