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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   June 1862


June 1862

Found Orchis Latifolia with 27 flowers. in 16 flowers a small fly (of one kind) was killed entering sideways, apparently just at the stigma1

in 2 more flowers parts of flies

in 9 of 16 pollen not gone

in 7— — gone

in other flowers of same plant pollen nearly all gone

W. E D.


Following the publication of Orchids in May 1862, CD continued, with assistance from his sons, William, Francis, and George Howard Darwin, to observe, experiment, and keep notes on orchid adaptation and pollination. In a letter to A. G. More, 17 July 1861 (Correspondence vol. 9), CD had expressed the opinion that Orchis latifolia and the closely allied O. maculata, which some botanists believed to be one species, might be distinguishable by the manner of their insect pollination. He was unable to find conclusive evidence of this before the publication of Orchids (see Orchids, p. 42). However, there is a note in DAR 70: 13–14, dated 20 June 1862, which describes observations by CD’s sons George and William on the pollination of O. maculata by the flies Empis livida and E. pennipes; the note also reads: ‘A Dr. from Southampton sent me 3 flowers of O. latifolia with the smaller black fly [E. pennipes] within the nectary, when he killed it.—’ CD incorporated these observations in the German translation of Orchids (Bronn trans. 1862, p. 22 n.; see the enclosure to the letter to H. G. Bronn, 30 June [1862]). He later published them in ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 142, a paper comprising revised and additional notes on orchids, keyed by page number to the first edition of Orchids (see also Collected papers 2: 139).


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–.

‘Fertilization of orchids’: Notes on the fertilization of orchids. By Charles Darwin. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 4 (1869): 141–59. [Collected papers 2: 138–56.]

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.


Found 27 flowers of Orchis latifolia and in 16 of them were dead flies of one particular kind.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162.1: 89
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3585,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

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