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Darwin Correspondence Project

From C. W. Crocker   24 November 1862


Novr. 24th. 62

Dear Sir

I should think that you would be able to manage Begonia frigida and its allies, at this season of the year, much better in the window of a room where a fire is kept every day than in a greenhouse where the frost is kept out and nothing more.1 I believe you would find no difficulty in growing them in your study window, only taking the precaution of moving them away from the windows in severe frosts. B. frigida flowers nearly or quite all the year round; I expect it could only be procured from Kew; the nurserymen would hardly think it showy enough to keep. I left a stock of young ones when I came away. I believe its most nearly allied species would be the little group to which B. Dregei, B. parvifolia, and B. Natalensis belong. My poor old friend Dr. Klot of Berlin, who parted Begonia up into some 30 or 40 genera, would I think put all of them into his group “Augustia”—2 There can be but little doubt that B. frigida would hybridize with those mentioned. As far as I have been enabled to judge I should say that the genus Begonia is too comprehensive to get all the members to cross with each other.— Thus I could never get the B. Xanthina group (to which most of the coloured leaved species now so popular belong) to cross with the upright caulescent sp. Not more than 4 or 6 species have been used in procuring these painted leaved vars.—3 B. frigida does produce normal male & female flowers as well as the hermaphrodite ones.

I did not know of the Peloria Tropæolum, I have never seen it.4

Since I wrote to you last I have reason to think that my Antirrhinum experiment was more successful than I anticipated.5 Still one must not build too much upon a single experiment. I refer to those flowers which were simply protected with netting without being otherwise touched. I believe that not more than half the flowers were fertilised; and even these might have been done by insect agency—for the flowers of the Snap-dragon are inhabited by a number of very minute insects which no net could keep out, but still large enough to carry a few grains of pollen about.

It is very rarely indeed that a flower misses producing seed if left to nature and therefore as several were left unfertilised in my netted plant I shall try again with great hope of proving what could hardly be anticipated. Should it prove to be sterile unless artificially aided why where can we look for a plant which would be self-fertilised   they would surely be exceptions. But I am perhaps looking ahead too hopefully— Do you know of any one who has got the Peloria form of Antirrhinum? I have never seen it.—6 Many thanks for your hint relative to dimorphism among my Plantains   I shall look diligently for it—though I have hitherto seen nothing which led me to expect it.7 I was much pleased to hear of your success with the Pelargonium8

I have to thank you very much for offer of aid in the way of plants, but I hope and trust, at the same time, that nothing I said looked like complaining9   I hate a grumbler and should despise myself if I thought I had been weak enough to do it. The man who suits my taste is the one who makes the most of the opportunities he has (and everybody has opportunities of some kind). I’ll tell you how I have acted this year. I bought and begged some annual seeds last spring   these I have grown on, have harvested my crop, and as soon as the seed is clean, mean to exchange it with some nurseryman for plants. My income is larger than it was at Kew and I am not afraid to spend a little upon a hobby which is as dear as life itself to me.10 I would as soon be dead as have no plants, even though they be weeds.

I think I shall be all right for Hollyhocks next year.—11 I have got some Scarlet Geraniums upon which I am trying influence of pollen from long and short stamens, but my experiments are quite young.— I last year collected seed of all the kinds of Aquilegia I could get hold of with a vague sort of idea that something would come of it for there are several distinct colours among them. They’ll flower next year. But what a job I had to raise them! I was obliged to sow in the open ground (I have since bought two frames) and the seeds laid for four blessed months without one germinating. I gave them up for lost but I have now got them strong enough to stand the winter I trust.

In conclusion allow me to say that there is nothing in the world which could give me greater pleasure than to answer to the best of my ability any question you could can put— the more of these questions there are the better I shall be pleased— at the same time you may trust my honesty to say that I dont know if I have any doubt upon the subject.

Trusting you will often give me the happiness of answering anything upon which I can be of the very least assistance to you, I remain, dear Sir, | yours most respectfully | C. W. Crocker

C. Darwin Esqe.

As there is not much in flower just now I have been amusing myself with the Ivy—perhaps the most useful plant in all our flora so far as birds and the insect world is concerned. It flowers when everything else has done and ripens its fruit when other supplies of food are nearly exhausted. I find lots of little variations which nobody has thought it worth while to notice, as for instance in general form of inflorescence (not of individual flowers), in time of blooming, &c. Some persist in making only one terminal umbel—while others produce as usual many, it is the case all over the plant.

CD annotations

4.5 they … exceptions.] cross in margin, ink


CD was preparing a draft of the part of Variation dealing with ‘Facts of variation of Plants’ (Variation 1: 305–72; see ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II)), in which he included a brief discussion of variation in cultivated flowers (Variation 1: 364–72). CD cited a case (pp. 365–6) of a ‘monstrous’ Begonia frigida grown at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, with, untypically, a number of hermaphrodite flowers that also showed other structural changes. Crocker, who until recently had been foreman of the propagating department of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, had observed ‘that seedlings from the normal flowers produced plants which bore, in about the same proportion as the parent-plant, hermaphrodite flowers having inferior perianths’ (Variation 1: 366; see Crocker 1861). CD wished to obtain one of the ‘monstrous’ offspring for crossing purposes (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 12 [December 1862], and letter to John Scott, 19 December [1862]), and had apparently written to Crocker to ask about the practicalities; the letter to Crocker has not been found.
Crocker refers to Klotzsch 1854, in which begonias were divided into forty-two genera (Taxonomic literature). Crocker probably met Johann Friedrich Klotzsch, who was curator of the herbarium at the University of Berlin from 1833 to 1860, while working as a gardener near Berlin.
In Crocker 1861, Crocker had discussed the restricted parentage of the popular variegated hybrids of Begonia, expressing a fear that the ‘present passion for plants with coloured foliage will drive some of our old favourites out of cultivation’, and suggesting that nurserymen should attempt to hybridise the variegated varieties with those from other groups. CD kept separately his copy of the number of the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette that contained Crocker 1861, and which is now at the Cory Library, Cambridge Botanic Garden (see the ‘List of the numbers of special interest to Darwin and kept by him in separate parcels’ in DAR 222).
In his letter to CD of 31 October 1862, Crocker had mentioned conducting experiments on species of the genus Tropaeolum. CD’s reply has not been found, but in the letter to Isaac Anderson-Henry, 20 January [1863] (Correspondence vol. 11), he mentioned his belief that there was ‘a peloric and common variety of Tropæolum’.
Following Crocker’s discussion of Antirrhinum in his letter to CD of 31 October 1862, CD may have suggested to him that he should attempt to obtain seed from the peloric flowers of Antirrhinum as Karl Ludwig Willdenow had done (see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to Journal of Horticulture, [before 18 June 1861]). Such experiments would parallel CD’s own experiments on pelargoniums (see n. 8, below).
See letter from C. W. Crocker, 31 October 1862 and n. 8. On the basis of CD’s information, Crocker carried out a number of observations on and crossing experiments with Plantago, publishing his results in Crocker 1864; CD cited Crocker’s work in Forms of flowers, p. 306 n. See also Correspondence vol. 11, letter from C. W. Crocker, 1 May 1863.
CD had apparently told Crocker of his success in producing fertile seed from the normally sterile peloric flowers of pelargoniums (see letter to M. T. Masters, 8 July [1862], and letter to John Scott, 19 December [1862]).
After leaving the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (see n. 1, above), Crocker worked as a journalist and cathedral official in Chichester, Sussex (Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 7 March 1868, p. 242).
See letter from C. W. Crocker, 17 May 1862 and n. 3.


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

Crocker, Charles William. 1861. Begonias. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 14 December 1861, p. 1092.

Crocker, Charles William. 1864. Plantago lanceolata. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 26 March 1864, pp. 293–4.

Forms of flowers: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1877.

Klotzsch, Johann Friedrich. 1854. Begoniaceen-Gattungen und Arten. [Read 2 March 1854.] Abhandlungen der königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin 39 (1855): 121–255.

Taxonomic literature: Taxonomic literature. A selective guide to botanical publications and collections with dates, commentaries and types. By Frans A. Stafleu and Richard S. Cowan. 2d edition. 7 vols. Utrecht, Netherlands: Bohn, Scheltema & Holkema. The Hague, Netherlands: W. Junk. 1976–88.

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


Answers on Begonia.

Snapdragon crossing experiments.

Thanks for offer of plants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles William Crocker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 161.2: 259
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3824,” accessed on 29 September 2021,

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