skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Daniel Oliver   22 January 1863

Richmond, S.W.

22. 1. 1863

My dear Sir

You very greatly over-rate the labour of my Bibliography & yet more greatly extravagant is your notion as to my knowing many things.—1 Alas! I am dreadfully ignorant & my memory sadly imperfect.— Your suggestion about the sexes of water plants is interesting.2 In this relation it would be important to distinguish species the flowers of wh. expand under the surface,—& this wd. reduce the no. of “aquatics” very greatly. Crowfoot, Water-Lily, Utricularia, Vallisneria, Elodea & the like on the one hand—Naias, Zannichellia, Subularia (Cruciferae), Zostera &c. on the other.3 I should have liked to examine Subularia & thought about it before going down to the Lakes but saw none when there last time.

I am not aware that any sexual difference has been noticed in its flowers.4 Acct. wd. have to be taken of the Algae in such great preponderance submerged altogether,—fertilising of course by antherozoids. Some (as some Fuci) are monoecious & I fancy have both sexes in same conceptacle.5

My prospect of spare time keeps far off. Tomorrow eveng. (4 Fridays running) I have to lecture at Norwich (a thing you need not fear I shall get in to the habit of)6   On Saturdy. eveng. I have lectures to my class at U. College nearly done.7 I have undertaken to work up the botany of Amomums with Hanbury.8 the relations of Viscums &c to Gnetaceae I have to make up my mind about, &c. &c. &c.9

Very sincerely yours | Danl. Oliver.

Mr. Watson (of Ditton)10 sends me today some 2 score baby Brambles (seedling) to shew they are not the surpassingly rare things he thinks Mr. Bentham makes out (Linn. Socy. address./62)11

An obs. of mine in a Review of British Floras suggested his looking for them.—12


In his letter to Oliver of 20 [January 1863], CD praised Oliver’s bibliographic review of botanical literature ([Oliver] 1862a).
In the letter to Daniel Oliver, 20 [January 1863], CD asked whether there was an unusual proportion of freshwater plants with separated sexes.
The flowers of the first group open on the surface of the water, while those of the second group expand while submerged; Oliver considered only the latter to be truly aquatic. There is a note on aquatic plants in DAR 111: A69. See also letter to Daniel Oliver, 20 [January 1863].
See Forms of flowers, p. 311 n.
Oliver refers to the motile male gametes (antherozoids) of some algae, and to some seaweeds containing male and female sex organs in the same conceptacle, a cavity in the thallus.
At the Assembly Hall in Norwich, Oliver lectured on the topic of dimorphism in flowers (Norfolk Chronicle, 14 February 1863, p. 2).
Oliver was professor of botany at University College London. The course of ten lectures for advanced students began on 8 November 1862 (Athenæum, 8 November 1862, p. 577).
Oliver and Hanbury 1863. The reference is to the pharmacist Daniel Hanbury.
Oliver read a paper on the Loranthaceae (which then included Viscum) and its relationship to the Gnetaceae before the Linnean Society on 15 January 1863 (Oliver 1863a).
Hewett Cottrell Watson lived in Thames Ditton.
In his anniversary address to the Linnean Society, George Bentham discussed the subject of biological classification; he cautioned against remodelling the taxonomic system by creating new species and new names (Bentham 1862). Bentham was referring to the recent contribution on Rubus by Philipp Jakob Müller (Müller 1859), a 225-page account of 239 species of the genus, and to Müller 1861, a 40-page account describing 31 new bramble species. In the conclusion to Origin, CD predicted a ‘considerable revolution in natural history’ once his views were acknowledged, resulting in the cessation of the ‘endless disputes’ about ‘whether or not some fifty species of British brambles are true species’ (Origin, p. 484).
In the January 1863 number of the Natural History Review, Oliver reviewed new editions of a number of standard British floras, including the fifth edition of Charles Cardale Babington’s Manual of British botany (Babington 1862) and the eighth edition of The British flora by William Jackson Hooker and George Arnott Walker Arnott (W. J. Hooker and Arnott 1860). Here ([Oliver] 1863b, p. 38), Oliver criticised the ‘wholesale manufacture of species’, which caused such ‘mischief’ when it came to philosophical generalisation or comparison.


Athenæum. 1844. A few words by way of comment on Miss Martineau’s statement. No. 896 (28 December): 1198–9.

Babington, Charles Cardale. 1862. Manual of British botany, containing the flowering plants and ferns arranged according to the natural orders. 5th edition. London: John van Voorst.

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

Müller, Phillipp Jacob. 1861. Rubologische Ergebnisse einer dreitägigen Excursion in die granitischen Hoch-Vogesen der Umgegend von Gérardmer (Vogesen-Depart.–Frankreich). Bonplandia. Zeitschrift für die gesammte Botanik 9: 276–308.

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.


The number of "aquatic" flowers is reduced if one considers only those that expand under water.

Lecturing at Norwich.

Letter details

Letter no.
Daniel Oliver
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 173: 19
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3937,” accessed on 17 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11