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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Lydia Ernestine Becker   [26 or 27 May 1863]1

The dark purple anthers are a mass of some Cryptogamic plant, allied, I suppose, to the smut of Wheat. In the bud the pollen grains can be distinguished, afterwards they are wholly corrupted.2 There remains a pretty case of a reversion from a diœcious to a hermaphrodite condition.3


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letters from L. E. Becker, 23–4 May [1863] and 28 May [1863] (Correspondence vol. 11). In 1863, 24 May was a Sunday; Becker must have posted her letter of 23–4 May on 25 May. The letter would have reached CD by 26 May at the earliest.
See Correspondence vol. 11, letter from L. E. Becker, 23–4 May [1863] and nn. 5 and 6. Becker had sent specimens of flowers of Lychnis dioica (now Silene dioica, red campion) with large dark purple anthers rather than the usual small yellow anthers. The anther-smut fungus that affects mostly female flowers has now been identified as Microbotryum violaceum; discoloration of the pollen grains is not evident during the earliest stages of development (see Uchida et al. 2003, p. 244).
In Cross and self fertilisation, pp. 410–11, CD used the rudimentary stamens and pistils found, respectively, in the female and male plants of this species to argue that some dioecious plants evolved from hermaphrodite species.


Thinks the dark purple anthers are a mass of a Cryptogamic plant, allied to the smut of Wheat. There remains a case of a reversion from a diœcious to a hermaphrodite condition.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Lydia Ernestine Becker
Source of text
Journal of Botany 7: 291–2

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4185G,” accessed on 26 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18 (Supplement)