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Darwin Correspondence Project

To P. H. Gosse   5 June [1863]1

Down. | Bromley. | Kent. S.E.

June 5th

My dear Sir

If you could prove the truth of your hypothesis, it would be extremely curious & quite new.2 It certainly seems very suspicious your having found the pollinium attached to the horns of the labellum so often. I am prepared to believe anything of these wonderful productions. But if I were in your place, I would wait till I could observe another spike & then you would, I have no doubt, definitely prove the case. Why I shd act so, is because I have so often noticed the pollinia removed in an unexpected manner: Dr. Hooker published in Phil. Transact. that Listera ejected its pollinia to a distance, which is entire mistake.3 The conjecture (& it was founded on nothing but despair) occurred to me that the vibrating Labellum in Acropera might remove the pollinia; but Dr. Hooker tried on living plant & failed to make it act.—4

Nevertheless your case may prove quite true; the dried labellum seems very thin as if it had been flexible.— It is really a very curious case.— I have some Stanhopeas in my Stove (I know not what species) but I fear they will not flower this summer; should they do so, I will observe them & communicate the result to you.—5

If you thought fit to communicate your facts now to any periodical, it might induce others to observe;6 but many persons are such bad observers that I doubt whether you would profit by it.—

I would suggest to you to get to know (if you do not already do so) the appearance of the viscid matter from the stigma, which abounds with isolated elongated cells, called by Brown utriculi:7 these I find never present in viscid matter of Rostellum; & when these parts are close, it is important to distinguish them.— You could have thus probably told whether the fluid which exuded from your decaying flowers was a true stigmatic secretion.

I heartily hope your pretty little discovery will prove good & true.—

My dear Sir | Yours very sincerely | C. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from P. H. Gosse, 4 June 1863.
J. D. Hooker 1854c.
No letter from Hooker containing this information has been found; however, see Correspondence vol. 9, letter to J. D. Hooker, 15 [October 1861].
Stanhopea appears on CD’s lists of hothouse plants (Correspondence vol. 11, Appendix VI). CD did not succeed in pollinating Stanhopea until the following year (see Correspondence vol. 12, letters to J. D. Hooker, 22 October [1864] and 3 November [1864]). See also ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 153 (Collected papers 2: 150).
Robert Brown 1833b, pp. 710–11; CD’s abstract of this paper is in DAR 74: 169–74. There is also a presentation copy of a slightly modified preprint of this paper (Robert Brown 1831a) in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.


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.]


PHG’s hypothesis [regarding the self-fertilising mechanism of Stanhopea] may prove quite true, but CD suggests that PHG should observe another spike to make sure. CD will observe his Stanhopea if it flowers.

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4205,” accessed on 18 September 2021,

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