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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Gardeners’ Chronicle   [before 15 August 1863]1

In a hard gravel walk close to my house, my gardener2 and myself distinctly remember, about five or six years ago, two little rosettes of purplish leaves pushing their way up. We neither of us could imagine what they were; they were soon trampled down and apparently killed. But this spring they have re-appeared in exactly the same spot, and were protected. They have now flowered and prove to be Epipactis latifolia. This Orchid, though by no means a rare plant, I have never seen in this neighbourhood, and have heard only once of its having been found in a wood about a mile and a half distant. The gravel walk was made 20 years ago; and before that time the spot existed as a little-used carriage drive; and about 25 or 26 years ago it was a pasture field. How could this Epipactis, which is so rare a plant here, have come to this spot? The root stock seems to have lain dormant under the gravel for the last five or six years. Could a seed have been blown here from a distance and have germinated during some season when the walk was neglected? The tall stems growing up in the midst of the bare gravel surface present an odd appearance, and the case seems to me a singular one.3

Charles Darwin,

Down, Bromley, Kent.


The letter was published in the issue of the Gardeners’ Chronicle for 15 August 1863 (see also Collected papers 2: 83).
Henry Lettington.
CD published further observations on these plants in ‘Fertilization of orchids’, p. 150 (Collected papers 2: 146–7), and in Orchids 2d ed., pp. 101–2. There are observational notes on Epipactis latifolia in DAR 70: 56, dated 13 August 1863.


Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

‘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 2d ed.: The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition, revised. London: John Murray. 1877.


Reports on the appearance, in a gravel walk near his house, of an orchid, Epipactis latifolia, never seen in his neighbourhood before. Asks whether a seed could have been blown from a distance and germinated during a season when the walk was neglected.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Gardeners’ Chronicle
Sent from
Source of text
Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 15 August 1863, p. 773

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4269,” accessed on 27 October 2021,

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