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Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. E. Darwin   22 March [1864]1


March 22

My Dear Father,

I hope you are better again now.

I have drawn some more Primulas Chinese which I enclose marked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.—2

No (1) is a short-styled Pink Variety.3

No (2) is a middle styled White Variety with short pistil tho’ not quite so short as No 5   The stamens of No (2) were quite perfect with very little imperfect pollen.

No 3 had tolerably short pistil (tho’ I think not so short)? as No’s (2) or (5)4   the stamens were all imperfect & shrivelled & hard when old, so that I had to dissect the stamens of 8 or 10 flowers to get the pollen I have drawn, there was a great deal imperfect pollen, but the large ones drawn seemed perfect grains.5

No (4) is the ordinary Long styled White Var. I was so surprised at the various sizes in pollen of No 2. that I got another M. styled plant with very short pistil No (5) & you see it is just the same as no (3).6

I am sure I did not mix the pollens as I did them on separate glasses, & in No 3 had to open the stamens under 1 inch & get the pollen out.

The middle styled seem generally to have more imperfect pollen & to vary in size very much.

I can easily get some more middle styled if you think it worth while

It is a most extraordinary about Old Fall7

[Enclosure 1]


[Enclosure 2]


CD annotations

Enclosure 1: bottom of 1st column: ‘Short-styled | Long-stamen & bigger pollen’ pencil
Top of 2d column: ‘Equal to long-styled’ pencil
Bottom of 2d column: ‘Mid-styledpencil
Top of 3d column: ‘just as large [over del ‘long’] as as in long-styled’8 pencil
Bottom of 4th column: ‘Long styled—short stamenspencil
Enclosure 2: bottom of page: ‘Mid-styled’ pencil


The year is established by the reference to the earlier sketches of Primula sinensis sent to CD (see n. 2, below).
See enclosures. William added another set of numbers (in pencil) to the drawings of what he called the mid-styled plants; therefore, plants 2, 3, and 5 are also numbered 1, 2, and 3 (see n. 6, below). William had also sent sketches of Primula sinensis pollen on 12 March 1864 and with his letter of [15 March 1864]; these sketches are in DAR 108: 88 and 85 (see letter from W. E. Darwin, [15 March 1864] and n. 3). The sketches are reproduced here at 45 per cent of their original size.
See CD annotations for the descriptions that CD added to William’s sketches.
See letter from H. E. Darwin to W. E. Darwin, [16 March 1864] and n. 2, and n. 8, below. CD later concluded that in P. sinensis flowers the pistil was the part that had varied most (Forms of flowers, p. 222; see also ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, p. 418). He also discussed the variability of the pistil in ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, pp. 415 and 434, and Forms of flowers, pp. 218 and 273. See CD’s notes in DAR 108: 29, 30, and 40.
CD discussed William’s examination of the pollen of the plants here numbered 3 and 5 in ‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’, pp. 416 and 418, and in Forms of flowers, pp. 220 and 222, noting that the large pollen sizes were probably due ‘not to their having assumed the character of the short-styled form, but to monstrosity’. He argued that the high number of small and shrivelled pollen grains explained the fact that although the equal-styled plants tended to be highly fertile, some yielded few seeds.
William probably means that he was surprised by the pollen of the plant in the sketch numbered 3, which was the second of the equal-styled forms that he examined (see n. 2, above).
The reference is probably to Phillip Carteret Fall, a partner at the Southampton and Hampshire Bank, where William was also a partner. The event referred to has not been identified.
CD may be referring to the length of the pistil. See n. 4, above. CD may have added his annotations after further correspondence or discussion with William; no other letter from William regarding Primula sinensis has been found.


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

‘Illegitimate offspring of dimorphic and trimorphic plants’: On the character and hybrid-like nature of the offspring from the illegitimate unions of dimorphic and trimorphic plants. By Charles Darwin. [Read 20 February 1868.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Botany) 10 (1869): 393–437.


Sends drawings of the pollen from Chinese Primula plants with styles and pistils of different lengths; observations on sizes and condition of their pollen.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Erasmus Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 108: 86–7, 175–7
Physical description
, sketches 2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4434,” accessed on 24 January 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 12