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Darwin Correspondence Project

From T. H. Farrer   4 June 1868

3, Gloucester Terrace, Regent’s Park.

4 June /68

My dear Mr Darwin

I have again been seduced from red tape by your book and a handful of Habenaria viridis Peristylus viridis or whatever other name it is called by.1 It does not work quite so surely & readily as O. Maculata, Mascula, & Listera Ovata, and I dont think nearly the same no of pollinia are removed— But here again on taking half a dozen pollinia out at the end of thin bits of quill & fixing them in a rest I find that they do not move at once—but at the end of 20 minutes or 12 an hour most, if not all of them, have bent forwards so as to be in a line with instead of nearly


to the quill. By that time they have set hard.2

This is the position which with my clumsy handling I want them in to get to the stigma, for the lateral distance between the opening of the nectary & the stigma is so small, as compared with the length of the pollinia, that I cannot get them to when


to the quill touch it (except by thrusting their caudicles into the nectary with the quill—where they stay, bodily.) I suppose an insect by retreating and then coming forward again with his head bent down might do it— Is it possible that the pollinia may be setting hard & tending to get into the right position whilst the insect sucks the abundant nectar, and that then they are in the right position & well glued on, for another flower?

Pray put my notes in the fire and do not trouble yourself to answer. You are however by your books & good nature responsible for my idle dilettantism & the loss of your own time.

Listera Ovata is wonderful and never fails.

I shewed a wretched withered Op. Muscifera to Miss Darwin and she I think saw the pollinia bend.3

Sincerely yours | T H Farrer

I find several Stigmas of Hab. viridis fertilized, but none with whole pollinia attached to them.

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘(Hab. viridis)’ blue crayon


Farrer was permanent secretary of the Board of Trade. CD mentions Peristylus or Habenaria viridis (the long-bract frog orchid) in Orchids and Orchids 2d ed. Habenaria viridis is a synonym of Coeloglossum viride var. viride.
CD cited Farrer’s observations on the bending of the caudicle in Habenaria viridis in Orchids 2d ed., p. 63; previously he had thought the movement did not occur (see Orchids, p. 76). See also letter from T. H. Farrer, 17 May 1868. CD described the movement of the caudicle in Orchis mascula in Orchids, pp. 14–17; on page 19 he remarked that the description also applied to O. maculata (now Dactylorhiza maculata) and a number of other orchids. He discussed a different mechanism, involving the movement of the rostellum, in Listera ovata (the common twayblade; see Orchids, pp. 139–47).
Farrer refers to Henrietta Emma Darwin. Farrer had married into the Wedgwood family; his wife Frances was the daughter of Maitland Erskine, the half sister of Emma Darwin’s cousin Frances Emma Elizabeth Wedgwood. Henrietta visited Frances Emma Elizabeth and Hensleigh Wedgwood at Cumberland Place in London from 29 May to 4 June (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242); Post Office London directory 1868). On Ophrys muscifera (the fly ophrys), see the letter from T. H. Farrer, 17 May 1868 and n. 1.


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

Orchids: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1862.

Post Office London directory: Post-Office annual directory. … A list of the principal merchants, traders of eminence, &c. in the cities of London and Westminster, the borough of Southwark, and parts adjacent … general and special information relating to the Post Office. Post Office London directory. London: His Majesty’s Postmaster-General [and others]. 1802–1967.


Describes work with pollinia of another Orchis species.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas Henry Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Gloucester Terrace, 3
Source of text
DAR 164: 42
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6229,” accessed on 23 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16