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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles William Nunn   23 September 1868

Hertford | Herts

Sepr. 23rd /68


I have today received a letter from Profr. Huxley in which he mentions that my letter to him with a photograph was forwarded to you and he at the same time sent me your reply1

By this post I have sent to your address the ear of wheat in question & have registered the letter

The ear was lent to me by an intimate friend (the finder) who knew that I sought such objects and I feel certain that no tricks have been played with it except that a stupid farmer to whom he shewed it picked out a perfect oat kernel from the lower floret   indeed I do not think that if he tried he could accomplish it—

The specimen has now been given to me and having sent it to you I shall be glad to leave it entirely in your hands to send it to Dr Hooker, or to whomsoever you please to have the matter thoroughly investigated2

Having read some Botany for amusement it occurred to me that this specimen if a true one might have some bearing on the variation of species and I was therefore unwilling that it should be passed over

I feel that in making any remark whatever on your letter that an unscientific person like myself is taking a liberty but if you will allow me to make one I will do so with the greatest respect

If the ear is soaked in water to dissolve any substance used to fix in a spurious stalk (if any) might not this soaking swell the natural and genuine stalk and so separate it from the main stem from which it really has grown?3

If you will accept the specimen I shall be glad (if genuine) but I will ask you to be kind enough to inform me of the result of Dr Hookers investigation

Should it turn out that I have found a mare’s nest I should be very sorry that you should have had any trouble in the matter

I am Sir | Y obedt Servt | Chas W Nunn

C Darwin Esq

CD annotations

3.2 I feel … stupid farmer 3.3] scored blue crayon
3.3 picked … accomplish it— 3.4] scored blue crayon
End of letter: ‘when found—circumstance—date—what var. of what—in a whole field.—’ ink


Thomas Henry Huxley forwarded Nunn’s letter and a photograph to CD with his letter of 12 September 1868. Nunn’s forwarded letter to CD has not been found. CD included a reply for Nunn with his letter to Huxley of [13–21 September 1868]; this reply has also not been found, but see the letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 September 1868, for its content. Nunn’s photograph was of an ear of wheat with what looked like two attached oat florets.
Nunn refers to Joseph Dalton Hooker. CD had earlier been asked whether he believed wheat could be grown from oats (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from J. B. Innes, 16 December [1862]). For similar correspondence on the relationship between wheat, oats, and barley, see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from C. S. Bate, 6 January 1864, Correspondence vol. 14, letter from G. S. Gibson, 7 July 1866, and Correspondence vol. 15, letter from Thomas Rivers, 26 April 1867.
In his letter to Nunn (see n. 1, above) CD had evidently written that the specimen must be soaked in order to determine that there had not been an accidental insertion of the oat florets (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 Spetember 1868).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.


Sends an ear of wheat that has an oat kernel growing on it.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles W Nunn
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 172: 79
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6387,” accessed on 24 September 2021,

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