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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Federico Delpino   1 May 1873

Down | Beckenham, Kent

May 1. 73—

My dear Sir

I am very sorry that circumstances have cut shorts your voyage, for i have no doubt that you would have made many very valuable observations.1

I am very much obliged for your essay on ants, which has interested me greatly, as it contained much that way quite new to me.—2

And now I want to beg a favour of you,— to inform me whether several varieties, with differently coloured flowers of Lathyrus odoratus are cultivated in the flowergardens of Italy? And if they are, whether the different varieties must be grown separately in order to keep the varieties true to their kind? In England as i know the seeds from several varieties with its different flowers all growing close together come quite true; yet the flowers are visited by bees.3

So it is with many varieties of Pisum sativum, and i believe generally with Phaseolus multiflorus.

Can you answer me the same question with respect to these two latter plants as well as with the Lathyrus odoratus?4

Perhaps it would be adviceable to inquire what is the usual practice in nurserygardens, where seeds are raised in large quantities for sale. I should be very grateful for information on this head, and i remain with all good wishes and respect

Yours very faithfully | Ch. Darwin

H. Müllers new Book, as far as i have read, seems an excellent one.5


Delpino had embarked on a round-the-world voyage as naturalist on the Garibaldi in November 1872; he had abandoned the journey in Rio de Janeiro (see letter from Federico Delpino, 20 April 1873 and n. 2).
Lathyrus odoratus is a species of sweetpea native to Italy. For CD’s observations on Lathyrus odoratus, see ‘Cross-fertilising papilionaceous flowers’.
Pisum sativum (garden peas) and Phaseolus multiflorus (now known as Phaseolus coccineus, the scarlet runner bean) are not native to Britain.
CD later wrote that the value of Herman Müller’s Die Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten und die Gegenseitigen Anpassungen Beider (On the fertilisation of flowers by means of insects; H. Müller 1873), could ‘hardly be overestimated’ (Cross and self fertilisation, p. 6). There is an annotated copy in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 610–12).


Cross and self fertilisation: The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1876.

‘Cross-fertilising papilionaceous flowers’. By Charles Darwin. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 11 August 1866, p. 756. [Shorter publications, pp. 350–1.]

Delpino, Federico. 1872. Sui rapporti delle formiche colle tettigometre e sulla genealogia degli afidi e dei coccidi. Bullettino della Società Entomologica Italiana 4: 343–51.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Müller, Hermann. 1873. Die Befruchtung der Blumen durch Insekten und die gegenseitigen Anpassungen beider. Ein Beitrag zur Erkenntniss des ursächlichen Zusammenhanges in der organischen Natur. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann.


Asks whether, in Italy, varieties of Lathyrus odoratus, Pisum sativum, and Phaseolus multiflorus must be grown separately to come true.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Federico Delpino
Sent from
Source of text
Anna Barone (private collection)
Physical description
CC 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8892,” accessed on 19 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21