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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Nature   6 April [1874]1

Fertilisation of the Fumariaceæ

I beg permission to make a few remarks on Mr. J. Traherne Moggridge’s statement (Nature, vol. ix. p.423) that the flowers of Fumaria capreolata are at first pale or nearly white, and only attain their brightest colouring, becoming even crimson, after the ovaries are set. He then adds:—“If the reverse had been the case there is little doubt that we should have regarded the bright colouring as specially adapted to attract insects.”2 But does Mr. Moggridge know that these flowers are visited chiefly by diurnal insects? It has often been observed that flowers which are visited by moths are commonly white or very pale; but if they are odoriferous, they may be of any tint, even very dark or green. If therefore the flowers of the above Fumaria are visited by moths, it would be an injury to the plant had the flowers been from the first of a fine crimson. I have often seen bees sucking the flowers of the fumariaceous genera, Corydalis, Dielytra, and Adlumia;3 but many years ago I watched perseveringly the flowers of Fumaria officinalis and parviflora, and never saw them visited by a single insect; and I concluded from reasons which I will not here give (as I cannot find my original notes), that they were frequented during the night by small moths.4 Insects are not necessary for the fertilisation of Fumaria officinalis; for I covered up a plant, and it produced as many seeds as an uncovered one which grew near.5 On the other hand, with some species of Corydalis, the aid of insects is indispensable. With respect to the flowers of F. capreolata becoming brighter coloured as they grow old, we see the same thing in some hawthorns, and with the double rocket in our gardens. But is it surprising that this should sometimes occur with flowers, seeing that the leaves of a multitude of plants assume, as they become oxygenised, the most splendid tints during the autumn?

Down, Beckenham, Kent, April 6 Charles Darwin


The year is established by the date of publication of this letter in Nature.
John Traherne Moggridge’s letter on the fertilisation of Fumaria capreolata appeared in Nature, 2 April 1874, p. 423. Moggridge’s letter was communicated by St George Jackson Mivart, and contained the following remark: side by side with the developments and modifications which are plainly beneficial to the organism … there are others, which, as far as we can see, are neither useful nor harmful to their possessor, though they may, and frequently do, supply features which especially attract our attention and admiration.
Corydalis, Adlumia, and Dielytra (or Diclytra; now Dicentra) are now in the poppy family (Papaveraceae). On bees visiting Corydalis and Dielytra, see Variation 2: 59.
CD’s observations of Fumaria capreolata were later published in Cross and self fertilisation, p. 366. After reporting that he did not see insects visiting the flowers for many days, CD wrote: ‘Nevertheless, as the nectary contains much nectar, especially in the evening, I felt convinced that they were visited, probably by moths.’ See also ibid., p. 388.


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

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Comments on J. T. Moggridge’s article on the fertilisation of Fumaria capreolata [Nature 9 (1874): 423].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
Nature, 16 April 1874, p. 460

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9393,” accessed on 30 July 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22