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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Edward Frankland   28 April [1874]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. [2 Bryanston Street, London.]

Ap. 28th

My dear Prof. Frankland,

I am very much obliged for your letter which I will use, when I get some more information, though I do not expect to get another so good a letter.—2 Your bird does not cut off the flowers nearly so truly & uniformly as do the wild birds, but then the wild birds manage primrose flowers better than cowslip flowers.— Your case, I think, proves that the habit is instinctive.— Good Heavens what a prodigy the brain of every creature is.— The eagerness of caged birds for green food must be a rather disturbing element. Could you get a good bunch of Primrose flowers or cowslip flowers & try once again; & observe whether your bird swallows any part of the cut-off portion, or merely presses them for, as I supposed, the nectar.— As the enemy is a bull-finch, it seems very likely that the young ovarium is swallowed; yet I can say positively that I saw base of pistil in several cases still attached to footstalk. I ought to have looked carefully at a greater number, but after a time I looked only to the bit of calyx still attached to the footstalk   When I go home tomorrow I will look for the ovarium in a greater number of cases.— I know that there are bull-finches in the little wood where there has been such devastation of the flowers.

In Haste | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin

Your single experiment of giving the flowers to caged birds never occurred to me. See what it is to be an experimental chemist!!


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Edward Frankland, 26 April 1874.


Thanks for letter relating to domesticated bullfinches’ instinctively cutting off cowslips [see 9430]. Suggests observing whether the birds swallow any part of flower or particular parts.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Edward Frankland
Sent from
Source of text
The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9432A,” accessed on 22 September 2021,

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