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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   22 July 1874

Royal Gardens Kew

July 22./74.

Dear Darwin

I am stupified by the trouble you have taken, & your kindness. What you have sent was not in the least wanted apropos of Belfast, but will be enormously useful in my work on these pitcher plants &c1

As to Belfast, all I wanted was your assurance that a mention of what has been published in Nature &c, of your observations on Drosera & Dionæa, would not interfere with your book;2 & that my giving a resumé of my Nepenthes observations, would not look like forestalling your far more important work.

The Brit. As. Sections are all trying to get for Belfast meeting more brief reports of what is doing in each branch of Science, & the directions in which research therein is tending— I thought of making carnivorous plants my share of this work; & giving it as my Address as Pres. of Subsect.— Bot. & Zool.3

I thought of introducing it by a notice of what was published of your results, & then going on to my own, as supplementary to your’s, & undertaken apropos of your’s.. I do not intend to make a paper of it. I should like Nepenthes &c results either to go to you altogether, or to form a paper for R.S;4 but would really rather you took them.

I am greatly puzzled with Cephalotus.5 Three days of good flies in pitchers gave no results whatever. No secretion no action in gland or in that green ridge that reddened with the Bee. It is a curious thing, that if I halve an attached pitcher, the cut surfaces do not sphacelate (wither or turn brown)— but the removed half withers rapidly.

Peas & cabbage after 2 days immersion in Nepenthes grow more than twice as fast as those placed in distilled water.— but 4 days immersion seems to kill them.6 The different Nepenthes have I fancy different powers; & I am puzzled by young N. Rafflesiana7 not acting on fibrin after 3 days immersion. Old Rafflesiana acted very slightly on egg; it has a enormous pitcher with much water secreted.

I have a splendid Australia Drosera, with leaves twice as big as rotundifolia. The outer hairs do not incurve upon an insect placed on the central (after a night’s interval). The hairs are long & viscous matter very abundant.— May it not be that it catches plenty of little insects by any part of surface, & does not require to exert its incurving powers?

I have greater doubts than ever of Sarracenia8 secreting fluid, before opening at any rate

Ever yours | J D Hooker

Shall I send you the Drosera, it is a unique plant I believe, belonging to the Bot. Gard Edinburgh, & sent for figuring in the Bot. Mag.—9 or can Harriette10 & I make any observations on it for you?—

CD annotations

1.1 I … book; 2.3] crossed blue crayon
4.4 or … them. 4.5] double scored blue crayon
6.1 Peas … water.— 6.2] scored blue crayon
7.1 I … central 7.2] scored blue crayon
7.1 The outer … insect 7.2] ‘too old’ blue crayon


See letter to J. D. Hooker, 20 July [1874] and n. 2. CD’s letter included a summary of his experimental results on Drosera (sundew). Hooker had asked whether he could give an outline of CD’s published observations on Drosera in his address to the Belfast meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 18 July 1874, and n. 3, below).
CD had not published any of his research on insectivorous plants in Nature, but an article on electrical phenomena in Dionaea by John Scott Burdon Sanderson had recently been published in the journal (Burdon Sanderson 1874a). CD had advised on Burdon Sanderson’s experiments to investigate the electric currents in Dionaea muscipula (Venus fly trap; see Correspondence vol 21, letters to J. S. Burdon Sanderson, 15 August 1873 and 27 August 1873).
Hooker’s address to the department of botany and zoology at the Belfast meeting of the British Association summarised the current state of investigations in several carnivorous genera (J. D. Hooker 1874a). The address was also published in Nature (J. D. Hooker 1874b).
R.S.: Royal Society of London.
Cephalotus is a monospecific genus of pitcher-plant whose only species is C. follicularis (the Albany pitcher-plant), which is native to the extreme south-west of Australia.
CD had suggested testing the effect of immersion in fluid from the pitcher of Nepenthes on various seeds (see letter to J. D. Hooker, [before 15 July 1874]).
Nepenthes rafflesiana is Raffles’ pitcher-plant.
Sarracenia is a genus of North American pitcher-plants of the family Sarraceniaceae.
Hooker described Drosera whittakerii (now D. whittakeri, the scented sundew) in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 30 (1874): tab. 6121. The plant came from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.
Harriet Anne Hooker.


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


Stupefied by CD’s trouble and kindness. All he wanted for Belfast meeting was assurance that mention of published work on Drosera, etc., in Nature, etc., would not interfere with CD’s book.

Would like his Nepenthes results to go to CD or to Royal Society, but prefers CD take them.

Cephalotus very puzzling.

Peas and cabbage grow twice as fast after two days’ immersion in Nepenthes as when placed in distilled water, but four days’ immersion seems to kill them.

Has a splendid Australian Drosera twice as big as D. rotundifolia.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 210–13
Physical description
7pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9558,” accessed on 27 October 2021,

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