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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   17 August 1874

Royal Gardens Kew

Aug 17/74.

Dear Darwin

I have been driven wild with work & the Address, which I am taking down with me in an inchoate state— We are off tonight, via Stranraer.1

I have been working steadily at Nepenthes every day & made a good deal out— its apetite for cartilage is simply prodigious— it reduces lumps, as big as your finger nail in 48 hours to lovely jelly & after 10 days there is not the slightest trace of putrification in what of the jelly remains.2 Nothing can be more lovely than to draw out the cartilage attached to a thread after immersion it looks like a ball of rock crystal refracting the light most beautifully.

I got little or no action by fluid withdrawn from pitcher & kept in a tube.— nor with plants in a cold room. The digestive fluid is evidently poured into the original liquid only after immersion of meat.— Fibrin as I think I told you goes “like smoke”—but not in a tube.3 I find copious honey-secretion on glands of lid in all species but one, & in this one (the only one of the genus) the lid lies horizontally back!— & it would be prejudicial if it had honey, for it would decoy them away from the pitcher. I have tried seeds but results are not satisfactory— after 3 days immersion both mustard & cress are killed— ditto in distilled water. One days immersion shows no difference— I must try seeds quite differently.4

I have made out a good deal of structure in Sarracenia but nothing of action— it is not easy, & secretion is scarce—5

As to Cephalotus it is a beast—6 it will not kill or eat,—& I am in despair about it— it does not catch insects to any amount & I find no action on glands or cells. The Stomata in the pitcher is an exception to all these pitcher plants—& shows that this cannot depend on the secretion much— it forms very little water indeed. I have made out the secreting glands, seen them secrete acid fluid, but I cant exite them to secrete. Cartilage rots very soon in the pitcher & fibrin remains unchanged

The address is a sort of rambling statement of the history of Dionaea & Sarracenia & Drosera up to your time ending with B. Sanderson.7 I shall not touch your ground—but refer to you.—8 I then go straight at Sarracenia & Nepenthes & shall just touch on Cephalotus.9 & wind up with some generalities on absorption & nutrition by plants in general.

Dyer10 has helped me enormously—& indeed I could not but for him either have got through the work or done it half as well. He catches over ideas & anticipates one’s wants wonderfully & I really feel that he should share whatever credit the historical parts & general conclusions may get. He has not been able to help me at all in the observations I regret to say, not even to look at the experiments.— he has been so very poorly. He is evidently cut out for a Literate not a working botanist. He does not want the capacity for work but the power;— & his mind all seems on book-work & very much to the Economic aspect of Botany.

We go by Stranraer & I hope to get back by middle of next week. & shall hope for a run to Down soon after. Our little girl11 is out of bed, the case has been a most mild one.

Ever yours affec | Jos D Hooker


Hooker read an address to the department of botany and zoology at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which took place in Belfast from 19 to 26 August 1874 (J. D. Hooker 1874a); his subject was carnivorous plants.
Hooker had also helped CD in his work with Nepenthes (tropical pitcher-plants) in 1873 (see Correspondence vol. 21). On his observations, see J. D. Hooker 1874a, p. 113, and Insectivorous plants, pp. 97, 361). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 1 July 1874 and n. 3.
CD had asked Hooker to see whether seeds that had been immersed in the fluid in the pitchers of Nepenthes germinated (letter to J. D. Hooker, [before 15 July 1874]). See also letter from J. D. Hooker, 15 July 1875.
See J. D. Hooker 1874a, pp. 107–10. Sarracenia is a North American genus of pitcher-plant. See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 2 July 1874.
Cephalotus, the Albany pitcher-plant, is an Australian genus unrelated to other pitcher-plant genera and containing only one species, C. follicularis; it is a small pitcher-plant. See letter from J. D. Hooker, 22 July 1874.
John Scott Burdon Sanderson (see J. D. Hooker 1874a, p. 103).
See J. D. Hooker 1874a, pp. 102–3.
Hooker did not mention Cephalotus in the published version of his address (J. D. Hooker 1874a), and CD did not mention it in Insectivorous plants.
William Turner Thiselton-Dyer.
Grace Ellen Hooker.


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

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.


Describes his work on Nepenthes.

Cephalotus is a beast.

His address is a history of Dionaea, Sarracenia, and Drosera.

Thiselton-Dyer has helped enormously except with the observations; but his health is so poor that JDH thinks he is "evidently cut out for a Literate not a working botanist".

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 103: 214–18
Physical description
10pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9602,” accessed on 22 September 2021,

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