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Darwin Correspondence Project

To D. F. Nevill   18 September [1874]1

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Sept. 18th

Dear Lady Dorothy Nevill

I am so much obliged to you. I was so convinced that the bladders were with the leaves, that I never thought of removing the moss, & this was very stupid of me. The great solid bladder-like swellings almost on the surface are wonderful objects, but are not the true bladders.2 These I found on the roots near the surface & down to a depth of 2 inches in the sand. They are as transparent as glass,—from 120th to 1100 of inch in size, & hollow. They have all the important points of structure of the bladders of the floating English species,3 & I felt confident I shd. find captured prey. And so I have to my delight in two bladders with clear proof that they had absorbed food from the decaying moss. For Utricularia is a carrion-feeder & not strictly carnivorous like Drosera &c &c.

The great solid bladder-like bodies, I believe are reservoirs of water like a camel’s stomach. As soon as I have made a few more observations, I mean to be so cruel as to give your plant no water & observe whether the great bladders shrink & contain air instead of water.4 I shall then, also, wash all earth from all roots & see whether there are true bladders for capturing subterranean insects down to the very bottom of the pot. Now shall you think me very greedy if I say that supposing the species is very precious & you have several, will you give me one more plant, & if so please to send it to “Orpington Stn S.E.Ry. to be forwarded by foot-messenger”.—

I have hardly ever enjoyed a day more in my life than this day’s work; & this I owe to your Ladyships great kindness.

The seeds are very curious monsters: I fancy of some plant allied to medicago; but I will show them to Dr Hooker.5

Your Ladyship | Very gratefully | Ch. Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to D. F. Nevill, 11 September [1874].
Nevill had sent CD a specimen of Utricularia montana (see letter from D. F. Nevill, [11 September 1874]). CD later identified the solid bladder-like swellings as tubers (Insectivorous plants, p. 439). See also letter from D. F. Nevill, 16 [September 1874]. Utricularia montana is a synonym of U. alpina.
CD had been examining Utricularia vulgaris (common bladderwort), U. minor (lesser bladderwort), and a ‘very rare British species’ that Joseph Dalton Hooker had identified as U. neglecta (Insectivorous plants, p. 395). Utricularia neglecta is a synonym of U. australis; the plant has a large geographical range.
CD described the experiment in Insectivorous plants, p. 440, noting that the tubers appeared wrinkled and shrunken.
There is no mention of seeds in Nevill’s letters. Medicago is the genus of medick or alfalfa. Seeds of this genus are generally kidney-shaped and vary greatly in size depending on species. Joseph Dalton Hooker was planning to visit CD on 26 September 1874 (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 18 September [1874]).


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


Stupidly missed Utricularia bladders, which he assumed were with the leaves. Has now found true bladders on roots and has evidence of captive prey. Thinks bladders capture subterranean insects. Thinks the large bladder-like structures are water reservoirs. DN’s plant has given him a most enjoyable day of work.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Dorothy Fanny Nevill
Sent from
Source of text
Cleveland Health Sciences Library (Robert M. Stecher collection)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9644,” accessed on 27 October 2021,

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