More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1

Author: Charles Darwin

Letter 343. To J.D. Hooker.

(343/1. Mr. Darwin used the knowledge of the spread of introduced plants in North America and Australia to throw light on the cosmic migration of plants. Sir J.D. Hooker apparently objected that it was not fair to argue from agrarian to other plants; he also took a view differing slightly from that of Darwin as to climatal and other natural conditions favouring introduced plants in Australia.)

Down, January 28th, 1859.

Thanks about glaciers. It is a pleasure and profit to me to write to you, and as in your last you have touched on naturalised plants of Australia, I suppose you would not dislike to hear what I can say in answer. At least I know you would not wish me to defer to your authority, as long as not convinced.

I quite agree to what you say about our agrarian plants being accustomed to cultivated land, and so no fair test. Buckman has, I think, published this notion with respect to North America. With respect to roadside plants, I cannot feel so sure that these ought to be excluded, as animals make roads in many wild countries. (343/2. In the account of naturalised plants in Australia in Sir J.D. Hooker’s "Introductory Essay to the Flora of Tasmania," 1859, page cvi, many of the plants are marked "Britain—waste places," "Europe—cornfields," etc. In the same list the species which have also invaded North America—a large number—are given. On the margin of Darwin’s copy is scribbled in pencil: "Very good, showing how many of the same species are naturalised in Australia and United States, with very different climates; opposed to your conclusion." Sir Joseph supposed that one chief cause of the intrusion of English plants in Australia, and not vice versa, was the great importation of European seed to Australia and the scanty return of Australian seed.)

I have now looked and found passage in F. Muller’s (343/3. Ferdinand Muller.) letter to me, in which he says: "In the WILDERNESSES of Australia some European perennials are "advancing in sure progress," "not to be arrested," etc. He gives as instances (so I suppose there are other cases) eleven species, viz., 3. Rumex, Poterium sanguisorba, Potentilla anserina, Medicago sativa, Taraxacum officinale, Marrubium vulgare, Plantago lanceolata, P. major, Lolium perenne. All these are seeding freely. Now I remember, years and years ago, your discussing with me how curiously easily plants get naturalised on uninhabited islands, if ships even touch there. I remember we discussed packages being opened with old hay or straw, etc. Now think of hides and wool (and wool exported largely over Europe), and plants introduced, and samples of corn; and I must think that if Australia had been the old country, and Europe had been the Botany Bay, very few, very much fewer, Australian plants would have run wild in Europe than have now in Australia.

The case seems to me much stronger between La Plata and Spain.

Nevertheless, I will put in my one sentence on this head, illustrating the greater migration during Glacial period from north to south than reversely, very humbly and cautiously. (343/4. "Origin of Species," Edition I., page 379. Darwin refers to the facts given by Hooker and De Candolle showing a stronger migratory flow from north to south than in the opposite direction. Darwin accounts for this by the northern plants having been long subject to severe competition in their northern homes, and having acquired a greater "dominating power" than the southern forms. "Just in the same manner as we see at the present day that very many European productions cover the ground in La Plata, and in a lesser degree in Australia, and have to a certain extent beaten the natives; whereas extremely few southern forms have become naturalised in any part of Europe, though hides, wool, and other objects likely to carry seeds have been largely imported during the last two or three centuries from La Plata, and during the last thirty or forty years from Australia.’)

I am very glad to hear you are making good progress with your Australian Introduction. I am, thank God, more than half through my chapter on geographical distribution, and have done the abstract of the Glacial part...


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Chicago: Charles Darwin, "Letter 343. To J.D. Hooker.," More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, ed. Darwin, Francis, Sir, 1848-1925 and Seward, A. C. (Albert Charles), 1863-1941 and trans. Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866 in More Letters of Charles Darwin Original Sources, accessed March 30, 2023,

MLA: Darwin, Charles. "Letter 343. To J.D. Hooker." More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, edited by Darwin, Francis, Sir, 1848-1925 and Seward, A. C. (Albert Charles), 1863-1941, and translated by Babington, B. G. (Benjamin Guy), 1794-1866, in More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, Original Sources. 30 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Darwin, C, 'Letter 343. To J.D. Hooker.' in More Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, ed. and trans. . cited in , More Letters of Charles Darwin. Original Sources, retrieved 30 March 2023, from