RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1873. Procuring a plant of Neptunia oleracea. Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (15 November): 1538.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed and edited by John van Wyhe 7.2022. RN1

NOTE: See record in the Freeman Bibliographical Database, enter its Identifier here.

Darwin's search for a plant "worth more than diamonds"

John van Wyhe

Whilst studying movement in plants in late 1873, Darwin felt that he needed to examine Neptunia oleracea or water mimosa, an aquatic plant thought to originate in South America. He wrote several times to J. D. Hooker about it. On 18 October Darwin told him "I wrote to Balfour about Neptunia—it is lost there." (Presumably J. H. Balfour of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh). As time passed, Darwin became more desperate. His letters with J. D. Hooker (all in Correspondence vol. 21) reveal this.

"Neptunia (of paramount importance; it would be worth my while to send to Oxford or elsewhere)" To J. D. Hooker [before 20 Oct. 1873?]

"Neptunia I can get nowhere." From J. D. Hooker 20 Oct. 1873

"Neptunia is evidently a hopeless case.—" To J. D. Hooker 23 Oct. [1873]

"If you can get me Neptunia it will be worth more than diamonds." To J. D. Hooker [9 Nov. 1873]

In the end, Darwin wrote to the Gardeners' Chronicle and appealed for one in this heretofore overlooked contribution to the magazine. Perhaps this finally worked.

Darwin's notes make it clear he finally procured one in order to investigate the reactions of its leaves to touch and their movements at night. The notes on the plant show that he observed it in November 1877 to February 1878 (CUL-DAR209.10.65, CUL-DAR67.38, CUL-DAR67.40). Darwin eventually discussed Neptunia oleracea in Movement in plants (1880), pp. 128, 374, 402-3. F1325 The editor of Gardeners' Chronicle was Maxwell Tylden Masters (1833-1907).

[page] 1538

Notices to Correspondents.

EXCHANGE.—Mr. Darwin is desirous of procuring a plant of Neptunia oleracea, for which he would be willing to offer other plants in exchange. We have not observed the plant in any trade list.


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Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 7 December, 2022