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Tuatara: Volume 23, Issue 2, July 1978

Darwin and His Flowers

Darwin and His Flowers

In Charles Darwin's ‘Origin of Species’, which burst like a bomb on Victorian Britain, he asked: ‘Was the world really created in six days — or did it take millions of years?’ He suggested that organic beings had in that time gone through a struggle for existence — and survived, or failed to adapt and become extinct.

What has never been pointed out about Darwin and the ‘Origin’, the most important biological book ever written, is that it was through his studies of flowers that he put his Natural Selection theory to the test.

For the first time, in ‘Darwin and His Flowers’, the story is knowledgeably and sensitively told by Mea Allan who has already won a wide public with ‘The Tradescants’, ‘The Hookers of Kew’, ‘E. A. Bowles and his Garden’ and other biographies. Her text is extensively illustrated with photographs and drawing from a great variety of sources.

From Darwin's own accounts of his work with plants (he wrote seven major books about them); from the mass of original material he left, and from unpublished letters exchanged with such giants of science and close personal friends as Sir Joseph Hooker, Sir Charles Lyell, and Asa Gray in America, Mea Allan gives us a profound and delightfully human picture of the man who ‘could not tell a daisy from a dandelion’ but who ended by teaching the botanists. In fact, flowers had fascinated him from childhood, as she reveals in this first complete biography of Charles the boy learning about plants in his father's garden, the young explorer bringing back from the ‘Beagle’ voyage plants and ideas new to science, and finally — with time out to woo and marry Emma Wedgwood — Darwin the towering genius working quietly away in his garden and greenhouse at Down House in Kent, discovering nature's astonishing secrets.