On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects, and on the Good Effects of Intercrossing

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Author: Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882)

Year: 1862

Publisher: John Murray

Place: London


vi+365,+[1] pages with one folding plate and 33 woodcuts in text without the advertisements. Small octavo (7 1/2" 4 3/4") bound in full 19th-century calf, spine gilt stamped spine in five compartments divided by double gilt fillets with Rugby School coat of arms to cover. Marbled end pages. (Clark: 180-181); Freeman 800; Norman 595) First edition.

Fertilisation of Orchids is a book by English naturalist Charles Darwin published on 15 May 1862 under the full explanatory title On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilized by Insects, and On the Good Effects of Intercrossing. Darwin's previous book, On the Origin of Species, had briefly mentioned evolutionary interactions between insects and the plants they fertilized, and this new idea was explored in detail. Field studies and practical scientific investigations that were initially a recreation for Darwin—a relief from the drudgery of writing—developed into enjoyable and challenging experiments. Aided in his work by his family, friends, and a wide circle of correspondents across Britain and worldwide, Darwin tapped into the contemporary vogue for growing exotic orchids.

The book was his first detailed demonstration of the power of natural selection, and explained how complex ecological relationships resulted in the coevolution of orchids and insects. The view has been expressed that the book led directly or indirectly to all modern work on coevolution and the evolution of extreme specialisation. It influenced botanists, and revived interest in the neglected idea that insects played a part in pollinating flowers. It opened up the new study areas of pollination research and reproductive ecology, directly related to Darwin's ideas on evolution, and supported his view that natural selection led to a variety of forms through the important benefits achieved by cross-fertilization. Although the general public showed less interest and sales of the book were low, it established Darwin as a leading botanist. Orchids was the first in a series of books on his innovative investigations into plants.


Some scuffing to leather, points rubbed. Provenance: H.M. Fitzgerald (owner's name dated December 1869); Seddon H. Chadwick (owner's name dated May 1943) to front end paper else very good.