Darwin’s Orchid Fascination

The famous scientist Charles Darwin was fascinated with orchids. Three years after releasing his groundbreaking work, On the Origin of Species, his next book was all about orchids. It was published in 1862, back when book titles were much longer, and was called On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects, and On the Good Effects of Intercrossing. Nowadays, its name is usually shortened to Fertilisation of Orchids. It’s full of meticulous botanical drawings and detailed evidence for his theories of evolution. Darwin breaks down how orchids, including native British species he had observed since childhood, convince pollinators to carry their pollen to other flowers. The book includes Darwin’s famous prediction that Madagascar was home to a moth with an extremely long tongue, capable of reaching the bottom of the very long nectar spur of Angraecum sesquipedale. That prediction was proven true decades later when Morgan’s Sphinx Moth was identified. Fertilisation of Orchids has had a tremendous influence on many fields of study, and established Darwin as an expert botanist. For those interested in the history of orchids, and their importance to modern science, Darwin’s master work on orchids is essential.

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