17 April 2019

There are cowslips growing in the wall by the old well on Rowlands Lane. I assume the people in the house opposite planted them. I was also delighted to find a lone plant growing in the verge, about 50 metres away. I’m guessing that one seeded naturally from last year’s cowslips at the well.

Cowslips

As with so many other species, Charles Darwin studied cowslips and their near-relatives, primroses, in meticulous depth. He correctly concluded the two distinct arrangements of their sexual organs (the so-called pin-eyed and thrum-eyed forms) had evolved to prevent self-pollination. In his 1876 Autobiography, he wrote:

[N]o little discovery of mine ever gave me so much pleasure as the making out the meaning of heterostyled flowers. The results of crossing such flowers in an illegitimate manner, I believe to be very important, as bearing on the sterility of hybrids; although these results have been noticed by only a few persons.

Darwin made a habit of finding significance in the most insignificant of details. What better way to gain converts to your wonderful theory than by using it to explain phenomena nobody else realised needed explaining?

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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