2 June 2019

Drosera rotundifolia
The round-leaved sundew, Drosera rotundifolia. From Insectivorous Plants, by Charles Darwin (1875).

A day spent reading Darwin’s Insectivorous Plants. No day spent reading Darwin is ever wasted. As with his earthworms book, Darwin on insectivorous plants is Darwin at his most nerdish. He loved to sweat the small stuff. What’s the point of coming up with a theory that explains pretty much everything in the natural world if you can’t apply it to the small stuff?

As usual, Darwin became more than a little obsessed, using painstakingly weighed snippets of human hair to ascertain exactly how small a weight it took to trigger the insect-enveloping reflex motion of his beloved sundews. To determine exactly what it took to get their juices flowing, he also fed the sundews all manner of materials, from glass to cat’s ear (by which, I mean an actual cat’s ear, not the plant of the same name). Even Darwin seems to have realised his obsession might have gone too far this time, describing his experiments to his best pal, Joseph Dalton Hooker, as ‘twaddle’.

What a guy! How can anyone not be obsessed by Charles Darwin?

Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. He is currently working on a book about looking at the world through Darwin’s eyes.Website · Newsletter · Mastodon · Facebook

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