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Record number: WCP437

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Annie Wallace (née Mitten)
14 February 1887

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, The Hamilton Hotel, Washington D.C., USA to Annie Wallace (née Mitten) Nutwood Cottage, Frith Hill, Godalming on 14 February 1887.

Record created:
01 June 2002 by Lucas, Paula J.


Re. walk in the woods with botanist professor Ward, sending a collection of plants including ferns packed in moss in a biscuit tin, instructions for potting, Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) and Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens) to be given to Miss Jekyll and a sedge, Carex platyphylla, to Annie's father William Mitten, plants listed by botanical and common names; description of trees and other plants seen; curious appearance of fields without hedgerows; Paulownia imperialis, a tree with flowers like fox-gloves, grows to great height in Washington gardens; would like to stay and see woods in summer if finances permitted but there seems to be no demand for scientific lectures as too many scientists on the circuit; hopes Annie has succeeded in letting house or getting a boarder.; Stamped envelope addressed to Mrs Wallace at Frith Hill, Godalming and postmarked on the front Washington 14 Feb 1887and on the back New York 15 Feb 1887 and Godalming 25 Feb 1887.

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  • letter (1)
  • envelope (1)

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LETTER (WCP437.437)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/5/18(1)
Copyright owner:
©A. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




The Hamilton, Washington, D. C.

Feb[ruar]y. 14th 1887

My dear Annie

I wrote Violet1 on Saturday & did not intend to write to you for another week or two but I have just done up a box of plants & want to tell you how I got them. On Sunday (yesterday) Prof[essor]. Ward2 -- a botanist here and one of the most intellectual men in Washington, who is a great radical and half socialist & agrees with me in many things -- took me a walk to show me the woods & streams near Washington. We walked about 4 miles through woods even hilly ground with little ravines & a swift stream about as large as the Wey which they call here a creek. It had been freezing hard the last two nights but the sun was bright & we had a beautiful walk. The whole country here is guess -- a kind of [[2]] granite full of mica which decomposes into a soft bouncy sand something like [1 word crossed out illeg.] that on our road under the cliff, but for richer & better for plants. Going along Mr. Ward told me the names of all the trees, but they are so numerous & so puzzling without their leaves that it was impossible for me to recognize many of them. The largest are the tulip trees -- some bugger than that large one at Dorking with walnuts and hickories and 10 or 12 different species of oaks, also chestnuts, a beech, willows and poplars. The woods were very thickly strewn with dead leaves and one of the first things found growing among moss on a branch was the trailing arbutus (epigaea repens) of which I got a nice roof. It is I think very difficult to grow & if you were to take it to Miss Jekyll3 I think she would be pleased to try it. It has good sized roundish evergreen leaves. The we found another pretty plant the spotted wintergreen, (Chimaphila maculata) [[3]] you will know this by the various spotted leaves, & one plant has the dead flower stalk showing its twice flower. I do not think this is in any of the English lists and as there are several you might take one to Miss J. Then we came upon the beautiful little orchis (Goodyear pubescens) with beautiful veined leaves called here the rattlesnake plantain. I have sent the curious leaved sedge (carex platyphylla). Then we found a plant or two of a curious lily-like plant with white bulbs & roots called the blazing-star (Chamaelirium Carolinian[?]) and said to be very pretty. These will all want shade and grow in fine leaf mould and coarse sand, and I should think they would be better potted & kept in the greenhouse till they start to grow. Of course I organised for ferns for you, but only the evergreen sorts [[4]] could be seen owing to the [1 word illeg.] of dead leaves. The most common is the one I sent you from Boston but after a good deal of searching we got two other species. The large one is Aspidium marginale a pretty fern which I think you have not got about the size of our Thelypteris, only one plant of this. The other is a curious little fern allied to our common [1 word illeg.] but quite different, it is Asplenium ebeneum, from its jet Huck stalks and it grows 6 " 8 inches high in summer. Of this I have sent four or five plants, and I expect they will arrive in good order as after some trouble I have got a biscuit tin to pack them in, & with a little moss and ponds cut off the large fern the box is just filled. There were plenty of Hepaticas in the woods and we found a couple of flowers wh[ich]. I enclose. In March and April they are said to be abundant. If it is fine next Sunday I shall go again [[5]] as it is the only day Mr. Ward can come. We also saw a curious Arum with red and green spotted spathe growing in a sphagnum bog. It is a thicker plant than other ours with two or three half opened spathes on the same plant, and a little round ball inside instead of our usual "lord and lady" spike. Its name is Symplocarpus foetidus, or the skunk cabbage. There was also a curious little orobanche called Beech-drops which grow on the roots of beech trees.

Wild roses are scarce, but the the similar grows with slander green prickly stems exactly like a small rose bush and in similar places. In some places the woods were full of Kalmias and they are said to be lovely when in bloom, which I saw a wild one with a stem nearly as a thick as my leg growing up to the top of a high tree. It is [[6]] very interesting walking in woods where everything is new and curious, and will be still more so when summer comes on. Still there is curious a certain raggedness about everything. The fields are more like fallow fields there is so little grass there are no hedges only tumble-down rail fences and the woods do not seem so fine as our best though I dare say in summer when all the leaved are out they will be very beautiful. The great variety of trees and foliage will then be very interesting. If I had but plenty of lecturing to do I should like to stop here all the summer, but there seem to be so many scientific men here now and in the numerous colleges all over America who lecture, that there is very little demand. I almost begin to think that a good travelling agent would have been better, as it would have saved all this idleness [[7]] at all events. I will here add a list of the plants sent in the box.

Aspiduim marguiale...larger fern

Asplenuem eleneuim. Small " [fern]

Goodyera pubesceus -- veined left orchis

Chamdelirium Carolinian -- small lily "blazing star"

Carex platyphylla...Broad-leaved sedge

Chimaphila maculata...spotted-leaved winter green

Epigcea repeus...hailing arbutus.

Have you let the house or got a boarder? As I am making so little I hope you will have luck to save something towards some improvements in the house. The beautiful tree which has flowers like a foxglove (Paulowina imperialis) grows here 50 or 60 feet high in gardens, smothered with flowers , & must be a grand sight in summer.

With kind remembrances to all friends [1 word illeg.], Your affectionate husband | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]


1. Wallace, Violet Isabel (1869-1945). Daughter of Alfred Russel Wallace.

2. Ward, Lester Frank (1841-1913). American botanist, paleontologist, and sociologist.

3. Jekyll, Gertrude (1843-1932). British horticulturist, garden designer, artist and writer.

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