Essay on Role of Charles Darwin in Herbarium Collection
The mental framework for approaching the natural world through experiment and observation was acquired by the intellectual development that Darwin had under Henslow. The interaction between Darwin and Henslow continued until the death of Henslow in 1861. During the period of 1831 – 1836 of the circumnavigation of the Earth on HMS Beagle, around 1400 plant specimens were collected by Charles Darwin.
Darwin had an opportunity to collect many plants on the Beagle expedition, hundreds of them, which he sent to Henslow along with animal skins, fossils, etc. After shipping the first package, he had to wait two years for a letter from Henslow to catch up with him. In the meantime, he worried that no correspondence meant that Henslow wasn’t pleased with what he sent. He was relieved to finally read that Henslow was grateful for the materials. However, his mentor did comment that Darwin shouldn’t send scraps, that the entire plant should be included when possible—leaves, roots, stem, flowers—and that one of the leaves should be turned back to reveal the underside. Also, it wasn’t necessary to sew down the specimens; they traveled better when left loose.
Soon after his return to England, Darwin delivered the last batch of specimens in person, and Henslow agreed to begin work on identifying them. However, this turned out to be a slow process, in part because the assignment coincided with Henslow’s move from Cambridge to become vicar at a church in Hitcham, almost 50 miles away.
He remained a Cambridge professor, but usually only visited there to give his lectures. Another problem was that so many of the plants were unfamiliar to Henslow. Darwin kept prodding him for several years, until eventually Henslow turned the specimens over to the young botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, who had himself just returned from a round-the-world expedition with the British Navy. Hooker found that many of the plants that Darwin collected on the Galapagos Islands were endemic to the islands, and in many cases, occurred on only One Island, information that Darwin was relieved to hear since it fit with his observations on birds and other animals.