Testing Darwin Online

I realised that the new Darwin Online website which was launched a few days back must be getting plenty of publicity when both my kid sister and my friend Stense (neither of whom are Darwin nerds) both tipped me off about it. Richard Dawkins unsurprisingly sings its praises in today's Independent [article now locked behind paywall], and the BBC chose Darwin as its No.1 Face of the Week following the site's launch.

So, this morning, I decided to put the new website to the test.

Last week, my Darwin News Radar picked up the following story:

BBC: Pupils help beat flower's decline

A project to help save a rare spring flower found only in a part of East Anglia has got under way. Children from the primary school at Great Bardfield in Essex have started planting 400 oxlips at Pipers Meadow next to the River Pant… The flower is limited to an area of north west Essex, Suffolk and Cambs…

The plant—now known as the Bardfield oxlip—has a historic connection with Great Bardfield. In 1842 the Victorian botanist Henry Doubleday described the oxlips in Bardfield as "growing by the thousands". He first recognised it as a true species and not simply the result of chance hybridity between Primroses and Cowslips.

He sent samples of the plants to Charles Darwin who carried out a number of cross-pollination experiments. Charles Darwin reported in 1869: "It is manifest that Oxlip Primula elatior is not a hybrid and that it differs fundamentally from the Common Oxlip (the Primrose / Cowslip hybrid)".

I decided to see if I could find out more about the Bardfield Oxlip on Darwin Online. And there it was:

Darwin Online: The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species

PRIMULA ELATIOR, Jacq.
Bardfield Oxlip of English Authors.

This plant, as well as the last or Cowslip (P. veris, vel officinalis), and the Primrose (P. vulgaris, vel acaulis) have been considered by some botanists as varieties of the same species. But they are all three undoubtedly distinct, as will be shown in the next chapter. The present species resembles to a certain extent in general appearance the common oxlip, which is a hybrid between the cowslip and primrose. Primula elatior is found in England only in two or three of the eastern counties; and I was supplied with living plants by Mr. Doubleday, who, as I believe, first called attention to its existence in England. It is common in some parts of the Continent; and H. Müller has seen several kinds of humble-bees and other bees, and Bombylius, visiting the flowers in North Germany.

…and so on.

In fact, the archive holds dozens of documents that mention oxlips. Primula elatior, it turns out, is even mentioned in Chapter 2 of Origin of Species.

Darwin Online is a truly wonderful and important resource.

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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