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Darwin’s Greenhouse

Earlier this year we visited Down House, which is the celebrated home of Charles Darwin, who lived here for forty years from 1842 until his death. A short distance outside of London in rural Kent, this place offered Darwin all the solace needed to help develop his theories and write his seminal works.

His garden was particularly important to him, the greenhouse situated in it he used as a botanical laboratory cultivating plant specimens and formulating experiments to study adaptations, and most importantly: collecting evidence. Darwin’s greenhouse consists of compartments adjoining one another, with interconnecting doors and benches by each side running the length. Light beams in through the sloping glass roof, a boiler system keeping the space warm. It was in the early 1860s, a hothouse was erected alongside a greenhouse in his garden; this was to provide the right temperature and environment he needed for experimentation.

Today, visitors will find the greenhouses filled with the same plant specimens Darwin experimented with, and cultivated for his own research. Atop one of the large wooden benches are insectivorous plants, which Darwin had greatest fascination for. The sundew Drosera Rotundifolia, he cultivated in abundance in terracotta pots. Observing the mild curling of the Drosera’s sticky tentacles around an insect. He even fed them bits of raw meat, egg white and even nail clippings. He discovered that while orchid reproduction was dependent on insect pollinators, insectivorous plants showed a different world where plants were the predators.

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