Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817–1911), friend and scientific confidant of Charles Darwin, lectured in 1866 on ‘Insular floras’ at the Annual Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. His interest and knowledge of islands had been aroused when he travelled to the Antarctic aboard the Erebus under Sir James Clark Ross from 1839–43. On his return, Darwin passed on to Hooker the botanical collections he had made on the Beagle voyage, including those from the Galapagos. Hooker's conclusions from these and from his own material and experiences were important to Darwin as he developed the ideas that culminated in the publication of the Origin of Species. The 1866 lecture provided a focus for subsequent and informative studies on evolution, and islands continue to provide invaluable natural laboratories for evolutionary biology and genetics. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 96, 462–481.