Darwin’s Botanists: In the Family

Frontispiece for Eramus Darwin’s The Botanic Garden, Biodiversity Heritage Library

In this series of post’s I’ll be discussing key botanists who influenced Charles Darwin’s work:  John Stevens Henslow, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Asa Gray.  But first I’ll look at those closer to home who were important to Darwin’s development as a naturalist.  The most obvious is his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, a physician with broad interests including botany.  He worked with two others in his town of Litchfield to translate some of Linnaeus’s work, and after that wrote a volume of poetry, The Love of Plants, as an introduction to the Linnaean classification system.  It was well-received and was followed by The Economy of Vegetation; the two were then published together as The Botanic Garden.  There are hints of evolutionary thinking in them, but are more overt in Zoonomia, a two-volume medical work with a chapter on generation that presents a somewhat Lamarckian view of species change.  Erasmus died before Charles Darwin was born, so most of his grandfather’s influence on him was through his writings.  By the time Charles was studying at Cambridge, he was aware of Erasmus’s ideas as well as those of Lamarck.

Darwin’s father Robert was also a physician interested in botany, though not a writer.  However, he took pleasure in gardening with his children.  This is probably how Charles was first introduced to nature, and he early had a fascination with plants and animals, with closely observing nature as every good gardener must.  Since it’s impossible to garden without encountering insects, it was probably in working with his father that Charles developed his interest in insects and became a collector.  Robert also kept a notebook where he recorded phenological events such as first flowerings, something that his son and grandsons also did.  At one point Robert set the young Charles the task of counting the number of peony blooms each year.  What I find interesting about this is that the number varied from 160 to 363, an impressive display.

Robert Darwin hoped that Charles would follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, not only in gardening but in becoming a physician as Robert’s older son, Erasmus, did.  But after spending two years at the University of Edinburgh studying medicine, Charles had to break it to his father that he was not cut out to be a physician (Browne, 1995).  It was a tremendous relief to be free of that burden, and Robert sent his son off to Cambridge to become a clergyman, a profession that was at the time full of naturalists.  At Cambridge Darwin met the cleric/professor of botany, John Stevens Henslow, but that is the story of the next post.

While at the university, Darwin became friendly with a cousin, William Darwin Fox, who was also interested in natural history, particularly entomology.  It was Fox who introduced Darwin to the wonders of beetles.  This was a time when divisions between biological disciplines was permeable so in hunting for beetles it was impossible not to take an interest in birds, plants, and even aquatic life that filled the wetlands around Cambridge.  After acquiring a microscope from a friend, Darwin became fascinated by the world of aquatic invertebrates and studied their reproductive cycles.  There seemed to be no aspect of natural history that didn’t engage him.  At the end of his time at Cambridge, he went on a geological fieldtrip to Wales with Adam Sedgewick, professor of geology, and there he made what is considered his oldest existing herbarium sheet. 

After Cambridge came Darwin’s five years of travel on the Beagle which involved collecting specimens that he sent back to Henslow.  In fact, Henslow served as receiver for all eight shipments of plants, animals, fossils, and rocks that Darwin had amassed.  I’m skipping forward very rapidly, but much of this story is familiar to many of you, and for those who want more detail, Janet Browne’s two-volume biography is a joy to read (1995, 2002).  As he was creating the first draft of his theory of species change in 1838, Darwin decided to marry Emma Wedgewood.  They had 10 children, seven of whom lived to adulthood, and all were assistants in his work to a greater or lesser extent.  They pitched in with the endless experiments Darwin devised at Down House, their home in the country outside London.  As they got older, they took on more responsibility.  His daughter Henrietta was his editor and proofreader, and his sons George and William made many of the drawings for his botanical works.  Darwin even engaged George Sowerby, a member of a distinguished family of natural history artists, to teach engraving to George Darwin, whose daughter became the famous printmaker Gwen Raverat.  She also wrote a great book on growing up a Darwin in Cambridge (1952).

Francis Darwin was the son who was most involved in Darwin’s later scientific work, particularly in investigating plant movements and phototropism.  Francis’s first wife died in childbirth.  To ease his grief, his parents urged him to move back to Down House with his infant son.  This is when his collaboration with his father became particularly close, and they co-authored The Power of Movement in Plants, published in 1880, two years before Charles’s death.  Francis also edited collections of his father’s letters.  So even without going outside his family, Darwin received a great deal of inspiration and assistance from those related to him, across the generations.  In the following posts, I’ll discuss some of those outside the family who were also important to his botanical work.


Browne, J. (1995). Charles Darwin: Voyaging. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Browne, J. (2002). Charles Darwin: The power of place. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Raverat, G. (1952). Period Piece: A Cambridge Childhood. London: Faber & Faber.


The 18th-Century Passion for Botany: Philosophy

4 Rousseau Gentiana filiformis

Gentiana filiformis specimen from the Rousseau herbarium, Jean-Jacques Rousseau Museum, Montmorency, France

The argument I am making in this series of posts (1,2,3) is that in the 18th century there was an interest in natural history, and particularly in plants, that was both intense and pervasive among European educated classes.  Statesmen like the British Prime Minister, Lord Bute, merchants such as George Clifford, and noblewomen including the Duchess of Portland were fascinated by, if not obsessed with, the plant world.  This extended well beyond enjoying gardens or just decorating with plants; they studied botany, learning as much as they could about plant taxonomy with the help of the Linnaean method.  They went so far as to dissect flowers, coax exotic species into bloom, attempt hybridization experiments, and of course, keep herbaria.  With this cultural background, it is hardly surprising that two of the most influential writers of the day were also fired with botanical zeal:  Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Rousseau became serious about botany around 1764 while he was living in Switzerland (Cook, 2012).  This fit with his philosophy of humans being linked to nature.  Like many of that era, as soon as he became interested, he had a thirst to learn more and more about plants, including how to identify them.  Rousseau was not particularly taken with the Linnaean system, though he studied it.  He was instructed in it by two Swiss physicians as mentors who went on plant collecting tours with him and taught him to press plants for a herbarium.  Rousseau really took to the practice and created beautiful specimens mounted on pages framed in red ink (see figure above).  He also corresponded with the botanist, Joseph Dombey, who sent him over 1500 rare specimens to study.  Rousseau was fascinated by plant form, by the visible similarities and differences among species.  He saw botany as a way to calm the emotions by focusing the mind on something outside itself.

Rousseau was closely tied to the intelligentsia of the day and corresponded with a number of well-educated women of the elite.  He visited the Duchess of Portland (see earlier post) when he went to Britain in 1767 and botanized with her.  He had already been in correspondence with her and sent her two small herbaria.  He also was in contact with Madeleine Delessert, the wife of a financier.  She prevailed on him to give her instruction on how to teach her daughter about plants.  This was the origin of his book of eight letters on botany.  It is a lovely little work, especially because the final chapter is on how to create a herbarium—what more could you ask for in botanical instruction?  In 1785, the British botanist Thomas Martyn translated the letters into English, but gave them a more Linnaean slant than Rousseau had.  In the early 19th century, the letters were published with illustrations by none other than the great botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté, a beautiful tribute to the philosopher (Rousseau, 1979).

One of those influenced by Rousseau’s botanical work was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  He became interested in plants when he was made an administrator in Weimar and had to deal with agricultural and forestry management.  As with so many others, he then grew fascinated by plants for their own sake.  He read Linnaeus’s books as well as Rousseau’s botanical writings and tried to work out the similarities and differences among species.  Goethe started a herbarium and also began sketching plants and plant structures (Schulze, 2006).  The turning point in his interest came when he traveled south to Italy and was struck by all the new and intriguing plants he encountered.  They had some similarities with those in Germany, but there were also tremendous differences, especially in the greater variety of species, the number of variations on botanical forms.

As he tried to make sense of this multiplicity, Goethe had a flash of insight when he visited the botanical garden in Padua.  There he saw a palm tree and studied the variations in the forms of its leaves.  He became fixated on leaves and the idea came to him that all plant structures on a stem: leaves, flowers, and the parts of flowers were variations on a basic leaf form.  He came to realize that it was impossible to visualize this Urblatt, as he called it, or to draw it; it was an ideal, a mental construct.  This was also the case with what he termed the Urpflanze or basic plant from which derived all the different plant forms.  He was not thinking in evolutionary terms but more Platonically of an ideal form.  Goethe developed his concept in a book on plant metamorphosis.  While some consider it of little importance in the development of modern botany, others see it as seminal in that he examined questions of relationships among forms that are still relevant today.  One in the second group was Agnes Arber, a noted plant morphologist of the first half of the 20th century who published an English translation of Metamorphosis (Arber, 1946) and wrote The Natural Philosophy of Plant Form (1950) that built on Goethe’s ideas.  Arber saw the basic plant unit as the leaf-as-partial-shoot, and her work received some vindication at the end of the 20th century when the genes responsible for flower structures were discovered and the ABC model of flower development form was published (Haughn & Somerville, 1988).  To me, this is a wonderful story of how fundamental ideas can resurface in new ways as science develops.  It’s another example of where the passion for plants can lead.


Arber, A. R. (1946). Goethe’s botany. Chronica Botanica, 10, 63–126.

Arber, A. R. (1950). The Natural Philosophy of Plant Form. Cambridge: University Press.

Cook, A. (2012). Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Botany: The Salutary Science. Oxford, UK: Voltaire Foundation.

Haughn, G. W., & Somerville, C. R. (1988). Genetic control of morphogenesis in Arabidopsis. Developmental Genetics, 9(2), 73–89.

Rousseau, J.-J. (1979). Botany: A Study of Pure Curiosity (K. Ottevanger, Trans.). London: Michael Joseph.

Schulze, S. (2006). The Painter’s Garden: Design, Inspiration, Delight. Frankfurt, Germany: Hatje Cantz.

The 18th-Century Passion for Botany: Illustrations

3 Gessner Triandria

Illustration of Linnaeus’s triandria class (Table IV) from Johannes Gessner’s Tabulae phytographicae, Biodiversity Heritage Library

In discussing 18th century botany, it’s impossible not to bring up Carl Linnaeus.  As I’ve already discussed (1, 2), his classification system based on flower structure made it easier to identify species.  It also changed the character of botanical illustrations, as noted in an earlier post on Linnaeus’s collaboration with the artist Georg Ehret during their time together at George Clifford’s estate in the Netherlands.  Ehret had already been schooled in the necessity for accuracy and detail by the exacting German botanist Christoph Jacob Trew, but Linnaeus introduced him to a classification system based on the number of male and female parts in a flower.  In many plants, these structures are difficult to see without a magnifying glass or without dissecting the flower.  So while small drawings of such features sometimes appeared at the bottom of botanical illustrations before this time, they then became more common (Nickelsen, 2006).  Also, there was more emphasis on the flower in the main drawing as well.  At times this attention was coupled with less detail on the non-reproductive parts of the plants.  For example, the branch and at least some of the leaves would be just outlines in ink drawings where only the flower was colored.  There were also cases, as in Johannes Gessner’s Tabulae phytographicae (1795-1804), where flowers and fruits were presented with almost no attention to other plant parts (see figure above).

Linnaeus’s work also had the far reaching effect of making botany more popular and thus increasing demand for botanical publications in a variety of formats, most calling for illustrations, again of various sorts.  There were richly illustrated florilegia that emphasized the beauty of plants growing in a particular area, or even in a particular garden.  Usually these had engravings hand-colored on fine paper and produced in small print runs.  More technical books tended to have uncolored illustrations; many botanists thought that color distracted the eye from the structural elements that were important in identifying species.  Toward the end of the century the thirst for botanical publications led to William Curtis’s first issue of the Botanical Magazine which became a long-running journal known for its hand-colored illustrations.  Some of the early ones were done by William Kilburn who then went on to a long career in producing gorgeous botanically themed wallpapers and fabrics, harkening back to the floral embroideries discussed in the last post (Christie, 2011).  After Kilburn, James Sowerby took over (Henderson, 2015).  This was early in his illustrious career as a natural history artist.  Sowerby then teamed up with James Edward Smith, the purchaser of Linnaeus’s herbarium and founder of the Linnean Society, to begin a long-running series of books on English Botany.  These were printed in a small format making them accessible to many interested in botany, yet Smith’s plant descriptions was written with accuracy so they were considered valuable references.  Distinguished gardeners began sending rare plants to Sowerby to use in his paintings, thus adding prestige to their horticultural abilities and all this indicating the continuing passion for plants.

This trend wasn’t just in Britain.  I’ve already mentioned Ehret’s art in Trew’s botanical publications in German, while in France, the center of botanical activity was at the King’s Garden, the Jardin des Plantes, in Paris.  From 1666 to the French Revolution in 1789, there was a full-time artist working at the garden, beginning with Nicolas Robert and including Claude Aubriet who created impressive work for Joseph Pitton de Tournefort’s book on the plants of the Middle East, Aubriet having traveled with the botanist on this voyage; he also illustrated other work by Tournefort.  He was succeeded by his student, Madeleine Basseporte, one of a growing number of women distinguishing themselves as botanical artists.  Finally, there was Gérard van Spaendonck who survived the revolution, was later honored by Napoleon, and taught Pierre-Joseph Redouté, whom many consider the greatest flower painter of all time.

One further aspect of 18th century botanical art to consider is the trend, already mentioned in the case of Aubriet and Tournefort, to include artists along with naturalists on expeditions to little known parts of the world.  When James Cook sailed on his first round-the-world voyage, Joseph Banks and Linnaeus’s student Daniel Solander collected and described plant specimens, and the artist Sydney Parkinson created over 900 drawings of them (Banks et al., 1980).  The ill-fated expedition headed by Jean-François La Pérouse had a similar team as did the voyage of Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux who was sent in search of his missing countrymen (Williams, 2003).  There were also a number of Spanish enterprises, most to Latin America toward the end of the 18th century (Bleichmar, 2011).  It is interesting that many of the expeditions resulted in no publications or extremely delayed ones.  Banks’s planned flora of Australia wasn’t published until the 1980s, and much of the Spanish material was never published by members of the expeditions, though the superb illustrations produced by the artists employed by José Celestino Mutis in New Granada are now available on a well-organized website.  The 18th century was definitely a century when botanical art flourished, feeding the passion for botany and also for floral decorative art in what could be considered a self-perpetuating circle of influence.  In the next post, I’ll look at some of the philosophical ramifications of these trends.


Banks, J., Solander, D., & Cook, J. (1980). Banks’ Florilegium (Vols. 1–34). London, UK: British Museum.

Bleichmar, D. (2011). Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Calman, G. (1977). Ehret: Flower Painter Extraordinary. Oxford, UK: Phaidon.

Christie, A. (2011). A taste for seaweed: William Kilburn’s late eighteenth-century designs for printed cottons. Journal of Design History, 24(4), 299–314.

Henderson, P. (2015). James Sowerby: The Enlightenment’s Natural Historian. Kew, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Nickelsen, K. (2006). Draughtsmen, Botanists and Nature: The Construction of Eighteenth-Century Botanical Illustrations. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

Williams, R. L. (2003). French Botany in the Enlightenment: The Ill-Fated Voyages of La Perouse and his Rescuers. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

The 18th-Century Passion for Botany: Women

2a Passiflora laurifolia

Paper cutout of Passiflora laurifolia by Mary Delany, in the collection of the British Museum

The last post was on the enthusiasm for gardening that flourished in the 18th century.  One aspect of this trend was the increasing interest in horticulture among women, especially those with the wealth to satisfy it.  A prominent example was Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland (1715-1785).  She was curious about all aspects of natural history and was an prodigious collector not only of animals, plants, and minerals, but also of paintings and the decorative arts.  After her husband’s death in 1762, she devoted more time to bringing exotic plants to the gardens of her estate at Bulstrode Park and learning as much as she could about natural history.  She had impressive collections in conchology, entomology, and ornithology, but I’ll concentrate on the plants.  Bentinck knew Peter Collinson (see last post) and received North American plants from him.  He also suggested that she hire Daniel Solander, Carl Linnaeus’s former student who had recently arrived from Sweden, to arrange her collections according to the Linnaean system.  She may have had massive numbers of organisms, but unlike many other collectors, they were well-organized (Laird, 2015).

Bentinck also hired another émigré, the botanical artist Georg Ehret, not only to paint plants she grew, but also to teach art to her daughters.  Another member of her household was the Reverend John Lightfoot, who served as chaplain and naturalist, giving special attention to her shells and plants.  She financed his collecting in various parts of Britain and took botany lessons from him.  The duchess was obviously more than just a plant lover; she had a sophisticated appreciation of botany, and not surprisingly, kept a herbarium.  In fact, none other than the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, gave her two portable herbaria.  As I’ll discuss in the last post in this series, he became passionate about botany toward the end of his life, had a herbarium, and created others for patrons such as the Duchess, whom he visited while in England in 1767.

Bentinck was not the only woman with broad intellectual pursuits.  She was loosely connected with the original group of bluestockings, who met to discuss their mutual intellectual interests.  She was particularly close to another member, Mary Delany, also a gardening enthusiast whose knowledge of botany deepened with time.  Delany came from a less wealthy line of nobility, but this still gave her access to royal circles.  She had a dreadful first marriage, and eventually found love and contentment with an Irish clergyman and friend of Jonathan Swift’s.  She developed their garden near Dublin and led a satisfying life until the Rev. Delany’s death in 1768.  Like many women of her time, she took an interest in drawing, and combined with her gardening passion, it’s not surprising that she drew flowers.  Among her accomplishments was the design of floral embroidery patterns including those used on a gown she wore when presented at court.  Though she did needlework, the gown was made by professional embroiderers and precisely displayed about 200 identifiable species (see image below).  It was so magnificent that portions were preserved and passed down through her family for generations (Hayden, 1994).

2b Delany mantua

Segment of the embroidered court gown designed by Mary Delany

After her husband’s death, Delany spent months at a time visiting Bulstrode Park, working with the Duchess on her plant collections and studying with Rev. Lightfoot.  They would press plants, draw them, and dissect them using a microscope, another not uncommon aspect of botanical interest at the time.  Naturally, they also walked through the gardens regularly, but in 1772, Delany had a sore foot that kept her sidelined.  She occupied her time by coloring pieces of paper and then cutting them out to form pictures of flowers.  These were very much in the tradition of botanical illustrations: a single branch against a plain background, though instead of the usual white, she used black.  They could be likened to herbarium specimens, having more depth and texture than an illustration does.  There are even a couple of cases where she added real leaves to a work.  Delany, and presumably the Duchess, were pleased with her compositions, and so she continued.  Over time the pieces became more elaborate.  At first, she would paint in details, but later she cut out tiny pieces of paper to form minute structures.  One particularly amazing example was used on the cover of a catalogue for an exhibition on Mrs. Delany and Her Circle (Laird & Weisberg-Roberts, 2009).  It presents the passionflower, Passiflora, in all its glory (see figure at top).

During the next 10 years Delaney completed over 900 cutouts, with the Linnaean name for each species written on the back.  When King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte, another devoted gardener, visited Bulstrode, they marveled at Delany’s work and within months she was given access to plants at Kew Gardens.  There the King’s confidante, Joseph Banks, was converting the garden to the study of exotic species.  Delany also received plants from a number of other sources, including the Quaker gardener John Fothergill, a patron of the American nurseryman John Bartram, and William Pitcairn, who sponsored plant collecting in the East and West Indies (Laird, 2015).  Her work is a notable example of how women combined botanical knowledge with the arts.  The next post will focus on the artwork resulting from the passion for plants in the 18th century.


Hayden, R. (1993). Mrs. Delany: Her Life and Her Flowers. New York: New Amsterdam.

Henderson, P. (2015). James Sowerby: The Enlightenment’s Natural Historian. Kew, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Laird, M. (2015). A Natural History of English Gardening 1650-1800. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Laird, M., & Weisberg-Roberts, A. (2009). Mrs. Delany and Her Circle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

The 18th-Century Passion for Botany: Gardens

1 Miller

Title page of The Gardeners Dictionary (8th ed) by Philip Miller. Biodiversity Heritage Library

One of my favorite botanically flavored books is Andrea Wulf’s (2011) Founding Gardeners about the horticultural pursuits of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.  This book grew out of her earlier study (2009), The Brother Gardeners, which deals primarily with the gardening scene in 18th-century Britain.  This subject is very much tied to North American botanical exploration and to the systematics of Carl Linnaeus, who in various ways has been the subject of my last two series of posts.  The present series deals with the excitement about botany present in the 18th-century, and Linnaeus appears again here.  His classification scheme, fundamentally based on counting the male and female structures in the flower, made it much easier to identify a species.  No longer was a plant lover required to know a great deal of terminology and to sift through a large number of characteristics as the natural systems of John Ray and Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, for example, required.  Linnaeus also corralled nomenclature by christening each plant with a two-word appellation:  genus and species.  Many of us still find the Latin names of plants a challenge, but think what it was like when there was a string of six or more Latin words to designate a species.

Linnaeus does not deserve all the credit for the burgeoning interest in plants at this time.  Paper and books were becoming cheaper and more accessible, and literacy rates were rising so more people had the opportunity to learn about botany.  Philip Miller, the head gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, published the first edition of The Gardener’s Dictionary in 1731 and became a driving force in the popularization of plant information; the book ran to eight editions during his lifetime.  The science of botany was developing as universities like Oxford and Cambridge created botany faculty positions and botanical gardens.  Then there was the surge of new plants coming into Europe from explorations around the world.  While these had been going on since the 16th century, the expeditions became larger and the hunt for new plants better organized.  Each of James Cook’s three voyages around the world involved teams of artists, naturalists, and geographers, most famously on the first trip when Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander collected plants and animals, which were then drawn by Sydney Parkinson (O’Brian, 1993).  The French sent a similar team on the ill-fated La Pérouse expedition, which was followed by a similarly equipped one led by Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux (Williams, 2003), while the Spanish mounted several large, long-term expeditions in the later part of the century (Bleichmar, 2011).

Yet all these sources of plants didn’t seem to be enough to satisfy gardeners.  One problem was that many plants were sent to Europe only as pressed specimens, and often languished between sheets of paper for years, if not for centuries, as was the case with some of the material from the Spanish Sessé and Monciño Expedition (McVaugh, 2000).  There were efforts to send back seeds and seedlings, but these materials often moldered on long voyages or failed to thrive in the European climate.  Still, nurserymen and avid gardeners persisted.  One of the most successful horticultural enthusiasts was Peter Collinson, a British Quaker and textile merchant, who successfully grew such exotics as a North American pitcher plant that had been described a century earlier, but was never induced to flower until he nurtured it (Wulf, 2009).  Collinson was well connected with upper-class gardeners of the day, from his fellow Quaker, the physician John Fothergill, to Lord Bute, one time British Prime Minister and adviser to the young King George III.  While Americans don’t have fond memories of the king, he was an ardent horticulturalist, thanks to Bute and to Joseph Banks, who served as his unofficial botanical adviser in charge of Kew Botanic Gardens.

Collinson linked his horticultural to his business interests by asking his textile customers in the American colonies for help in obtaining New World plants.  His most long-term and fruitful contact was with the Quaker farmer, John Bartram, in Philadelphia.  Once they started to correspond, Bartram began sending seeds, specimens, and cuttings to Collinson.  In turn, Collinson sent Bartram exotics from other parts of the world including the Chinese aster, Callistephus chinensis, which was brought back to France by Jesuits missionaries and from there sent to England, an indication of how seeds wandered around the world (Laird, 2015).  Since Bartram’s botanical knowledge, though growing, was limited, he would make two sets of specimens for each type of seed he sent, using a number code to keep track of them.  Collinson would then identify the specimen, or have someone like the Oxford botanist Johann Jacob Dillenius do so, then send the information back to Bartram who then labeled his sheets accordingly.

Collinson also encouraged Bartram to travel through the colonies to find new species.  This is how the latter and his son William discovered such gems as Franklinia alatamaha.  In Britain, Collinson organized a group of patrons—more than 50 over the years—who paid for boxes of seeds and seedlings from Bartram (O’Neill & McLean, 2008).  The most avid of these was Lord Robert Petre (1713-1742), whose 16-volume herbarium contains many Bartram plants (Schuyler & Newbold, 1987).  Petre planted thousands of Bartram-supplied tree seeds and seedlings, including 900 tulip poplars.  Unfortunately, Petre died young.  His estate was such a rich source of exotic species that other nobles vied to buy plants from his widow, such was the feverish state of British horticultural at the time (Wulf, 2009).  But by the time Bartram died in 1777, American species had become commonplace in Britain and were supplied by British nurserymen.  Bartram’s son, John Jr., who continued the business, then sold mainly to American gardeners who had caught the gardening bug from their former rulers.


Bleichmar, D. (2011). Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

McVaugh, R. (2000). Botanical Results of the Sessé and Mociño Expedition (1787-1803). Pittsburgh, PA: Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.

O’Brian, P. (1993). Joseph Banks: A Life. Boston, MA: Godine.

O’Neill, J., & McLean, E. (2008). Peter Collinson and the 18c Natural History Exchange. Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society.

Schuyler, A. E., & Newbold, A. (1987). Vascular plants in Lord Petre’s herbarium collected by John Bartram. Bartonia, 53, 41–43.

Williams, R. L. (2003). French Botany in the Enlightenment: The Ill-Fated Voyages of La Perouse and his Rescuers. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.

Wulf, A. (2009). The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession. New York, NY: Knopf.

Wulf, A. (2011). Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. New York, NY: Knopf.

The Linnaean Apostles: Carl Thunberg

4 Thunbergia capensis LINN 815.1

Thunbergia capensis (LINN 815.1) from the herbarium of the Linnean Society, London

This is the last in a series of posts (1, 2, 3) on those who studied with Carl Linnaeus and then became his “apostles,” spreading his taxonomic system and traveling the globe searching for new species for him to identify.  The subject here is Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828) whose explorations took place so late in Linnaeus’s life that most of his collection did not reach Sweden until after the latter’s death in 1778.  Thunberg eventually became professor of botany at the University of Uppsala, a chair that had been passed on to Carl Linnaeus the Younger who died five years after his father.  Thunberg held the position for 44 years during which he used his professor’s taxonomic system to name and describe the many plants discovered on his travels.

Attending the University of Uppsala, Thunberg studied with Linnaeus, who recognized his student’s abilities and arranged a grant for him to study in the Netherlands and France.  In Holland Thunberg met the botanist Johannes Burman, a friend of Linnaeus from the latter’s time in that country (see earlier post).  Burman and his son Nicolas, also a botanist and a student of Linnaeus, were so impressed with Thunberg that they encouraged him to seek employment as a physician with the Dutch East India Company.   In the meantime, Thunberg went on to Paris where he spent a year studying with Bernard Jussieu, a noted plant taxonomist and teacher.  This gave him an opportunity to examine the extensive collections in the Paris herbarium, something that Linnaeus had done years before.  When Thunberg returned to the Netherlands, he was offered the position of surgeon at the Dutch outpost in Japan.  Since the Japanese had a strict agreement that only the Dutch would be allowed there, Thunberg had to learn the language before arriving.  He did this while staying in the Dutch colony in Cape Town, South Africa for almost three years.

This was a wonderful opportunity for Thunberg to investigate the rich Cape flora.  Linnaeus was thrilled with this, since his interest in South African flora dated back to his time in the Netherlands, where he studied Paul Hermann’s herbarium, the first organized collection from the area.  Thunberg found traveling companions for his explorations including Anders Sparrman another Linnaean apostle who had already collected in China and then traveled with James Cook on his second circumnavigation of the globe.  Thunberg was wary of Sparrman usurping his collections, so he felt more comfortable traveling on brief trips with the British botanist Francis Masson, who was collecting for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  Thunberg also made three longer collecting tours that lasted for months and covered 5,000 km.  He took extensive notes, not only on plants but on local customs and information on the Hottentot language (Fraser & Fraser, 2011).

After mastering Dutch, Thunberg sailed for Japan.  He stayed at Deshima, an island in Nagasaki constructed as a Dutch port where the Dutch were held during their stays in Japan.  While biding his time in Deshima, Thunberg would go through the fodder brought in for animals to find interesting seeds to plant.  Access to the rest of the country was forbidden, except for a yearly journey to the capital at Edo to pay homage to the emperor.  This trip took a couple of months and involved a large entourage paid for by the Dutch, but with only a few Dutch allowed to participate, including the colony’s surgeon, Thunberg.  He tried to do as much collecting as possible, relying on Japanese he had befriended to find plants for him.  One thing that disappointed him was that he found few roadside weeds such as he would have seen in Europe because the Japanese worked diligently to eradicate all weeds (Vande Walle & Kasaya, 2001).

Thunberg definitely made the most of his time in Japan, and the Japanese who had an interest in natural history learned from him.   He remained in Japan for about 18 months and then traveled to Batavia in what is now Indonesia collecting there for six months and in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) before returning to the Cape.  After landing in Holland, he spent two months in England.  He managed to visit another Linnaean student, Daniel Solander, who was working at the British Museum (see last post), and study the collections Solander and Joseph Banks had made in Asia.  Thunberg finally returned to Sweden in 1779.  He had been appointed lecturer in botany at the University of Uppsala, a position he held until Linnaeus’s son died in 1783, then the master’s chair finally belonged to Thunberg.  In 1784 he produced his Flora Japonica, and at the turn of the century, published a series of illustrations on plants described in the flora.  He described his African plants many years later in Flora Capensis of 1807.  Both his floras were long in use, not replaced by new publications for decades.  Thunberg’s herbarium, including the Japanese collection, is preserved in the Museum of Evolution at the University of Uppsala.  Its value is indicated by the fact that it is kept in fire-proof vault along with other treasures of the collection, among them the herbarium of Joachim Burser.  The latter is important because it was used by Caspar Bauhin in creating his Pinax Theatri Botanici, one of the early and great compendia of known plants.  Linnaeus referenced the collection as a guide to the plants that Bauhin had used in writing his descriptions.  So even though Linnaeus’s own herbarium is not in Uppsala, but in the Linnaean Society of London, there are still extraordinary botanical treasures at his university.


Fraser, M., & Fraser, L. (2011). The Smallest Kingdom: Plants and Plant Collectors at the Cape of Good Hope. Richmond, UK: Kew Publishing.

Vande Walle, W. F., & Kasaya, K. (Eds.). (2001). Dodonæus in Japan: Translation and the Scientific Mind in the Tokugawa Leuven: Leuven University Press.

The Linnaean Apostles: Daniel Solander

3 Solandra tridentata LINN 332a.2

Solandra tridentata (LINN 332.2) from the herbarium of the Linnean Society, London

In the last post I discussed one of Carl Linnaeus’s students, Peter Forsskål, who never returned from his expedition to the Near East.  Daniel Solander (1733-1782) traveled farther and also lived to study the fruits of his exploration.  He was born in Lapland and, not surprisingly, studied in Uppsala where he was considered Linnaeus’s favorite pupil.  When British botanists asked Linnaeus to send someone to England to boost the use of Linnaean taxonomy, Solander was chosen.  He left in 1760 and never again lived in Sweden.  At first, he spent time reorganizing the herbaria of wealthy patrons such as the Duchess of Portland and Peter Collinson, who was one of those who had encouraged Linnaeus to send an “apostle” to England.  He was influential in British botanical circles as a member of the Royal Society, a trustee of the newly formed British Museum, and a patron of the American nurseryman John Bartram.  Solander sent specimens from Collinson and others on to Linnaeus.  When the British Museum was looking for someone to care for the herbarium of Hans Sloane, the donor of the museum’s founding collection, Collinson asked Lord Bute, then Prime Minister, to suggest Solander to the King as the ideal choice (Rose, 2018).  This is a fascinating, though tiny, piece of history because all of the individuals involved were interested enough in plants that the care of a plant collection would be discussed at the highest government levels.

Solander began working at the museum in 1763 and set about giving the plants in the herbarium Linnaean names without disrupting the physical order of its 265 bound volumes.  This was a compromise that would allow those not familiar with the new system to still find plants in the collection using Sloane’s system, which was essentially an annotated copy of John Ray’s Historia Plantarum in which Sloane or his botanical curator had written the volume and folio numbers for each species, noting new species when necessary.  Solander began with the first volumes of the herbarium, those containing the collections Sloane had made while he served as physician to the Duke of Albemarle on the island of Jamaica in 1687-1688.  Among the 800 species were hundreds of new ones that Sloane described in his two volume Natural History of Jamaica (1702-1727).  Solander wrote the names on labels that he added to Sloane’s sheets, but retained the older labels, an approach that not been taken by many earlier botanists though later became the norm.

While at the museum, Solander began to receive visits from a young botanical enthusiast, Joseph Banks, heir to a large fortune who had attended but not graduated from the University of Oxford.  He supplied Solander with an unmarked copy of the Sloane Jamaica volumes to annotate.  This was a good way to keep track of the Jamaican species.  When Solander moved on to the rest of the collection, he used slips of paper to record the new names and crossreferenced them with the volume and folio numbers.  He also annotated a copy of Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum.  In this way, the collection was “modernized” without being rearranged.  This went on until 1768, when Solander took on a very different kind of challenge.

Banks had convinced the British Admiralty to make him part of the round-the-world expedition to be led by James Cook on the Endeavor.  It’s major aim, and the publicized one, was to observe the transit of Venus across the sun, which would take place on June 3, 1769.  However, Cook was also instructed to visit Australia, acquiring as much navigational and geographic information for future use in possible colonization (O’Brian, 1993).  Banks, at his own expense, put together a team to study natural history.  It included Solander, Herman Spöring of Finland as secretary, two artists, and two servants.  Banks paid to outfit the ship for his group as well as for scientific instruments and other supplies for preserving specimens and even for growing plants.  There is obviously a lot to this story, but for now I will stick to Solander and plants.

Apparently Banks and Solander made a good team.  They developed a system for dealing with the huge amount of material they collected, in all, about 30,000 plant specimens.  They would return to base each day, give the artist Sydney Parkinson the fresh material to sketch and make color notes, while they, with Spöring’s help, wrote up their notes.  The plants were pressed, though at times, as when they reached Australia, their system couldn’t keep up with collecting.  Plants weren’t drying fast enough, so the pair laid them out on deck on sails during the day.  Needless to say, this massive collection proved daunting to tackle for publication.  Banks and Solander worked on it for years, with engravings made of about 800 species from the Parkinson drawings.  The artist hadn’t survived the voyage, but he did produce 900 complete watercolors and as well as hundreds of sketches.  Unfortunately, Solander died in 1782 before the project was completed, and Banks seems to have given up first-hand work on botany after his death.  Instead, Banks became more involved in projects to promote botanical exploration as well as agriculture.  The Banks’ Florilegium wasn’t published until the 1980s in 34 massive volumes.  Solander did not publish much but he was obviously essential to the Endeavour mission, and perhaps even more importantly, to making the Sloane Herbarium a continuingly useful botanical resource.


O’Brian, P. (1993). Joseph Banks: A Life. Boston, MA: Godine.

Rose, E. D. (2018). Specimens, slips and systems: Daniel Solander and the classification of nature at the world’s first public museum, 1753–1768. The British Journal for the History of Science, 5 (2), 1–33.

The Linnaean Apostles: Peter Forsskål

2 Forskohlea sp Linn

Forskohlea sp. (LINN 605.1) from the herbarium of the Linnean Society, London

I should note before introducing the second of the students of Carl Linnaeus whom he sent out to gather exotic plants for him, that I am only going to deal with four of them in this series of posts, though there were about 20 by one count and 17 are listed in a booklet available online, The Apostles.  I chose these men because they are the ones I’ve most often encountered in my reading about botanical explorations, and they seemed particularly intriguing, as in the case of this post’s subject, Peter Forsskål (1732-1763).  Like several others in the group, he died on his travels and had interests that stretched well beyond botany.  Born in Finland, he spent much of his childhood near Uppsala and then attended the university there, studying with Linnaeus.  However, his chief interest was in orientalism.  He showed such promise that he was sent to Germany to study with Johann Michaelis, a leading biblical scholar and specialist in Near Eastern languages.  Forsskål again excelled, and his intellectual thirst was so great he continued to study botany as well as entomology and philosophy (Baack, 2013).

There was a liberal political environment at the university that excited Forsskål and inspired him to write a pamphlet called Thoughts on Civil Liberty.  In 1759, he had it published in Swedish and Latin, though only after the Swedish government censors had made some changes to the text.  This essay contributed to a Swedish freedom of the press act in 1766 (Goldberg, 2013).  However, it did not endear Forsskål to the faculty in Uppsala who refused to offer him a faculty position.  Meanwhile, Johann Michaelis urged the Danish king to finance a scholar fluent in Arabic to go to Yemen to study the natural sciences and geography of the Near East.  Scholars from Britain and the Netherlands were investigating this field, and Michaelis wanted to have a direct line to the area.  The King’s advisers were interested in encouraging Danish culture and science, so they even provided extra funds—two years of support for preparations.

Forsskål spent his time studying with Linnaeus on how to describe plants accurately and take notes on geography and climate.  He also continued studying Arabic and biblical history, though as the expedition continued it became more about natural history and less about religious studies.  There were five in the scientific contingent besides Forsskål:  a philologist to study language and custom, a physician, an artist, an assistant, and finally a cartographer and mathematician, Carsten Niebuhr, who was the only one of the six to return alive from the expedition that lasted over six years.  They sailed from Copenhagen in January 1761 and reached Alexandria in September.  Several difficulties kept them in Egypt for almost a year.  Forsskål used his time well once he worked out how to function effectively in the area.  He was attacked and robbed twice while exploring in the desert, so he hired a Bedouin guide who led him to interesting local specimens.  He also grew a beard, took an Arabic name, and dressed in robes.  Eventually he collected 576 species in Egypt; half were new species.  This was the most extensive Egyptian plant collection made in the 18th century.  He also wrote on the fertility of Egyptian soil and the relationship between geography and plant characteristics.  Though I am focusing on plants here (of course), Forsskål also collected insects and shells, sending everything back to Linnaeus.

From Egypt, the group then set out for Yemen, sailing across the Red Sea where Forsskål made extensive observations on marine biology.  In Yemen, he and Niebuhr often explored together, taking multi-day excursions into its biologically and geologically varied regions:  coastal plain and marshes, desert, and highlands.  Local officials and inhabitants were helpful.  In six months he managed to collect 693 different plant species, more than half new to science.  He also took extensive notes on plant habitats and distributions.  It’s obvious that Niebuhr as a cartographer would have had input here, and it’s easy to envision their conversations as they traveled.  Unfortunately, Forsskål only managed to complete six months of collections in Yemen before he died there of malaria in July 1763.  Niebuhr, surviving Yemen, went on with the expedition to India.  He eventually returned to Denmark in 1768 and arranged for the publications of Forsskål’s Flora Aegyptiaco-Arabica in 1775, even using his own funds to see the project through to completion.

Needless to say, Linnaeus made good use of the materials Forsskål sent him; these were particularly important because they included the Arabic names for the plants.  Paired with the specimens, these provide information that is still valuable on what was growing in the area.  Forsskål did collect duplicates, but the bulk of his collection, over 1300 sheets, is held in the herbarium of the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen where it is considered the institution’s greatest treasure.  Forsskål was only 31 when he died, but he made a significant contribution to science and also to human rights with his essay on civil liberty.


Baack, L. J. (2013). A naturalist of the Northern Enlightenment: Peter Forsskål after 250 years. Archives of Natural History, 40(1), 1–19.

Goldberg, D. (2013). Peter Forsskal: Goettingen prodigy and author of one of the least known jewels of Enlightenment literature. Goettingen Academy of Sciences.

The Linnaean Apostles: Pehr Kalm

1 Kalmia angustifolia 560.2

Kalmia angustifolia (LINN 560.2) from the herbarium of the Linnean Society, London

In the last series of posts (1,2,3,4), I discussed Carl Linnaeus’s time in the Netherlands where he was able to broaden his knowledge of plants and solidify his ideas on taxonomy.  When he returned to Sweden, he stayed put for the rest of his life, never leaving his native land again.  However while in Holland, England, and France, his exposure to plant collections from all over the world—living and preserved—made him realize that what was available in Sweden was indeed limited.  He tackled this problem in two ways.  First by maintaining a large correspondence with a broad range of botanists and collectors throughout the world, and secondly helping to engineer collecting trips by some of his students and proteges.  He himself called them “apostles,” but in most cases they were less involved in proselytizing his taxonomic system and more committed to collecting new species to augment his massive work, Species Plantarum, his attempt to name and describe all known plants.

One of the first travelers for Linnaeus was Pehr Kalm (1716-1779), who studied at the University of Uppsala in the early days of Linnaeus’s professorship there.  They were both interested in useful plants that would strengthen Swedish agriculture, and Kalm studied economics with an eye toward this issue.  Canada seemed a particularly attractive area in which to search for new species, because it was at a similar latitude to Sweden.  In addition, Linnaeus was interested in obtaining more plants and information from two men in the British colonies, with whom he had already been in communication, John Bartram and Cadwallader Colden.  He and other professors managed to finance Kalm’s trip.  While spending several months in London waiting for transport, he visited Peter Collinson, a merchant and botanical enthusiast who had met Linnaeus several years earlier during the latter’s London visit (Blunt, 1971).  Kalm also went to the farm of another gentleman botanist, William Ellis, author of The Practical Farmer (1732). They discussed how weeds such as bracken could be useful within the economics of farming.  No trip to London for a botanist would be complete without a visit to Chelsea Physic Garden, and in his journals Kalm also noted plants in the fields and meadows he encountered on his walks.

Kalm finally reached Philadelphia in September 1748 with a letter of introduction from Linnaeus to Benjamin Franklin, who in turn connected him with John Bartram, a Philadelphia farmer and nurseryman.  Bartram had been sending seeds, specimens, and plants for several years to Peter Collinson from whom Linnaeus had received some Bartram material.  But of course Linnaeus wanted more, and Kalm was able to dispatch specimens and seeds.  He stayed with Bartram for a couple of days, examining his living collection and herbarium, and remained in the Philadelphia area until the following spring.  Most of his time was spent in and around a Swedish colony in Racoon, New Jersey.  The Swedish government had established it in the 1630s, and though it was taken over by the British after 20 years, residents in the area maintained Swedish traditions, yet today the town no longer exists.

In spring 1749, Kalm explored further north, visiting Cadwallader Colden in his home north of New York City.  Colden was interested in botany, had corresponded with Linnaeus, and welcomed Kalm’s visit.  While there, Kalm also met Colden’s daughter Jane, another plant enthusiast.  Robbins (1969) speculates that it might have been Kalm who encouraged her to begin work on her flora of the region, which she eventually produced with 300 of her own drawings.  From there, Kalm ventured farther north eventually reaching Montreal and then went on to Quebec.  In November he returned to Philadelphia by way of Albany and Saratoga.  On this trip he gathered watermelon, walnut, pumpkin, cotton, and early-ripening maize seeds which could possibly grow in Sweden (Juel & Harshberger, 1929).  Because he was thinking in terms of agriculture he was also interested in meteorology, kept weather records on his trip, and asked Bartram to also take readings in Philadelphia.

During the winter of 1749-50, Kalm married Anna Sadin, a Philadelphia widow.  In the spring he set out again traveling through western Pennsylvania and north to Niagara Falls, providing the first detailed account of the area and visiting the Iroquois who lived there.  This meant more specimen and seed collecting, and he packed up his materials back in Philadelphia in fall 1750.  He and his wife sailed to England in February, 1751 and arrived in Sweden in May.  He quickly distributed seeds for cultivation, and of course, visited Linnaeus who was thrilled with Kalm’s specimens.  In his 1753 Species Plantarum, Linnaeus describes 700 North American species, including 60 new ones that were collected by Kalm.  These included a species of Kalmia, a beautiful Ericaceae that its namesake had found in New Jersey. 

Kalm appeared to have made three collections of North American plants, one for Linnaeus which is now part of the collection at the Linnean Society, London, one for himself that was destroyed in a fire, and one given to Queen Lovisa Ulrika of Sweden for her support of his travels.  The latter specimens are now in the herbarium of the Museum of Evolution at the University of Uppsala (Lundqvist & Moberg, 1993).  Kalm spent the rest of his life teaching in Åbo, Finland.  In 1752 he published a journal of his travels which was translated into English, and also wrote several articles on agriculture for the Swedish Academy.  Unfortunately, none of the plants he grew from North American seeds were ever used in Swedish farming, and even the mulberry trees he tended as the first step in developing a Swedish silk industry eventually died.  His most lasting fame is in Kalmia and that is wonderful in itself.


Blunt, W. (1971). The Compleat Naturalist: A Life of Linnaeus. New York, NY: Viking.

Juel, H. O., & Harshberger, J. W. (1929). New light on the collection of North American plants made by Peter Kalm. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 81, 297-303.

Lundqvist, S., & Moberg, R. (1993). The Pehr Kalm Herbarium in UPS, a Collection of North American Plants. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University.

Robbins, P. I. (2009). Jane Colden: America’s First Woman Botanist. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press.

Linnaeus Beyond the Netherlands

4 Chelsea Garden

Chelsea Botanical Garden, London

This is the last of a series of posts about Carl Linnaeus’s three-year stay in the Netherlands and how it shaped his future career.  While there he had two opportunities to travel to other parts of Europe and meet leading botanists of the day.  It was while living on the estate of George Clifford at Hartekamp and working on cataloging his collection (see last post), that Linnaeus took time off for a month in England to look into what he had heard to be a vibrant botanical community there.  Clifford agreed to this hiatus and even financed it, with the stipulation that Linnaeus return with new plants for his estate.

Not surprisingly, Linnaeus first visited Hans Sloane, then an aged icon among collectors, who opened his herbarium to the Swede.  Jan Frederik Gronovius had already sent Sloane a copy of Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae, and Herman Boerhaave wrote a letter of introduction in which he put Linnaeus on a par with Sloane, describing them as “a pair of men whose equal is hardly to be found in all the world” (quoted in Blunt, 1971, p. 110).  Sloane didn’t quite see things that way and didn’t pay that much attention to Linnaeus who later described Sloane’s herbarium as disorganized.  His first meeting with Philip Miller, the head of the Chelsea Physic Garden, was also less than a success, but eventually Miller gave Linnaeus a good selection of plants to take back to Clifford, as well as herbarium specimens that William Houston had collected in Central America.

In London, Linnaeus met another key member of the botanical confederacy, Peter Collinson, who had already begun a long-term correspondence with John Bartram, the Philadelphia naturalist and nurseryman.  Over a 30-year period, Bartram sent a large array of specimens, seeds, and cuttings to Collinson, who in turn distributed them to a number of the leading gardeners of the day who were anxious to have the latest finds from North America.  Collinson got along well with Linnaeus, and they continued to correspond over the years, with Linnaeus examining some Bartram specimens that thus became types for Linnaean species.  Linnaeus must have met up with Georg Ehret in London, since the artist wrote that he had given him plates to finish Clifford’s catalogue.  In addition, John Martyn, a professor of botany at Cambridge and a London physician, was impressed enough with Linnaeus that their meeting led to a regular correspondence.

Linnaeus also managed time for a trip to Oxford where Johann Jacob Dillenius was professor of botany.  As with several other Linnaean first meetings, this one did not go well because Dillenius had read some of Linnaeus’s early publications, and he felt they threw botany into confusion.  After a few frosty meetings, they finally reconciled when Linnaeus showed Dillenius that he was wrong about his description of the genus BlitumThen Dillenius finally appreciated the depth of Linnaeus’s knowledge, and they had a lively conversation and continued to correspond afterwards.  Obviously Linnaeus’s time in England was very fruitful and provided him with several important contacts who would continue writing to him with information for years to come.

When Linnaeus left Hartekamp in fall of 1937 after finishing the catalogue that would become Hortus Cliffortianus, he went back to Leiden and spent the winter there, working with Adriaan van Royen in the botanic garden, classifying plants according to his sexual system (Rutgers, 2008).  In the spring, he started out for his return to Sweden by going in the opposite direction, to Paris, to visit the famous Jardin des Rois where he met the de Jussieu brothers.  Antoine was older, a professor of botany at the Jardin and a physician; he was a busy man.  He had one meeting with Linnaeus and introduced him to Bernard who then served as his guide.  Bernard de Jussieu showed him the herbarium, and they went through Joseph de Pitton Tournefort’s specimens, a broad collection that included plants from his voyages to the Middle East as well as to the Caribbean area.

Linnaeus also worked in the Jardin’s botanical library, where there were many books of which he had been unaware.  He prepared a ‘wish list’ and later procured a number of these titles.  At the Jardin, he met two of the most accomplished botanical artists of the day, the elderly Claude Aubriet, who had worked with Tournefort, and his pupil Françoise Madeleine Basseporte.  Aubriet showed Linnaeus the large collection of paintings of plants in the Jardin done over the years, so again, as with the time he spent with Georg Ehret, Linnaeus developed a taste of what the best botanical art looked like.  Paris allowed him to deepen still further his knowledge of botany in terms of specimens, living plants, books, and art.  All these were to figure in his future work, and he left for Sweden having made the best possible use of his three years away from home.  Those who read the first post in this series might remember that Linnaeus’s journey had in part been urged upon him by his future father-in-law who agreed to his daughter’s engagement only with the proviso that there be a three-year hiatus in their relationship.  Having fulfilled the agreement, Linnaeus was still an ardent suitor, and when he got back to Sweden, plans for the wedding proceeded.


Blunt, W. (1971). The Compleat Naturalist: A Life of Linnaeus. New York, NY: Viking.

Rutgers, J. (2008). Linnaeus in the Netherlands. TijdSchrift Voor Skandinavistiek, 29, 103–116.