Humboldt and the Cosmos

4 Church

Heart of the Andes (1859) by Frederic Church, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The subject of this series of posts (1,2,3) Alexander von Humboldt is known for the breadth of his interests and for his writings that illustrate how all parts of the world, and our experience of it, are connected.  In terms of botany, he wrote that in a rainforest:  “We observed with astonishment how many things are connected with the existence of a single plant” (Wulf, 2015, p. 74).  There were the epiphytes living on the trees along with hosts of insects and other invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, etc.  Then there were the climatic, geological, and geographical elements that determined what plants grew where.  In the last post, I discussed Humboldt’s contributions to plant geography.  Here I want to broaden the perspective further and describe his writings linking science to the humanities.  While Humboldt mentioned the aesthetics of landscape and of living organisms in many of his writings, he addressed these themes most explicitly in his five-volume Cosmos (1845-1862) written toward the end of his life.  The first two of these books are the ones still most widely read because they are less scientifically dense than the later works.  The first is an introduction and synopsis, and the second a summary of the history of human beings’ appreciation for the natural world.

Though Humboldt wrote Cosmos late in life, his early experiences shaped the views he expressed there.  While a student, he met George Forster who had sailed around the world with Captain James Cook.  Forster had integrated science and aesthetics in his writing, and considered knowing and feeling as parts of a unitary experience of nature.  This approach and Humboldt’s attraction to it is not surprising considering he and Forster were living during the early years of the Romantic movement and its reaction against the emphasis on reason during the Enlightenment.  A little later in his career, while he was working as a mining inspector, Humboldt met Wolfgang Goethe and they became fast friends.  Their first meeting was in the year when Goethe wrote Metamorphosis of Plants (Arber, 1946.)  They visited each other often and at one point Humboldt made a three-month stay at the poet’s home in Jena.  Goethe had created a botanical garden there and had a herbarium.  This fed Humboldt’s interest in plants, and Goethe’s argument that nature must be experienced through feeling also had a profound effect on him.  After his stay in Jena, Humboldt felt that he had “grown new organs,” that he perceived the world in a new way, that “ what speaks to the soul escapes measurement,” which is a meaningful statement for someone who relied so heavily on scientific instruments in his investigation of nature (Wulf, 2015, p. 310).

One element in Humboldt’s linkage of different fields and experiences of nature was his focus on the visual.  While a student, he had received art instruction from a noted graphic artist, Daniel Chodowiecki.  Most of the publications resulting from his voyage to Latin America with Aimé Bonpland were illustrated, often lavishly so.  The botanical artist Pierre Turpin, who worked at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, did most of the illustrations beginning with their first publication, Essay on the Geography of Plants, with figures that included the monumental diagram of the relationship between altitude and plant species distributions (see last post).  The seven volumes describing the species Humboldt and Bonpland collected had over 700 illustrations, many of them hand-colored.  Turpin worked mostly from dried specimens, though the explorers had made many sketches that guided him; only one by Humboldt is still extant (Lack, 2009).  They also made landscape sketches that Turpin turned into illustrations as well.

One of the most significant sections in the second volume of Cosmos deals with landscape.  Humboldt argues that the scientific and aesthetic come together so powerfully that they cannot be separated.  This reflection, among others, inspired many 19th century landscape painters, perhaps most notably Frederic Church, who traveled to the Andes to experience Chimborazo and other peaks first-hand and created a number of paintings.  Particularly striking is the massive Heart of the Andes, which caused a stir when it was shown in New York, with viewers lined up to pay 25 cents to view it (see above).  A very different artist was also inspired by Humboldt.  The zoologist Ernst Haeckel had trained in art, so it’s not surprising that reading Cosmos solidified his view of the importance of art in communicating about science.  While Haeckel is best known for his book of illustrations called Art Forms in Nature, two other images come to mind when I think of him.  One is of the interior of his home that he filled with furniture, lamps, and wall decorations based on jellyfish forms.  The other is his iconic tree of life diagram with a very realistic leafless tree, a human at the top.

I have to admit that I too have been inspired by Humboldt.  When I first became interested in the aesthetics of biology, it was exhilarating to find an author who both validated my viewpoint and deepened it.  The fact that he also had exciting adventures on his Latin American voyage and was interested in plants, didn’t hurt either.  Since that time in the 1980s when I first read some of his work, Humboldt has received more attention, including Andrea Wulf’s 2015 biography.  He deserves such scrutiny because he still has a great deal to tell us.  A movement in that direction is the Alexander von Humboldt Portal hosted by the Berlin State Library, a good place to start exploring Humboldt’s papers and information about his life and writings.  And to celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth, Nature Ecology & Evolution has collated a series of articles related to his work and Science published an essay on his importance today.  In addition, Wulf has teamed with the artist Lillian Melcher to create a graphic non-fiction book, The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt.


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

Lack, H. W. (2009). Alexander von Humboldt and the Botanical Exploration of the Americas. New York, NY: Prestel.

Wulf, A. (2015). The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. New York, NY: Knopf.

Humboldt: Essay on the Geography of Plants

3 Biogeography

Plate from Humboldt and Bonpland’s Essay on the Geography of Plants, from the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

When they returned to Paris after their five year expedition (1799-1804) to Latin America, the first publication Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland produced was Essay on the Geography of Plants (1805).  This book was really Humboldt’s conception, but since Bonpland was a botanist and had contributed his expertise throughout their journey, Humboldt thought it was fitting that Bonpland’s name should be on the essay as well (Humboldt & Bonpland, 2009).  The evidence they accumulated on the trip was central to Humboldt’s argument, and he set about writing a first draft right after their ascent of Mt. Chimborazo, one of the highest mountains in the Andes.  However, many of the ideas Humboldt presented to demonstrate how geography determines the plant life growing in a particular place, were conceived much earlier when he met George Forster who had been on Captain James Cook’s second round-the-world expedition.  Forster had broad knowledge of vegetation in very different environments and opened Humboldt’s eyes to how plant life varied with access to water, with altitude, and with distance from the equator.

Humboldt wasn’t very interested in taxonomy, in identifying new species, and among the plant descriptions in the first of their 7 botanical journals that logged the plants they collected, Humboldt wrote nine descriptions and Bonpland 682 (Lack, 2009).  This did not mean that plants weren’t important to Humboldt’s vision of the world, rather he was more interested in how the environment influenced the ability of a particular plant to survive in a particular environment.  He didn’t see plants so much as isolated entities but as part of a larger picture, and there is visual evidence of this in the Essay.  The main portion of the book is an explanation of a large diagram—originally printed 2’x3’—that is a complex blend of image and text (see above).  The center panel depicts two peaks in the Andes, Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, both of which Bonpland and Humboldt had climbed.  To the right of them, is a cross-section of the two labeled with the plants found there.

In 1824, Humboldt published a similar diagram where he moved some of the plants to different elevations.  Pierre Moret and his collaborators (2019) have recently revisited these images and compared the plants in the diagrams with the specimens Humboldt and Bonpland collected.  They found that Humboldt’s primary data above the tree line were collected mostly on Mt. Antisana.  Moret’s went to the collection area and found that over 200 years, the tree line has shifted about 215-266 meters.  This is a fascinating study of how old data can illuminate present environmental issues, while at the same time shedding light on how data was used in the past.  There is a great deal more in this image, including subterranean plants that had intrigued Humboldt since his days as a mine inspector in Germany when he studied and wrote about the plants, lichen, and algae he found in the caves and mines where he worked as a mine inspector (Anthony, 2018).

So far, I’ve only discussed the central panel of the Tableau, but there are seventeen other columns, eight to the right and nine to the left of the mountain diagram.  These include elevation, atmospheric pressure, humidity, etc. at various altitudes.  In other words, one chart summarizes a great deal of the data the team collected on their trip.  What is most important to Humboldt is the relationship between elevation and other phenomena.  His major finding is that elevation relates to temperature in influencing what plants grow where:  plants found at a particular elevation, will be found at a lower elevation but at higher latitude, in other words, further north or south of the equator.  In his introduction to a recent edition of the Essay, Stephen Jackson (2009) argues that Humboldt held to the “primacy of plant geography in his overall vision of the world, whereby vegetation is both the most obvious surface manifestation of climate and the determinant of many other natural and human features” (p. 17).  Humboldt is often designated the father of plant geography because of this essay, but he drew on the work of many others who had gone before him.  He is notable because he used his experiences in South America to synthesize a great deal of information and present it in a striking format, drawing on the growing use of diagrams in geological studies (Rudwick, 1976).

At several points in the essay Humboldt noted the environmental damage done by agriculture as forests were replaced by fields that quickly lost their fertility, leaving a degraded and useless landscape that affected local weather patterns.  These observations were taken up and enlarged upon by others in the 19th century who were influenced by his writings.  Henry David Thoreau saw the unity of nature much as Humboldt did, George Perkins Marsh wrote of the toll taken by forest destruction in the United States as did John Muir, and in Humboldt’s native land, Ernst Haeckel coined the term ecology to describe the interrelations among species and the nonliving environment.  They all had read Humboldt and were passionate about his impact on them.  The Essay was one such influence; in the next post I’ll discuss another.


Anthony, P. (2018). Mining as the working world of Alexander von Humboldt’s plant geography and vertical cartography. Isis, 109(1), 28–55.

Humboldt, A. von, & Bonpland, A. (2009). Essay on the Geography of Plants (S. T. Jackson, Ed.; S. Romanowski, Trans.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Jackson, S. (2009). Introduction: Humboldt, ecology, and the cosmos. In S. Jackson (Ed.), & S. Romanowski (Trans.), Essay on the Geography of Plants (pp. 1–46). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Lack, H. W. (2009). Alexander von Humboldt and the Botanical Exploration of the Americas. New York, NY: Prestel.

Moret, P., Muriel, P., Jaramillo, R., & Dangles, O. (2019). Humboldt’s Tableau Physique revisited. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201904585.

Rudwick, M. (1976). The emergence of a visual language for geological science. History of Science, 14, 149–195.

Humboldt and Bonpland

2 Bonpland Cinchona

Nature print of Cinchona made by Humboldt and Bonpland, in the Institut de France, Paris.

Since Alexander von Humboldt’s training was in geology and Aimé Bonpland’s in botany, it’s not surprising that Bonpland took the lead in plant collecting on their Latin American expedition (see last post).  However, because they were essentially on their own, picking up assistants along the way, their work in processing specimens, in taking meteorological and astronomical readings, etc., was usually a team effort.  They were overwhelmed by the exciting new plants they saw and within the first few months had already amassed 4000 specimens.  They had to order more paper, since they were using it up so quickly.  It is impossible to say how many plants they collected in total, but the number is over 60,000 including 6,000 species, over half of them new (Lack, 2009).  None of these numbers are precise because many of the plants passed through several different hands, but the record is clearer than for many collections of the era because the two kept careful records that became a model for later expeditions.  They numbered each specimen and recorded it in a journal along with a tentative ID, a description, and locality information.  As time went on, the entries became more detailed.  While they sent back a number of shipments divided among several ships to guard against loss, they kept a small herbarium with them as a memory aid for what they had seen.

Needless to say, none of this work was easy.  Humboldt and Bonpland were traveling through rough, often mountainous terrain in hot and humid equatorial regions where they were driven mad by insects.  These conditions damaged or destroyed many of their specimens, and at one point they were so discouraged by the losses that they made to nature prints to document the plants.  Over 200 of these are preserved at the Institut de France in Paris (Lack, 2001).  However, they persisted in collecting because they just couldn’t ignore all the new species they encountered.  Through much of their trip they were in areas that the eyes of trained botanists had never seen so they were inundated with novelty.  Along with all the environmental data they had amassed, this treasure trove made them anxious to return to Europe and begin writing up their findings.  After leaving South America, they spent a year in Mexico, then returned to Cuba to pack up their specimens for shipment to Paris.  Humboldt decided to live there rather than to return to his native Prussia, because Paris was an intellectually alive city at the time with the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) as the center of the country’s botanical research.  There was a great herbarium there, as well as a botanical library and experts to assist them.

Humboldt and Bonpland organized and divided up the collection so they each had a set of specimens.  Humboldt arranged for Bonpland to receive a pension from the French government to support him.  Bonpland became botanist to the Empress Joséphine at Malmaison estate, where he oversaw the gardens, provided her with new exotics, and saw to the lavish publications on her plant collection.  It soon became obvious to Humboldt that even with frequent nudging, Bonpland wasn’t getting anywhere with describing their plants.  So in 1813, eight years after they returned, Humboldt invited Carl Kunth, a young German botanist, to come to Paris and work on the collection.  Kunth remained for over six years and eventually published seven volumes with descriptions of over 4,500 plant species, among which 3,600 were new to science (Lack, 2009).  However, this summary makes the process seem more clear cut than it was.

In 1814, Empress Joséphine died, and Bonpland decided to return to South America; he felt more comfortable exploring for new plants.  He took his herbarium with him, and perhaps more importantly, he packed the botanical journals where the specimens were catalogued.  Humboldt and Kunth were aghast, and Kunth hurried to the port of Le Havre to intercept Bonpland before his ship sailed.  Bonpland didn’t give up his specimens, after all Humboldt had a collection too, but he did return the notebooks to Kunth, making it possible for the latter to continue his taxonomic work (Lack, 2004).  Eventually, Bonpland returned his sheets to the herbarium at the MNHN in Paris, where they were filed in the general collection rather than kept separately as the Humboldt collection is.

Another wrinkle was that, while still in South America, Humboldt had sent specimens and seeds to his mentor Carl Willdenow, who wrote descriptions of a number of species.  Some of these were published by others after Willdenow’s death, and his herbarium was sold by his heirs to the Berlin herbarium.  Because of the hostility between France and German, Berlin botanists refused to share specimens with Kunth, who then named some of the same plants, causing years of nomenclatural difficulties.  Kunth returned to Germany after completing most of his work for Humboldt, and when he died his herbarium was also sold to the Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden.  During World War II, the Willdenow specimens were considered valuable enough to be stored in a vault offsite and survived the bombing that destroyed most of the herbarium’s collection, including the Kunth specimens.  Lest you assume that by now all of the Humboldt-Bonpland plants had been identified, that may not be the case.  In 2007, a new species, Solanum humboldtianum, was described from a relatively recent collection, but researchers discovered that Humboldt and Bonpland had collected it, and it had lain unidentified for two centuries (Granados-Tochoy et al., 2007).  This is all fodder to feed my love of herbaria.


Granados-Tochoy, J. C., Knapp, S., & Orozco, C. I. (2007). Solanum humboldtianum (Solanaceae): An endangered new species from Colombia rediscovered 200 years after its first collection. Systematic Botany, 32(1), 200–207.

Lack, H. W. (2001). The plant self impressions prepared by Humboldt and Bonpland in tropical America. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 18(4), 218–229.

Lack, H. W. (2004). The botanical field notes prepared by Humboldt and Bonpland in tropical America. Taxon, 53(2), 501–510.

Lack, H. W. (2009). Alexander von Humboldt and the Botanical Exploration of the Americas. New York, NY: Prestel.

Humboldt and the World of Plants

1 Abronia parviflora

Abronia parviflora collected in Columbia by Humboldt and Bonpland, specimen in the herbarium of Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden.

A few years ago, Andrea Wulf (2015) published The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World.  “New World” here can be interpreted two ways:  as the Western Hemisphere that Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland explored during their famous five-year expedition (1799-1804), and as the world through new eyes made possible by Humboldt’s writings that influenced such leaders of environmental and ecological thinking as Henry David Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh, Ernst Haeckel, and John Muir.  It is because of this impact that Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), born 250 years ago, deserves attention today.  It seems appropriate to dedicate this series of posts to someone who helped shape the way we look at plants now.  I’ll begin by discussing early influences on his thinking and the general arc of his life’s work.  The following posts will deal more specifically with aspects of his botanical studies.

Humboldt was born into a upper-class family in Berlin.  His father died when he was 10, leaving him and his older brother Wilhelm in the care of their rather aloof mother who aimed to have her sons well-placed in the Prussian establishment.  From an early age Humboldt exhibited other inclinations, especially an interest in natural history, collecting specimens and creating what amounted to a museum of his finds.  To learn more about plants, he took some of his specimens to Carl Ludwig Willdenow, an apothecary who had just published a flora of Berlin.  This meeting led to Willdenow becoming Humboldt’s botany tutor.  While his mother hired Willdenow, this didn’t divert her from her plan, so Humboldt studied finance for a brief time and then went to the University of Gottingen where his brother was also enrolled.  There he met George Forster who years before had travelled with his father on Captain James Cook’s second circumnavigation.  Forster became Humboldt’s mentor, and like many among the educated elites of the time, they made a grand tour, visiting the Netherlands, France, and England.  This broadened Humboldt’s horizons, to say nothing of his knowledge of natural history.  In England alone, he met Joseph Banks, James Edward Smith of the Linnean Society, and the Oxford botanist John Sibthorpe.

After this trip, Humboldt studied more seriously, enrolling in the Freiburg School of Mines.  Upon graduation in 1792, he was appointed a mine inspector, a Prussian government position to his mother’s satisfaction.  He threw himself into his work, which was great preparation for his future travels (Anthony, 2018).  Humboldt became familiar with the new ways of illustrating rock formations that were beginning to emerge and with the plants growing in the subterranean world of the mines.  In fact, he wrote Florae Fribergensis in 1793, describing the plants, algae, and fungi he encountered.  As part of his work, he made a tour of mountainous areas in Switzerland and Italy, focusing on geology and botany.  His mother died in 1796, freeing him from having to remain in government service since he and his brother inherited significant wealth.  Within a year, Humboldt prepared to leave Prussia and do some serious exploring of distant lands.  He headed for Paris, where he met Louis-Antoine de Bougainville who was planning a naval expedition and invited Humboldt to join.  Nothing came of this, but in the meantime, he had met Aimé Bonpland, a botanist who had been educated by Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu and René-Louiche Desfontaines at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Humboldt and Bonpland got along well and both were interested in exploration.  After further efforts to join a French expedition failed, they headed to Spain where they convinced the King to issue them passports to Spanish-held lands in South America and also the Philippines.  Since Humboldt was funding the trip, the King had little to lose and much to gain in terms of new knowledge about his own lands.  Humboldt had amassed an impressive array of the latest equipment for carrying out astronomical, meteorological, and geological measurements.  His gear also included supplies for collecting specimens, but as can be seen by just this brief review, their trip was rather ad hoc and remained so throughout.  The first stop was Tenerife, where they climbed the island’s Mount Teide.  They were thrilled with the experience and tested out their instruments for measuring altitude, atmospheric pressure, etc.

When they landed at Cumaná in what is now Venezuela, they spent over a year exploring including traveling the length of the Casiquiare River that forms a natural canal between the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers (Helferich, 2004).  They then sailed to Cuba before returning to South America and climbing in the Andes.  They went on to Lima, up the west coast to Ecuador and by sea to Mexico where they spent a year before sailing back to Cuba and to the United States.  At several points during the voyage they had to recalculate their plans, and they never did get to the Philippines.  By the time they left Mexico, Humboldt was anxious to return to Europe to start writing up his findings and learn the latest news in science because he had been out of touch for so long.  Humboldt and Bonpland settled in Paris since the scientific climate there was most conducive to doing the research necessary to describe their observations and specimens.  After this voyage, Humboldt never returned to the New World, though he did make one major trip later in life through Russia to Siberia to advise the Tsar on his mining interests there.  In the next post, I’ll discuss Humboldt’s and Bonpland’s botanical collections from the Americas and how they were eventually sorted out.


Anthony, P. (2018). Mining as the working world of Alexander von Humboldt’s plant geography and vertical cartography. Isis, 109(1), 28–55.

Helferich, G. (2004). Humboldt’s Cosmos. New York, NY: Penguin.

Wulf, A. (2015). The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. New York, NY: Knopf.

Nature Prints as Botanical Documents

Nature print of Cassia by Thomas Horsfield at the

Nature print of Cassia by Thomas Horsfield at the Academy of Natural Sciences of the Drexel University, Archives and Manuscript Collection #625

Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland are justly famous for their five-year exploration (1799-1804) of parts of South and Central America as well as the Caribbean.  They brought back thousands of plant specimens as well as rocks, fossils, and the remains of animals.  Also in the haul sent to Paris were over 200 nature prints that weren’t given much attention before the 21st century.  Even the two explorers said little about them in their journals and letters, though they did annotate them.  For several years after their return, Bonpland worked on the plant collection in conjunction with Humboldt and the German botanist Carl Kunth at the Natural History Museum in Paris.  In 1816 Bonpland decided to return to South America, taking the plant specimens with him; they were only returned to Paris 1858.  However, Kunth managed to catch up with Bonpland in La Havre before he sailed and retrieved six volumes of field notes and the nature prints.  Kunth used these reference materials in identifying some of the species Humboldt and Bonpland had discovered.  Before Kunth returned to Germany in 1829, he donated the prints to Benjamin Delessert, a wealthy amateur botanist, whose heir in turn gave them to the Institut de France where they remain.  They were highlighted in an exhibit about Delessert in 1993, and this was how the Austrian botanical historian H. Walter Lack came to know of them and write an article on them (2001).

It seems that Humboldt and Bonpland were driven to make nature prints because they lost so many herbarium specimens.  Lack quotes from a letter Humboldt wrote to the botanist Carl Willdenow in Berlin:

“Alas, almost in tears we open our plant boxes.  Our herbaria have the same fate lamented already by Sparman, Banks, Swartz and Jacquin.  The immense wetness of the America climate, the rankness of the vegetation, which makes it difficult to find fully grown leaves, have destroyed one third of our collection.  Every day we find new insects which destroy paper and plants.  Camphor, turpentine, tar, pitched boards, hanging boxes fixed on ropes in the open, all tricks devised in Europe fail here, and our patience has become tired.  After being absent for 3-4 months you hardly recognize your herbarium, you have to discard 5 out of 8 specimens (p. 220).”

Since the paper Humboldt and Bonpland used for printing had Spanish watermarks, they likely didn’t originally plan to make prints and didn’t take printing supplies with them, but bought some in the Spanish colonies they visited.  Though they were probably both involved in printing, Bonpland, whose specialty was botany, likely took the lead.  Most of the annotations are his, with a number in Humboldt’s handwriting.  The pair were among the first collectors to number their specimens and numbered the prints in the same series with the plants themselves.  The numbers indicate that prints were made over a long period of time—perhaps after a spate of specimens were lost their frustration level would again mount and lead to more printing.  Many of the prints are annotated by Kunth; he gave them determinations that were then published in the Nova genera et species plantarum.

As Lack notes at the end of his article, the use of prints by botanists remained an “isolated phenomenon,” but it wasn’t a unique one.  The American naturalist Thomas Horsfield made prints during the almost 20 years (1801-1819) he spent in Java as a surgeon working for the East India Company (EIO).  Collecting was his passion and his botanical prints were one manifestation of this.  I have written about them in a previous post, but they should be mentioned here for two reasons.  First, they are of amazingly good quality.  Roderick Cave (2010), an expert on nature prints, considers them among the best he has ever seen, which is high praise indeed.  One reason for the quality is that Horsfield used softer Chinese paper rather than firmer European paper.  Horsfield, or perhaps an assistant, inked both sides of each specimen, folded a large sheet around it, and burnished it from the back, making mirror-image prints.  One bound set of prints are at Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences Library, and I’ve been fortunate enough to examine them.  Their delicacy and detail are exquisite, and the quality is consistent throughout the collection.  The book is accompanied by an index of the plants, most with at least a genus name given and in some cases the Javanese name as well; the arrangement is Linnaean.  This is one of three known copies; the other two are in England (Peck, 2014).

The other reason for mentioning Horsfield is that like Humboldt and Bonpland, he was driven to nature printing because of the difficulties in preserving specimens, though, like them, he sent thousands of specimens back to London, to his employer’s headquarters.  He eventually went to England and spent the rest of his life in the employ of the EIO working on its collections and writing up his results (Horsfield, 1990).  Along with John Bennett and Robert Brown, he published Plantae javanicae rariores (1838-1852) documenting his botanical discoveries.  The illustrations are in part based on the prints as well as on his specimens.  Here as with Humboldt and Bonpland, nature prints made a significant contribution to important works on exotic flora.  While this is only a drop in the ocean of botanical publications, it deserves attention.  In the next post, I’ll examine how botanical nature printing developed later on in the 19th century when it had its greatest influence.


Bennett, J. J., Brown, R., & Horsfield, T. (1838). Plantae Javanicae rariores. London: Allen.

Cave, R. (2010). Impressions of Nature: A History of Nature Printing. London: British Library.

Horsfield, T. (1990). Zoological Researches in Java, and the Neighboring Islands. Singapore: Oxford University Press.

Lack, H. W. (2001). The plant self impressions prepared by Humboldt and Bonpland in tropical America. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 18, 218–229.

Peck, R. M. (2014). Discovered in Philadelphia: a third set of Thomas Horsfield’s nature prints of plants from Java. Archives of Natural History, 41(1), 168–170.