Philosophia Botanica (Part 1)

Philosophia Botanica (Part 1)

From nomadic hunter gatherer societies, through oral traditions to domestication of plants. From the Rigveda classification Vṛska (trees), Osadhi (herbs useful to humans) and Virudha (creepers) to the Atharvaveda division of plants Visakha (spreading branches), Manjari (leaves with long clusters), Sthambini (bushy plants), Prastanavati (which expands); Ekasṛnga (those with monopodial  growth), Pratanavati (creeping plants), Amsumati (with many stalks), and Kandini (plants with knotty joints).

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From here to ancient chinese list of different plants and herbs for pharmaceutical purposes and then Theophrastus of Eressus (460– 370 BCE) and the origin of botanical science: Observation and the test of experience leading to avoidance of superstition. His play Historia Plantarum is an ancient encyclopedia of the plant kingdom.

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From here we move to Pliny the Elder, a roman encyclopaedist that deals with plants in Books 12 to 26 and in his famous book Naturalis Historia. And we follow through Islam and his botanic founder Ābu Ḥanīfah Āḥmad ibn Dawūd Dīnawarī (828–896 CE), father of the Arabic botany. His Book of Plants describe 637 species.

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We must not forget, as well, about Avicenna and his Canon of Medicine and Abu al-Abbas al-Nabati who developed a scientific method for botany. Then we arrive to the Age of Herbal were the botanists where curators of university gardens. Here it is worth mentioning Otto Brunfels´s Herbarum Vivae Icones and his fellow countryman Hieronymus Bock. But it was the work of Valerius Cordus that must be considered the pioneer in formal botanical descriptions. His book Historia Plantarum is a piece of art.

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Moving in time we arrive to the European Renaiisance where The Church, the aristocracy and the merchants began to develop an acute interests in all regarding botanics. Their unprecedented support to science and the arts leads to scientific expeditions to asia, East Indies and the New World. Scientific publications began to be common i nature above allby the creation of the Royal Society in 1660 and the Linnaean Society in 1788. Botanical institutions emerged such as the Chelsea Physic Garden, the so renown Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew and the Oxford and Cambridge Botanic Gardens.

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A new breed of botanical collector emerged. To name a few we remember: Hans solace, from the West Indies, James Cunningham from China, Georges Rumphius from the East Indies, Joao de Loureiro from Mozambique, Michel Adanson from West Africa and the extraordinary Sir Joseph Banks.

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But the big step forward regarding classification and morphology came with Linneo and all the botanist of his era. The need to systematically catalogue flowers and plants lead to an extraordinary breed of botanist that opened an whole new world. Here we can mention: Italian physician Andrea Caesalpino with his sixteen volume De Plantis, Gaspard Bauhin with his influential Prodomus Theatrici Botanic and Pinax. for sharpeness in his categorization we found Joachim Jung with his botanical terminology. English botanist John Ray with his Ctalogus Stirpium circa Cantabrigiam Nascentium.

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But it was, above all, the Swede Carl Linnaeus who facilitated to the extreme the task of cataloguing plants. To cite some of his publications we refer to Systema Naturae, Genera Plantarum, Philosophia Botanica and Species Plantarum the play that gave every species a binomial thus setting the path to created an accepted method for designating the names of all organisms.

(End of part one)

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