|Dr. Forrest Bump|
Due to my career in horticulture I have been fortunate to have made acquaintance with a number of medical doctors who are also avid plant collectors. Indeed I have made my living off of them. They are good, smart people, and my wits have been sharpened by them. One of my mentors was the late Dr. Forrest Bump – what a great name! – of Forest Grove, Oregon who was our family doctor. He fixed my broken ankle when I was in high school, then later I became his equal in the world of horticulture, although we were both probably more knowledgeable than each other...which is a perfect relationship. I even met a noted horticulturist, Dr. Kim Tripp of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in North Carolina and later the New York Botanical Garden, who switched her career from plants – i.e. plant expert and plant health – to becoming a wellness-people doctor. Wow – what a Tripp!
In olden times, physicians who served best needed to be familiar with plants and their curing properties. After all it was Pierre Magnol, after whom Linnaeus named the Magnolia genus, who stated that “it would be very advantageous to make a serious study of plants before practicing medicine.” While that connection is not so vital today, it is not surprising that the medical mind also finds interest and solace in botany and horticulture. I remember one time that Dr. Bump whined to me that a certain maple died in his garden “for no reason at all.” Being quite familiar with plant death, I chirped back, “I wonder if you have lost more plants in your garden than patients in the hospital?” Then I sensed that I had gone too far when he muttered that, “most who died were bound to die,” as if his maple was not predisposed to expire.
|Herbalist Bian Que (BC 407 - BC 310), China|
Plant study has gone on for thousands of years in one form or another around the world. So many have uses as medicine, food or for other purposes, one purpose being that many are simply pleasant to the eye. Sometimes it is the physician/botanist who is out collecting in the field, or other times he or she is holed up in their study and just do the naming and describing. Let's consider some who have coined names for they are in the record book for all time.
A good place to begin with discussing the physician/botanist is with Karl Linne, and the brilliant Swede was so enamoured with Latin that he changed his name to Carolus Linnaeus. Of course he was considered the “father of modern taxonomy,” and is justly famous for developing binomial nomenclature, i.e. grouping plants into genera and species which eventually internationalized the naming of organisms. My most sharp employees, after only a few months, can use the terminology and can visualize the difference between Acer palmatum and Acer japonicum. We don't say cedar for a Thuja or a Chamaecyparis or a Cupressus, but rather: we identify plants as Thuja plicata, Chamaecyparis obtusa or Cupressus lusitanica...even though all are commonly known as “cedars.” So thanks Linnaeus, you helped Buchholz Nursery and the Flora Wonder Arboretum to exist and thrive.
One interesting note about Linnaeus – who some found as quite arrogant,* was that he was also a renowned zoologist, and his remains comprise the type specimen for Homo sapiens, since the only specimen that he is known to have examined was himself. Furthermore he referred to his students as his apostles.
*Arrogantly, Linnaeus described his 1753 work, Species Plantarum, as “the greatest achievement in the realm of science.”
|Linnaeus holding Linnaea borealis|
An important event in the life of Linnaeus was an expedition in his young years (age 24) to Lapland, where he hoped to find new plants and animals, and also he was interested about the native Sami people, the reindeer-herding nomads. He travelled on foot and horse, and during the trip he found great quantities of Campanula serpyllifolia which was later known as Linnaea borealis, the humble “twin flower” that he so much admired. After six months of observing many plants, birds and rocks, he described about 100 previously unidentified plants. He had not quite yet developed his binomial naming system, but his resulting Flora Lapponica was considered the first proto-modern flora, and botanical historian E.L. Greene described Flora Lapponica as “the most classic and delightful” of Linnaeus's works.
|The Hamburg Hydra|
I don't want to belabor the contributions of Linnaeus, which all of you can access yourselves through biographies or on the internet, but I find one incident humorous that occurred in his younger days. In 1735 he travelled to The Netherlands to study medicine at the University of Harderwijk, and on the way stopped in Hamburg. There he met the mayor who showed him an incredible wonder of nature, the taxidermied remains of a seven-headed hydra. Linnaeus determined that the “wonder” was fake, put together from the jaws and paws of weasels and the skin of snakes. He didn't really want to disappoint the mayor, who hoped to sell the hydra for a lot of money, but Linnaeus made his observation public, and as a result he had to flee Hamburg.
Linnaeus was ill in his final years, and suffered a stroke in 1774 which partially paralyzed him. Then in 1776 a second stroke caused a loss of memory. He was still able to admire his own writings, but could not recognize himself as their author.
|Orto Botanico di Pisa|
Luca Ghini (1490-1556) studied medicine at the University of Bologna, then became a professor there and lectured on medicinal plants, so again, another physician/botanist. He developed the first recorded herbarium and also the first botanical garden in Europe after moving to Pisa. The Orto Botanico di Pisa is operated by the University of Pisa, located at via Luca Ghini 5, Pisa, Italy. The arboretum has been moved a couple of times, with the third and final location in 1591. I would love to visit to see the old botany institute building, constructed between 1591-1595, to see its facade ornamented with sea-shells.
Luca Ghini didn't publish any botanical work of his own, but as a teacher he instructed student Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603) who eventually succeeded him in the herbarium and botanical garden. Previously some botanists classified plants alphabetically or by medicinal properties, but Cesalpino did it according to their fruits and seeds. Besides teaching and tending the garden, he made botanical explorations in different parts of Italy...conduct which I admire. I can imagine great boredom and resulting stupidity if someone spends too much time in a dusty herbarium, and even though I own the Flora Wonder Arboretum that contains many wonderful plants “from the best corners of the world,” I still need to go outside into our natural areas to see what they contain. Cesalpino (in Latin Andreas Caesalpinus) was honored by the Franciscan friar Charles Plumier for the plant genus of Caesalpina, which today includes some 150 species and belongs to the Fabaceae (legume, pea or bean) family. Linnaeus admired Cesalpino and retained the genus name in his system and praised his predecessor with the following: “Quisquis hic exstiterit primos concedat honores Casalpine Tibi primaque certa dabit,” which basically says “Cesalpino was the best.”
Anders (Andreas) Dahl (1751-1789) – my God, he lived only 38 years! – was a Swedish botanist and student of Linnaeus, and of course the Dahlia genus is named after him. In 1776 he passed an exam for medicine, but then everybody did that who was interested in botany. Dahl served as curator of the private natural museum and botanical garden of Clas Alstromer (Alstromeria), who was a Linnaean disciple. In 1786 he became the professor at the Academy of Abo (today's University of Helsinki) teaching medicine and botany. It was supposed that the Dahlia genus name was bestowed by Linnaeus, however L. died eleven years before the plant was introduced into Europe, and it is now certain that it was scientifically described by Antonio Jose Cavanilles, Director of the Royal Gardens of Madrid who received the first specimens from Mexico in 1791, two years after Dahl's death. Cavanilles learned about science in Sweden, plus the fact that Dahl's book on botanical observations had just appeared, and that drove him to honor Dahl for the new Mexican plant: “In honorem D. Andreae Dahl, sueci botanici.” Also, Carl Peter Thunberg, a friend from Uppsala, named a species in the Hamamelidaceae family after Dahl, Dahlia crinita, which was made in reference to Dahl's long beard, since crinita is Latin for “long haired.” The name was published in 1792, but has since been reclassified as Trichocladus crinitus.
|Gardenia jasminoides 'Variegata'|
Alexander Garden (1730-1791) – yes, great name – was a Scottish physician, botanist and zoologist, and from his home in Charleston, South Carolina, he sent specimens to Linnaeus. There in S.C. he practiced medicine while he collected the flora and fauna, but was intellectually isolated, and he complained there were no neighbors with similar interests: “there is not a living soul who knows the least iota of Natural History.” Garden sent Magnolia and Gordonia specimens to London and wrote descriptions of Fothergilla, but with Gardenia, the plant named for him, he wasn't even familiar with. Linnaeus was pushed to name a plant for Garden and he chose the South African “Cape jasmine.” Garden sided with the British in the American War of Independence. Two years later his property was confiscated and he moved to London where he became vice-president of the Royal Society, lucky to get out of America alive.
Stephan Ladislaus Endlicher (1804-1849) was born in a German-speaking town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and he studied theology and languages, then in 1828 he began his studies in medicine. Still, he had time to become proficient in Hungarian, Czech, German, French, Chinese, Italian, English and Latin of course, as well as ancient language forms. Remarkable since he only lived 45 years. Eventually he was appointed Director of the Botanical Gardens for the University of Vienna.
Endlicher named or co-named over 1600 plants from the tropics alone, and sometimes he honored people, and other times named with the characteristics of the plants themselves. He corresponded with Austrian botanist Eduard Poeppig who had an interest in plants and people of North and South America. Endlicher also corresponded with French linguist Peter Du Ponceau who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Du Ponceau was an expert in American Indian languages and he was fascinated that Sequoyah (1776-1843), the illiterate son of a fur trader father and a Cherokee mother, had created a Cherokee syllabary for his people. So Endlicher was familiar with Sequoyah's accomplishment.
Endlicher produced the Synopsis Coniferum in 1847, where he reviewed several genera and reclassified some including Taxodium sempervirens, or the “coast redwood” of California, previously named by Lambert and Don. Since Endlicher was a polyglot* – one who knows multiple languages – he appreciated Sequoyah's brilliance and honored him with the Sequoia name a few years after the half-breed's death.
*Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was a polyglot too. He claimed that he addressed his horse only in German, conversed with women in Italian and men in French, but used Spanish for his talks with God. The term polyglot is derived from Greek “polyglotteos,” from poly for “many” and glotta for “language” or “tongue.”
John Gerard (1545-1612) described himself as “Master of Chirurgerie,* Warden of Company of Barber-Surgeons, becoming a Master in 1608. He was curator of the College of Physicians garden and author of the famous Herball in 1597. Though his work was flawed in various respects, he was noted for his clear descriptions of plants, especially the new flora from America such as the potato, maize, sunflowers and tomato, the latter which was considered the “apple of love,” and thought to be an aphrodisiac. Another of one of the newer plants was Yucca, and Gerard had one in his garden except that it didn't bloom in his lifetime. Yucca is a perennial genus in the Asparagaceae family, but early reports of the genus were confused with the cassava (Manihot esculenta), and because of that Linnaeus mistakenly coined the generic name from the Taino word yuca (with a single “c”). So even though Linnaeus considered his 1753 Species Plantarum “the greatest achievement in the realm of science,” it does contain the Yucca, and other mistakes.
*Chirurgeon is an archaic word for “surgeon.”
A piece of Gerard's Yucca root was passed on to John Parkinson (1567-1650), a gardener and apothecary to James I. He tried to correct the Yucca mistake, but by then it was too late and it has been called Yucca ever since. In 1629 Parkinson produced his Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris which punned on his name Park-in-sun. You see: these botanists/herbalists were not complete nerds, complete bores. And by the way, the Yucca finally did bloom for Parkinson.
Thomas Johnson was an eight-year-long apprentice to the apothecary William Bell and he was friendly to Parkinson whom he lauded. Johnson made plant-hunting expeditions throughout Britain, the earliest accounts of plant-hunting expeditions ever to be published in England. Flanking the title of Johnson's Herball (1633) edition is revealed, “Very much Enlarged and Ammended by Thomas Johnson Citizen and Apothecarye.” Depicted in the edition are “Theophrastus, soulful in sandals, and Dioscorides in a suitably warlike outfit.” This wonderful description is provided by Anna Pavord in her Naming of Names – The Search for Order in the World of Plants, a must-read for anyone caring anything about this blog.
In a nutshell, Theophrastus (372-287 BC) was a Greek philosopher and contemporary of Aristotle; in fact Aristotle left Theo his extensive library upon his death. Aristotle, besides being a famous philosopher, was a first-rate scientist, with his primary interest being with human and animal anatomy, especially creatures from the sea. What Aristotle did for animals, Theophrastus did for plants, and was perhaps the first person to describe plants based on their differences and similarities. Theo produced Historia plantarum and Causae plantarum which reveal that his brilliant mind was equal to that of Aristotle. They collaborated for a few years on the Isle of Lesbos, where science, rather than philosophy, was their primary endeavor.
Pedanius Dioscorides (AD 40-?) was a Greek physician and author who joined the Roman army as a doctor. At the time he was considered the ultimate authority on medicinal plants, and his reputation continued for over a thousand years. He produced his Materia Medica, or medical material, a Latin term for the “history of pharmacy.” The term has now been replaced in medical education as pharmacology. Keep in mind that before Dioscorides, various materia medicas had been in existence in Ancient Egypt, China, India and probably in the Americas also.
And don't forget Hippocrates (born 460 BC) who was a philosopher and known as the “Father of Medicine.” He focused on treating the causes of diseases rather than the symptoms. He produced Aphorisms and Prognostics which discussed 265 drugs, and he was aware of the importance of diet for optimum health. I'll oath to that!
I suspect that most nurserymen today – at least the yokels in Oregon – have little understanding or appreciation of the history of plant knowledge. Certainly it's not necessary to operate a successful plant factory. Thousands of Japanese maples are cranked out in Oregon every year by at least a couple of hundred nurseries, but I doubt that more than a dozen growers could tell you if the species are monocious or diocious. Even though I don't have the brains to be a bonafide botanist, what little I do understand is fascinating, and especially its history. It helps to spice up the risks, drudgery and sore back of being a nurseryman.