Vegetable III

Green, Thomas.

The Universal Herbal, or Botanical, Medical and Agricultural Dictionary; Containing an Account of all the Known Plants in the World, Arranged According to the Linnaean system. Specifying the Uses to which they are to be Made, Whether as Food, as Medicine, or in the Arts and Manufactures.  London: Caxton Press, 1824.

Green’s herbal, first printed in 1816, presents itself as a compendium of all the varieties of plants that were known at the time of its publication. The book employs the Linnaean classificatory system and uses scientific terms in its descriptive passages, although the intended audience was gardeners, farmers and florists, as well as botanists. Information was provided regarding medicinal and other properties of the plants being described.  The hand-colored engravings were done by G. Swift, G. Dobié, and others.

Millspaugh, Charles Frederick, 1854-1923.

American Medicinal Plants; an Illustrated and Descriptive Guide to the American Plants used as Homoeopathic Remedies: their History, Preparation, Chemistry and Physiological Effects. New York, Philadelphia: Boerick and Tafel, 1887.

Charles Frederick Millspaugh’s American Medicinal Plants is a ten-volume work with colored lithographs executed by the author. Millspaugh trained as a doctor at the New York College of Homeopathic Medicine, and later devoted himself exclusively to plant study.  In the book’s introduction he explains that his goal is to provide the public with information about locally available plants that could be used to prepare homeopathic remedies.  The author claims to have included descriptions of all the indigenous American plants that had been “proven and incorporated” into the homeopathic materia medica.  Millspaugh would go on to have a distinguished career as Curator of Botany at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Mattiolo, Pietro Andrea, 1501-1578.

Comentarii in Sex libros Pedacii Dioscoridis Anazarbei De Medica Materia. Venetiis: Ex Officina Valgrisiana, 1565.

De Materia Medica (50-70 C.E.) by Greek physician and botanist Pedanius Discorides, was the authoritative European source on medicinal plants for 1500 years.  For his part, Mattioli was well-known as a commentator on the work of the ancient author.  The Commentarii is meant for daily use by physicians and herbalists, allowing them to compare plants from real life with those discussed in Mattiolo’s commentary and Dioscorides’s writings.  This particular edition is the first to have the full series of woodcuts done by Giogio Libeale and Wolfgang Meyerpeck.  It also contains commentary not found in the earlier Latin edition of 1554, or the first Italian edition of 1544.

Dioscorides, Pedanius, ca. 40 CE–ca. 90 CE.

De Medicinali Materia, Libri Sex, Ioanne Ruellio Suessionensi Interprete. Lyon: Balthazar Arnoullet, 1550.

While traveling with the Roman army, Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides described over 600 plants and their medicinal properties.  His writings would serve as a source for botanical texts (herbals in particular) well into the seventeenth century.  The book displayed here is book six of Jean Ruel’s Latin translation of Dioscorides’s De Materia Medica (50-70 C. E.).  (The first edition of Ruel’s translation dates from 1516.)  This particular edition was the first to use woodcuts by Clément Boussy, a Lyon based woodcarver who also did woodcuts for certain editions of another famous sixteenth century herbal, Leonard Fuchs’s De Historia Stirpium Comentarii,first printed in 1541.  

Linnaeus, Karl, 1701-1778.

Species Plantarum.Holmiae [Stockholm]:  Impensis Laurentii Salvii, 1753.

This is a first edition of Linnaeus’s monumental text, which established the binomial Latin system used by scientists to classify all plants.  Before this, botanists used more cumbersome, descriptive names in Latin.  Linnaeus’s genus-species designation became universal for scientific identification and classification of plants, and, later, animals.  Even during his lifetime, naturalists had to refer to his work to determine whether particular specimens they had collected were from new species.  Species Plantarum came out in countless editions.  One will notice that later botanical texts in this exhibition use Linnaeus’s system of nomenclature, some also referring to his theory of sexual reproduction in plants.

Barton, Benjamin Smith, 1766-1815.

Elements of Botany, or, Outlines of the Natural History of Vegetables. Philadelphia: Desilver, 1836.

Elements of Botany is noteworthy as the first American textbook devoted to the topic. Its author Benjamin Smith Barton was a physician and professor of Materia Medica (i.e.,pharmacology), natural history, and botany at the University of Pennsylvania. Later he succeeded Benjamin Rush as professor of the Theory and Practice of Medicine, also at Penn. The engraved illustrations of North American plants found in Baron’s books were done by famed artist and naturalist William Bartram.

Parkinson, John, 1566/67-1650.

Theatrum Botanicumthe Theater of Plants; or, an Herball of a Large Extent…Distributed unto Sundry Classes and Tribes, for the More Easie Knowledge of the Many Herbes of One Nature and Property, with the Chief Notes of Dr. Lobel, Dr. Bonham, and Others Inserted Therein…London: Tho. Coates, 1640.

John Parkinson was Royal Botanist to King Charles I. His Theatrum Botanicam (Theater of Plants) described almost 4000 plants, including some American species. This author is considered one of the last British herbalists, i.e. those who described plants with an emphasis on their medical properties and uses.  Theatrum Botanicum was the authoritative source for British apothecaries for 100 years.  Parkinson had a famous botanical garden in London, and he based his information on observation and examination of living plants, rather than relying exclusively on older botanical works. 

Kirkwood, Richard H.

Ferns From Fiji. Bound volume, mounted pressed ferns, ca. 1887.

In 1887 “Cousin Richard H. Kirkwood” sent this scrapbook from Suva, Fiji, probably as a Christmas present.  It contains many interesting fern specimens, such as the one displayed here.  The genus and species of the different plants are not identified. Kirkwood may have been a missionary living in Fiji, but this is uncertain.

Michaux, Francois André, 1770-1855; Nuttall, Thomas, 1786-1859.

The North American Sylva; or, A Description of the Forest Trees of the United States, Canada and Nova Scotia…To which is Added a Description of the Most Useful European Fruit Trees. Philadelphia: D. Rice & A.N. Hart, 1857.

French botanist François André Michaux made three trips to the United States in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, in order to study American forest trees. His explorations took him along the east coast from Maine to Florida.  He produced three books as a result of his observations, the last of which is on display here, in its English translation.  It describes many species of trees native to the eastern United States, and, for this reason, is still important to botanists and historians.  However, the growing commercial interest in American hardwood trees was also a factor in the book’s importance in the United States.  This edition brings together the first three volumes of The American Sylva, written by Michaux, and the later volumes produced by Thomas Nuttall, who extended Michaux’s work. Together, Michaux’s and Nutall’s writings represented the authoritative source on the topic, in the 19th century.

Marshall, Humphry, 1722-1801.

Arbustrum Americanum.Philadelphia: Printed by Joseph Crukshank, 1785.

Arbustrum Americanum was the first botanical book published by a North American, and it was also the first book on trees of North America.  While it did not sell much initially in the U.S., the book attracted attention among European botanists, and appeared in both French and German translations before 1788. The author began one of the first botanical gardens in America, located in Chester County Pennsylvania.  He was also one of a group of influential Quaker botanists from that area, who influenced developments in that field, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In 1786 Humphry was elected to the American Philosophical Society, founded in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin in 1744.