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Botany in the Americas

Worth owned a number of works devoted to the botany of the New World. Undoubtedly one of his most important was Francisco Hernandez’s Nova Plantarum (Rome, 1651), which examined the flora of New Spain (Mexico), but he was also  interested in the flora of Central and North America and, with this in mind, collected books such as Charles Plumier’s Description des plantes de l’Amerique (Paris, 1693) and Jacques Philippe Cornut’s Canadensium plantarum (Paris, 1635).


Charles Plumier, Description des plantes de l’Amerique (Paris, 1693), plate 82, Passion flower.

Plumier (1646-1704), a friar in the order of Minims, had spent time in Rome (where he had met the botanist Paolo Boccone (1633-1704)) and in Provence, where he had studied with Tournefort (1656-1708). In 1689, 1693 and 1695 Plumier had travelled to the French Antilles as part of a state-sponsored botanical exploration of the area, and his Description des plantes de l’Amerique, the result of his initial botanical exploration, had been published with royal support at Paris in 1693, the year of his second journey. More than half of the 108 plates are pictures of ferns but others represent flowers of the area, including this species of Passiflora. The genus had been given the common name  passion flower in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when Spanish missionaries to the New World used its various parts as signs of the Passion of Christ. Linnaeus cited this plate  in his Species Plantarum  defining this species as Passiflora maliformis L. (2:956) and  also cited many other plates  from the Description. Hollsten (2012) argues that Plumier’s style of naming plants after famous botanists (which may be seen in a later work of 1703, where he named  Fuchsia triphylla after the renowned sixteenth-century German botanist,  Leonard  Fuchs and  Begonia after Michel Begon, one of his benefactors) *, may be seen as a precursor to the later practice of naming plants after prominent botanists of the past. In turn, Tournefort and Linnaeus named the genus Plumeria in the dogbane or Apocynaceae family, a family from which a considerable number of important medicinal plants have been derived.


Jacques Philippe Cornut, Canadensium plantarum (Paris, 1635), p. 154.

The Canadensium plantarum of Jacques Philippe Cornut (1606-1651) represents the first book published on Canadian plants. Cornut, who had never visited the New World, was entirely dependent on what was available to him in Paris and, as a result, of the eighty-six plants described in the book, only about 30 were native to Canada (Dickenson and Heaman). Cornut was a physician and was therefore very interested in the medicinal characteristics of the plants. As Dickenson (1998) argues, the Canadensium plantarum may therefore be viewed as a transitional text, incorporating some aspects of a herbal but at the same time attempting to present the first flora of part of New France.


Johannes Commelin, Horti medici Amstelodamensis rariorum (Amsterdam, 1697), vol 1, Fig 55, Ficus Americana.

* This later work is not in the Worth Library.


Dickenson, Victoria (1998), Drawn from Life: Science and Art in the Portrayal of the New World (University of Toronto Press).

Dickinson, Victoria and Heaman, Elsbeth (2008), ‘Introduction. Natural Science in the New World: The Descriptive Enterprise’ in Scientia Canadensis: Canadian Jurnal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine/ Scientia Canadensis: revue canadienne d’histoire des sciences, des techniques et de la medicine, vol 31, no. 1-2, pp. 1-11.

Hollsten, Laura (2012), ‘An Antillean plant of beauty, a French botanist, and a German name: naming plants in the Early Modern Atlantic world’ in Estonian Journal of Ecology vol 61 no. 1, pp. 37-50.

Jovet, Paul and Mallet, J. C. (1975), ‘Plumier, Charles’ in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (New York), vol XI, pp. 47-8.

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