University of Delaware Library

Special Collections

Botanical Sciences

Vegetable materia medica A number of related areas of study influenced the development of horticulture and agriculture, among them botany, botanic exploration, medical botany, dendrology, arboriculture and forestry. An expanding body of botanical knowledge and the introduction of new plant species have transformed what was cultivated in the garden and on the farm. Printed illustrations made possible the broad dissemination of botanical knowledge and stimulated further discoveries. Botany owes its ancient origins to the need to recognize, classify, and record the medicinal properties attributed to plants.
For western civilization, this effort goes back to the beginnings of recorded time, but it was principally through the works of Hellenistic and Roman writers on plants and materia medica, preserved through medieval times by a long manuscript tradition, that the revival of botanical inquiry during the Renaissance was linked to an ancient foundation. The works of Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Pliny were among the earliest to be published in the first half-century of printing. Dioscorides's De Materia Medica in particular remained the standard work on botanical pharmacology throughout the Middle Ages, and was the basis, via versions such as the Circa Instans and the Herbarium Apuleius, of many later herbals. One of the earliest printed herbals owing its heritage to Dioscorides was the German Herbarius, first printed in 1485. Its Latin translation, the Hortus Sanitatis, is represented in Special Collections by a 1511 Venetian edition. The work of Dioscorides was newly translated and printed in 1478, going through many subsequent printings into the next century. With a revived interest in historically recognized medical plants came an interest in studying local flora that fell outside the scope of conventional medicinal herbs.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth century, voyages of exploration brought a growing recognition of the vast variety of plants. Foreign introductions were soon cultivated in Europe for botanic investigation, and catalogs of botanical gardens provide a detailed record of plants grown. Many results of these experimental introductions came to be permanently cultivated as food plants, including potatoes, tomatoes, legumes, and maize, while exotic flora quickly became prized additions to private gardens. Many new medicinal plants were also discovered, contributing to the flourishing of new and expanded herbals and works on vegetable materia medica. Published accounts of explorations included reports of botanical discoveries and descriptions of exotic flora from the Americas, Africa, the East Indies, the Far East, and the South Pacific.

The botanical gardens founded at many universities throughout Europe provided working laboratories for studying plant physiology and taxonomy. Successive advances were made in botanical study through the centuries by scientists such as Andrea Cesalpino, Joachim Jung, Nehemiah Grew, John Ray, Rudolf Jacob Camerer, and Stephen Hales, whose publications form a documentary record of the development of the science of botany. With the several publications of Carl Linnaeus on plant taxonomy, culminating in 1753 with his Species Plantarum, the study of plants reached its maturity, marking the beginning of modern systematic botany.

In America, experimental observations and explorations of indigenous plants and trees were conducted by John Bartram and his sons. Bartram was responsible for discovering and cultivating many American plants that became garden favorites worldwide, and added greatly to the botanical checklist. Benjamin Smith Barton's Elements of Botany, published in 1803, was the first American botany textbook. American trees were also of botanical and horticultural interest both in this country and in Europe. Humphry Marshall published the first book on native trees and shrubs in America, Arbustum Americanum, in 1785. European interest in American trees is demonstrated in works such as André Michaux's 1801 publication Histoire des Chênes de l'Amérique, with illustrations by Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

Special Collections holds over 500 titles published from the early sixteenth century to the twentieth relating to the botanical sciences. This botanical collection is particularly strong in American publications between 1810 and 1870 and British works from the early seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries. The collection also has representative examples of European imprints, including French, German, Dutch, Italian, Belgian, and Swiss works. Of these titles over 150 relate specifically to trees and forestry. Special Collections also holds over 150 titles relating to materia medica and medical botany, including herbals. These collections provide a rich resource for studying the development of botanical science and its integral relationships with horticulture and agriculture.

Hortus Sanitatis. Venice: Bernardinum Benalium and Jaonnem de Cereto de Tridino alias Tacuinum, 1511.

The Hortus Sanitatis was first printed at Mainz by Jacob Meydenbach in 1491. It is a modified Latin translation of the German Herbarius, first published by Peter Schöffer in 1485. The Hortus Sanitatis expanded on its predecessor by adding more detailed information on herbs and treatises on animals, birds, fish, and stones.

De Medicinali Materia. . . . Lyon: B. Arnolletum, 1550.

William Turner (ca. 1508-1568).
The First and Seconde Partes of the Herbal of William Turner. . . . Cologne: Arnold Birckman, 1568.

William Turner was one of the innovators of botanical science, and his Herbal is one of the seminal publications in English botanical studies. This is the first complete edition.

Moritz Hoffmann (1622-1698).
Florae Altdorffinae Deliciae Hortenses sive Catalogus Plantarum Horti Medici. Altdorf: Georg Hagen [1660].

Catalog of a private medical-botanical garden belonging to the author.

Theophrasti Eresii De Historia Plantarum Libri Decem. . . . Amsterdam: H. Laurentium, 1644.

Johannes Jonstonus (1603-1675).
Dendrographias sive Historiae Naturalis de Arboribus et Fruticibus. . . . Frankfurt: Matthaei Meriani, 1662.

Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712).
The Anatomy of Plants. [London] W. Rawlins, 1682.

This work, together with Marcello Malpighi's Anatome Plantarum Idea, published in 1679, laid the foundations of plant anatomy.

Paul Hermann (ca. 1646-1695).
Horti Academici Lugduno-Batavi Catalogus. Leiden: Cornelius Boutesteyn, 1687.

Catalog of plants in the world-renowned Leiden Botanical Garden, of which Paul Hermann was curator.

Charles Plumier (1646-1704).
Nova Plantarum Americanarum Genera. Paris: Joannem Boudot, 1703.

In this work on Caribbean plants, French botanist Charles Plumier gives the first known description of a species of fuchsia, which he named in honor of the German botanist Leonhard Fuchs.

Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716).
Amoenitatum Exoticarum. . . . Lemgo: Henry Wilhelm Meyer, 1712.

First-hand report by this German botanist of the social customs and botany of Persia and Japan.

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778).
Species Plantarum. Stockholm: Laurentii Salvii, 1753. 2 volumes.

Melva B. Guthrie Fund

Humphry Marshall (1722-1801).
Arbustum Americanum. . . . Philadelphia: J. Crukshank, 1785.

Gift of the University of Delaware Library Associates

André Michaux (1746-1802).
Histoire des Chênes de l'Amérique. Paris: Crapelet, 1801.

André Michaux, a French botanist, traveled extensively through the United States from 1785 to 1795 in botanic exploration. This work on American oaks, illustrated by Redouté, was his first work on an American botanical subject.

Gift of the University of Delaware Library Associates

Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815).
Elements of Botany. Philadelphia: Printed for the Author, 1803.

Gift of Evelyn duPont Irving

William Paul Crillon Barton (1786-1856).
Vegetable Materia Medica of the United States. Philadelphia: M. Carey & Son, 1817-1818. 2 volumes.

Gift of the University of Delaware Library Associates

François André Michaux (1770-1855).
The North American Sylva. Paris: C. D'Hautel, 1819. 3 volumes.

François André Michaux accompanied his father André on his botanical exploration of the United States. From 1810 to 1813 he published Histoire des Arbres Forestiers de l'Amérique Septentrionale, with 156 plates by Redouté. The 1819 English translation, with the same plates as the French edition, was the first of this work that remained the standard treatise on eastern American trees for many years.

Willaim Darlington (1782-1863).
Florula Cestrica. West-Chester, Penn.: Simeon Siegfried, 1826.

Joseph Carson (1808-1876).
Illustrations of Medical Botany. Philadelphia: L.P. Smith, 1847. 5 volumes.

Randolph B. Marcy (1812-1887) and George B. McClellan (1826-1885).
Exploration of the Red River of Louisiana, in the year 1852. Washington: R. Armstrong, 1853.

This official government report of Marcy and McClellan's exploration includes an analysis by botanist John Torrey of the plant samples collected.

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Last modified: 12/21/10

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