Alexandre de Cassini

The Sunflower Botanist

Today, May 9th is the birthday of botanist Count Alexandre Henri Gabriel de Cassini born on this day in 1781.

His second great grandfather was the famous Italian astronomer, Giovanni Domenico Cassini; he discovered Jupiter's Great Red Spot and the Cassini division in Saturn's rings.

By the time Alexander was born, his family had married into French nobility (that's why he was born in Paris). Unfortunately, it was a bad time to go to France. Their Italian heritage and scientific work would not insulate the Cassini's from public resentment as the stage was set for the French Revolution.

Cassini took a decidedly different path than his ancestors. He was the fifth generation in a family of star scholars, so Alexandre is often distinguished from the rest of his family as Cassini V.

Cassini pursued the bar instead of the stars; as in the legal profession. As a lawyer, Cassini worked his way to the highest legal position in France in his time; "President of the Chamber." Like many folks, botany was his hobby; not his day job. It is quite notable that Cassini's botanical accomplishments took place in his off time.

Cassini's heart belonged to the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and he focused pretty much exclusively on the Compositae . It was fitting then, that the genus Cassinia (the sunflower genus) was named in his honor by the botanist Robert Brown. Over two hundred years later, many of Cassini’s detailed descriptions are still valid.

Cassini married his cousin. At the age of fifty, Cassini died of cholera. His father outlived him by thirteen years. Alexandre Cassini was the last of his name; a punctuation mark on the wonderful Cassini legacy.

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Alexandre de Cassini
Alexandre de Cassini

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