The Father of Growing Regions
Botanist Alphonse Pyramus ("Peer-ah-mus") de Candolle (“Cundull”) died on this day at the ripe age of 87 in Geneva in 1893 (28 October 1806 – 4 April 1893).
Born the year Linnaeus died, he was the son of the Swiss botanist Augustin Pyramus de Candolle. His father's momentous work, Prodromus, was an effort to characterize all of the plant families and establishing the basis for the science of botany. Alphonse and future generations of the Candolle family would finish Prodromus through extensive and detailed research. In 1855, Alphonse was awarded Linnean gold medal. The Candolle family is honored in the plant genera Candollea and Candolleodendron. The scientific journal, Candollea, is also named after the family.
Candolle's ground-breaking book, Origin for Cultivated Plants begins,
"It is a common saying, that the plants with which man has most to do, and which rendered him the greatest service, are those which botanists know the least.”
Candolle set about correcting that gap in understanding which had persisted for 50 years. In 1885, The Glasgow Herald reminded readers,
"At the commencement of the present century but little was known respecting the origin of our cultivated plants, and even up till the middle of the present not much progress had teen made in determining the original condition and habitat of the different species, Alexander von Humboldt in 1807 said :
'The origin, the first home of the plants most useful to man, and which have accompanied him from the remotest epochs, is a secret as impenetrable as the dwelling of all our domestic animals. We do not know what region produced spontaneously wheat, barley, oats, and rye. The plants which constitute the natural riches of all the inhabitants of the tropics the banana, the papaw, the manioc, and maize have never been found in a wild state. The potato presents the same phenomenon.'"
In his magnum opus, Candolle attempted to record exhaustively and conclusively all that was known about each species using data from the expeditions of the time. For instance, the apple was vital to the lake dwellers of Lombardy, Savoy and Switzerland.
“They always cut them length-ways and preserved them dried as a provision for the winter."
That said, Candolle’s work was not without criticism. One reviewer wrote in a piece called “Where do our crops come from",
“Instead of an interesting and readable book he has given us a painfully formal catalogue, about as enticing as a stock and share list or the prices current at the Queen Victoria-street stores.”
Yet, Charles Darwin learned plant geography from Candolle, and said,
"no one […] could have worked […] with more zeal and sagacity”.
Candolle named growing regions and came up with climate classifications. Gardeners use them today when we refer to growing zones. Alphonse Pyramus de Candolle is regarded as the father of geographical botany and Harvard botanist Asa Gray remarked,
"De Candolle's great work closed one epoch in the history of the subject and [Sir Joseph] Hooker's name is the first that appears in the ensuing one."
Alphonse devised the first code of botanical nomenclature - the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature is its descendent. These laws ensure that no two species of plants have the same name. The botanical name is always given in Latin.
Fun Fact: Like his father Augustin, public service was important to Alphonse de Candolle. After visiting England, Candolle introduced the use of postage stamps to Geneva. Geneva became the fourth country in the world to use postage stamps, after Great Britain, Zurich, and Brazil.