The Natural Taxonomist
November 6, 1777
Today is the anniversary of the death of the French naturalist and botanist Bernard Jussieu.
We remember Bernard for developing the first natural classification of flowering plants.
And although both Bernard and his brother Antoine were botany professors in Paris, Bernard was the stronger botanist, and there's a famous story about his incredible dedication to botany:
One time, after botanizing in Lebanon, Bernard was sailing back to France. Of course, drinkable water onboard a long voyage home would have been a precious commodity. Yet, Bernard Jussieu purportedly shared his precious water with a little Lebanon Cedar seedling he was bringing home. He wanted to plant the little seedling in the Royal Garden, and he was determined to bring the little tree back alive to Paris. The French say the seedling lived to be over 200 years old and grew to eighty feet high.
As for Bernard Jussieu, in 1759, he was summoned to Versailles to develop the Royal Botanical Garden at the Petit Trianon. Unassuming and laid back, Bernard quietly began arranging the plants in the garden in a new way. Jussieu's system of organizing plants into a more natural order was revolutionary at the time, and his method was something he wouldn't disclose to others. However, Bernard did put together a catalog of the plants in his garden.
Bernard recognized a kindred spirit in his nephew, Antoine-Laurent. Bernard trained him for four years, and when he came of age, Bernard confided his methods of plant classification. As a result, Antoine-Laurent's work extended his Uncle Bernard's ideas around grouping plants.
It took Antoine-Laurent Jussieu almost twenty years of refinement and perfecting of his Uncle's work before he finally published it as the Bastille was falling in 1789. Antoine-Laurent Jussieu kept Linnaeus' binomial nomenclature in his book, Genera Plantarum, but he grouped plants by genera and then into families. He called his system natural and strived to let nature be his guide. Today, many plant families can be attributed to Jussieu.
Today, there's a metro station near the Paris botanical garden named in honor of the Jussieu family - which boasted five notable botanists in the family over several generations.