Who spoke of the first spices of the world? The father of “botanic”. Here in Greece. Lesvos island 350bC

Ancient Athens, of the 6th century BC, was the busy trade centre at the confluence of Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Minoan cultures at the height of Greek colonisation of the Mediterranean. The philosophical thought of this period ranged freely through many subjects. Empedocles (490–430 BC) foreshadowed Darwinian evolutionary theory in a crude formulation of the mutability of species and natural selection.

The physician Hippocrates (460–370 BC) avoided the prevailing superstition of his day and approached healing by close observation and the test of experience.


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At this time a genuine non-anthropocentric curiosity about plants emerged. The major works written about plants extended beyond the description of their medicinal uses to the topics of plant geography, morphology, physiology, nutrition, growth and reproduction.

Foremost among the scholars studying botany was Theophrastus of Eressus (Greek: Θεόφραστος; c. 371–287 BC) who has been frequently referred to as the ”Father of Botany”.

He was a student and close friend of Aristotle (384–322 BC) and succeeded him as head of the Lyceum (an educational establishment like a modern university) in Athens with its tradition of peripatetic philosophy. Aristotle’s special treatise on plants —θεωρία περὶ φυτῶν — is now lost, although there are many botanical observations scattered throughout his other writings (these have been assembled by Christian Wimmer in Phytologiae Aristotelicae Fragmenta, 1836) but they give little insight into his botanical thinking.The Lyceum prided itself in a tradition of systematic observation of causal connections, critical experiment and rational theorizing. Theophrastus challenged the superstitious medicine employed by the physicians of his day, called rhizotomi, and also the control over medicine exerted by priestly authority and tradition.

Together with Aristotle he had tutored Alexander the Great whose military conquests were carried out with all the scientific resources of the day, the Lyceum garden probably containing many botanical trophies collected during his campaigns as well as other explorations in distant lands.It was in this garden where he gained much of his plant knowledge.

Herbs-spices

Theophrastus’s major botanical works were the Enquiry into Plants (Historia Plantarum) and Causes of Plants (Causae Plantarum) which were his lecture notes for the Lyceum. The opening sentence of the Enquiry reads like a botanical manifesto: “We must consider the distinctive characters and the general nature of plants from the point of view of their morphology, their behaviour under external conditions, their mode of generation and the whole course of their life”.

The Enquiry is 9 books of “applied” botany dealing with the forms and classification of plants and economic botany, examining the techniques of agriculture (relationship of crops to soil, climate, water and habitat) and horticulture. He described some 500 plants in detail, often including descriptions of habitat and geographic distribution, and he recognised some plant groups that can be recognised as modern-day plant families.  He noted that plants could be annuals, perennials and  biennials, they were also either monocotyledons or dicotyledons and he also noticed the difference between determinate and indeterminate growth and details of floral structure including the degree of fusion of the petals, position of the ovary and more. These lecture notes of Theophrastus comprise the first clear exposition of the rudiments of plant anatomy, physiology, morphology and ecology — presented in a way that would not be matched for another eighteen centuries.

Today, one of the most brilliant works of scientific botanology  Greek flora is made by the Swedish Researches, who  …”never forgot his spicy  honeymoon , maybe” .(.!), since he came to Greece fist time for honeymoon in 1966. Half a century after, and his today’s extended scientific work, rises as unique, for Greece, as thatm, ancient one of the father of Botanic, Theofrastos .

Today: Immense wealth of the Greek Flora

Greece has 6000 plants, 750 of which are found nowhere else, according to Swedish botanical scientist Arne Strid, who has been studying Greek nature for 48 years. He has also discovered 20 new species of plants in the mountainous regions of the country.

He participates in the 10-tomme encyclopaedia “Flora Hellenica’, where all Greek plants are included, and he has taken part in the listing of the flora of the Prespes National Park.

It was 1964 when he first came to Greece, in the context of his doctoral dissertation, regarding the plants of the Aegean and for which he was awarded with the American prize Jesse M. Greenman. In 1966 he spent his honeymoon in our country and since then he has visited Greece 70 times.

among the 12 books he has published, the following are found:

-‘Mountain Flora of Greece’
-‘Wild flowers of Mount Olympus’
‘Atlas of the Aegean Flora’; a book that will be in the bookshops in 2013, enriched with distribution maps for the approximately 4000 species of plants that are found in the islands of the Aegean. It will contain information from the database the professor has created during the past 25 years.

Ancient Rome

Main article: Roman agriculture

The Romans contributed little to the foundations of botanical science laid by the ancient Greeks, but made a sound contribution to our knowledge of applied botany as agriculture. In works titled De Re Rustica four Roman writers contributed to a compendium Scriptores Rei Rusticae, published from the Renaissance on, which set out the principles and practice of agriculture. These authors were Cato (234–149 BC), Varro (116–27 BC) and, in particular, Columella (4–70 AD) and Palladius (4th century AD). Roman encyclopaedist Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) deals with plants in Books 12 to 26 of his 37-volume highly influential work Naturalis Historia in which he frequently quotes Theophrastus but with a lack of botanical insight although he does, nevertheless, draw a distinction between true botany on the one hand, and farming and medicine on the other.

It is estimated that at the time of the Roman Empire between 1300 and 1400 plants had been recorded in the West.

Medicinal plants of the early Middle Ages

Further information: Herbalism, Chinese medicine, Byzantine medicine, and Islamic medicine

The  Chinese after the Greeks in botanology of Ancient times…..

In Western Europe, after Theophrastus, botany passed through a bleak period of 1800 years when little progress was made and, indeed, many of the early insights were lost. As Europe entered the Middle Ages, a period of disorganised feudalism and indifference to learning, China, India and the Arab world enjoyed a golden age. Chinese philosophy had followed a similar path to that of the ancient Greeks. The Chinese dictionary-encyclopaedia Erh Ya probably dates from about 300 BC and describes about 334 plants classed as trees or shrubs, each with a common name and illustration. Between 100 and 1700 AD many new works on pharmaceutical botany were produced including encyclopaedic accounts and treatises compiled for the Chinese imperial court. These were free of superstition and myth with carefully researched descriptions and nomenclature; they included cultivation information and notes on economic and medicinal uses — and even elaborate monographs on ornamental plants. But there was no experimental method and no analysis of the plant sexual system, nutrition, or anatomy.

The 400-year period from the 9th to 13th centuries AD was the Islamic Renaissance, a time when Islamic culture and science thrived. Greco-Roman texts were preserved, copied and extended although new texts always emphasised the medicinal aspects of plants. Kurdish biologistĀbu Ḥanīfah Āḥmad ibn Dawūd Dīnawarī (828–896 AD) is known as the founder of Arabic botany; his Kitâb al-nabât (‘Book of Plants’) describes 637 species, discussing plant development from germination to senescence and including details of flowers and fruits.TheMutazilite philosopher and physician Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (c. 980–1037 AD) was another influential figure, his The Canon of Medicine being a landmark in the history of medicine treasured until the Enlightenment.

The Age of Herbals

In the European Middle Ages of the 15th and 16th centuries the lives of European citizens were based around agriculture but when printing arrived, with movable type and woodcut illustrations, it was not treatises on agriculture that were published, but lists of medicinal plants with descriptions of their properties or “virtues”. These first plant books, known as herbals showed that botany was still a part of medicine, as it had been for most of ancient history. Authors of herbals were often curators of university gardens,and most herbals were derivative compilations of classic texts, especially De Materia Medica. However, the need for accurate and detailed plant descriptions meant that some herbals were more botanical than medicinal.

Herbals contributed to botany by setting in train the science of plant description, classification, and botanical illustration. Up to the 17th century botany and medicine were one and the same but those books emphasising medicinal aspects eventually omitted the plant lore to become modern pharmacopoeias; those that omitted the medicine became more botanical and evolved into the modern compilations of plant descriptions we call Floras. These were often backed by specimens deposited in a herbarium which was a collection of dried plants that verified the plant descriptions given in the Floras. The transition from herbal to Flora marked the final separation of botany from medicine.

1550–1800 The Renaissance and Enlightenment

The revival of learning during the European Renaissance renewed interest in plants. The church, feudal aristocracy and an increasingly influential merchant class that supported science and the arts, now jostled in a world of increasing trade. Sea voyages of exploration returned botanical treasures to the large public, private, and newly established botanic gardens, and introduced an eager population to novel crops, drugs and spices from Asia, the East Indies and the New World.

The number of scientific publications increased. In England, for example, scientific communication and causes were facilitated by learned societies like Royal Society (founded in 1660) and the Linnaean Society (founded in 1788): there was also the support and activities of botanical institutions like the Jardin du Roi in Paris, Chelsea Physic Garden, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and the Oxford and Cambridge Botanic Gardens, as well as the influence of renowned private gardens and wealthy entrepreneurial nurserymen.By the early 17th century the number of plants described in Europe had risen to about 6000. The 18th century Enlightenment values of reason and science coupled with new voyages to distant lands instigating another phase of encyclopaedic plant identification, nomenclature, description and illustration, “flower painting” possibly at its best in this period of history.

Botanology, with “class”

During the 18th century botany was one of the few sciences considered appropriate for genteel educated women.  Cultural authorities argued that education through botany created culturally and scientifically aware citizens, part of the thrust for ‘improvement’ that characterised the Enlightenment. However, in the early 19th century with the recognition of botany as an official science women were again excluded from the discipline.

Botanical gardens and herbaria

A 16th century print of the Botanical Garden of Padova (Garden of the Simples) — the oldest academic botanic garden that is still in its original location

From Herbal to Flora

Plant classification systems of the 17th and 18th centuries now related plants to one another and not to man, marking a return to the non-anthropocentric botanical science promoted by Theophrastus over 1500 years before. This approach coupled with the new Linnaean system of binomial nomenclature resulted in plant encyclopaedias without medicinal information called Floras that meticulously described and illustrated the plants growing in particular regions.

Botanical exploration

Konrad Gessner discovered many new plants while climbing the Swiss Alps. He proposed that there were groups or genera of plants. He said that each genus was composed of many species and that these were defined by similar flowers and fruits. This principle of organization laid the groundwork for future botanists; he wrote his important Historia Plantarum shortly before his death. Clusius journeyed throughout most of Western Europe, making discoveries in the vegetable kingdom along the way. He was the first to propose dividing plants into classes.

At the start of the 19th century the idea that plants could synthesise almost all their tissues from atmospheric gases had not yet emerged. The energy component of photosynthesis, the capture and storage of the Sun’s radiant energy in carbon bonds (a process on which all life depends) was first elucidated in 1847 by Mayer, but the details of how this was done would take many more years.Chlorophyll was named in 1818

Biogeography and ecology

The publication of Alfred Wegener’s (1880–1930) theory of continental drift 1912 gave additional impetus to comparative physiology and the study of biogeography while ecology in the 1930s contributed the important ideas of plant community, succession, community change, and energy flows. From 1940 to 1950 ecology matured to become an independent discipline as Eugene Odum (1913–2002) formulated many of the concepts of ecosystem ecology, emphasising relationships between groups of organisms (especially material and energy relationships) as key factors in the field. Building on the extensive earlier work of Alphonse de Candolle, Nikolai Vavilov (1887–1943) from 1914 to 1940 produced accounts of the geography, centres of origin, and evolutionary history of economic plants.

sources: www.wikipedia.com , DoodNews.gr

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