Carl Georg Oscar Drude and Plant Formations

Tropical forests extend across a vast area of Central and South America, West and Central Africa, South Asia, and northern Australia. A belt of coniferous forest stretches across northern Canada and Eurasia. The North American prairies, South American pampas, and Eurasian steppe are temperate grasslands. It would be easy to suppose that a visitor might travel through any one of these vast expanses and notice very little change in the vegetation. The forest or grassland would continue for hundreds of miles. In fact, it is not like that. Although the vegetation may all be of one general type such as coniferous forest or temperate grassland, there are many local variations. The trees and grasses in one area are different from those in another.

In 1896 the director of the Dresden Botanical Gardens published a book entitled Die Ökologie der Pflanzen (The ecology of plants) in which he showed how local factors such as hills and valleys and local variations in climate influenced the composition of plant communities. That explained why there are local variations. The author of the book was Oscar Drude (1852–1933), and it made him one of the founders of plant ecology. Drude was a remarkably talented field botanist. He could walk through a wood or across a meadow, identifying the plants as he went and noting local differences.

Drude wrote and coauthored several other important books. These included Atlas der Pflanzenverbreitung (Atlas of plant distribution), published in 1887, and Handbuch der Pflanzengeographie (Handbook of plant geography) in 1890. He coedited with Adolf Engler (1844–1930) Die Vegetation der Erde (The vegetation of the Earth), which appeared between 1896 and 1928.

Carl Georg Oscar Drude was born in Brunswick, Germany, on June 5, 1852. He studied natural history and chemistry at the Collegium Carolinum (now the Technical University) in Brunswick, moving to the University of Göttingen in 1871, where he worked as an assistant to August Grisebach. Drude received his Ph.D. at Göttingen in 1873 and became an assistant to the plant collector Friedrich Gottlieb Theophil Bartling (1798–1875), who was in charge of the university’s herbarium. From 1876 until 1879, Drude was a lecturer at the university.

In 1879, Drude moved to Dresden to take up an appointment as professor of botany at the polytechnic. In 1890 the polytechnic became a new technical high school, and Drude was in a strong position to influence the organization of scientific research and teaching. It was also in 1890 that Drude became director of the Dresden Botanical Gardens. He served as rector of Dresden Technical High School twice (1906–07 and 1918–19), and in 1920 he was made professor emeritus of botany. Drude died at Bühlau, near Dresden, on February 1, 1933.