Adolf Engler and the Vegetation of the World

In 1924 the German botanist Adolf Engler (1844–1930) published Syllabus der Pflanzenfamilien (Summary of plant families). In this work, Engler set out his own system of plant taxonomy. Many herbaria, field guides, and floras still use Engler's classification, and the 12th edition of this two-volume work, edited by H. Melchior and E. Werdermann, was published in 1964. In addition to his taxonomic system, Engler collaborated with the German botanist Karl Anton Eugen Prantl (1849–93) in editing a 23-volume Die Naturlichen Pflanzenfamilien (The natural plant families), with contributions from many other botanists and more than 33,000 botanical drawings in about 6,000 plates drawn by Joseph Pohl (1864–1939). In 1986 the International Association for Plant Taxonomy instituted the Engler Medal in his honor, to be awarded to scientists who have made outstanding contributions to plant taxonomy.

Engler was also a pioneer in the new science of phytogeography—the study of the geographical distribution of plants. From 1889 to 1921, he was director of the Berlin Botanische Zentralstelle—the Botanical Garden and Museum. One of the main purposes of the Berlin garden was to celebrate German colonial achievements. It listed and where feasible cultivated plants from all the German colonies, arranged in beds geographically, and conducted experiments in acclimatization that might aid the movement of useful plants from one part of the world to another. The decision was made in the 1890s to transfer the garden to a new, larger site in the district of Dahlem, and Engler supervised the move, which began in 1897 and was completed in 1910. This was a major operation, and it was one that allowed Engler to arrange the layout in a way that would display natural formations of plants along the lines August Grisebach (1814–79) had described in 1883. The Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden is now linked to the Free University of Berlin and is one of the world's most important botanical gardens, displaying approximately 22,000 plant species in its 106 acres (43 ha).

Between 1896 and 1923, in collaboration with the German botanist and biogeographer Carl Georg Oscar Drude (1852–1933), Engler published Die Vegetation der Erde (The vegetation of the Earth). He published Die Pflanzenwelt Ost-Afrikas und der Nachbargebiete (The plant world of East Africa and neighboring regions) in 1895 and Die Pflanzenwelt Afrikas (The plant world of Africa) in 1910. In 1880 he founded the Botanischer Jahrbucher fur Systematik, Pflanzengeschichte und Pflanzengeographie (Botanical yearbooks for taxonomy, plant evolution, and plant geography), and he edited them from 1880 until 1930.

Heinrich Gustav Adolf Engler was born on March 25, 1844, in what was then Sagan, Prussia (now ?aga?, Poland). He studied at the University of Breslau, Germany (now Wroc?aw, Poland), where he received his Ph.D. in 1866. Engler then worked as a schoolteacher until 1871, when he was appointed a lecturer and curator of the herbarium specimens at the Munich Botanical Institute. In 1878 Engler became professor of systematic botany at the University of Kiel. He remained at Kiel until 1884, when he moved to the University of Breslau as professor of systematic botany and director of the botanical gardens. In 1889 Engler became professor of botany and director of the botanical gardens at the Berlin Botanical Gardens and Museum, where he remained until he retired in 1921. Engler died in Berlin on October 10, 1930.