The Bauhin Family

Herbals grew steadily longer in the course of the 16th century, and as they grew so did the number of omissions and inaccuracies they contained and repeated. There was only one way the situation could be remedied: Someone had to go through as many of the publications as possible looking for duplications, synonyms, and obvious errors, and comparing descriptions and illustrations with plant specimens. The Swiss botanist Caspar (or Gaspard) Bauhin (1560–1624) spent some 30 years patiently doing exactly that. In doing so, he replaced the discursive, almost rhapsodic descriptions his predecessors had employed with extremely brief, factual accounts of flowers, stems, leaves, and roots that would aid in classification.

In 1596 Bauhin published the first results of his effort, as Phytopinax (Plant images). This was only partially completed at the time of its publication, but it proved popular, and Bauhin followed it with Pinax theatri botanici (Theater of botanical images), published in 1623 and consisting of 12 books with a total of 72 sections in which he described more than 6,000 plants. This work was a concordance—an alphabetical listing of plant names used by other authors—and it contained no illustrations. On the title page Bauhin described it as an “index to the works of Theophrastus, Dioscoridea, and the botanists who have written in the last century.” He classified plants as trees, shrubs, and herbs and placed the spice plants in a category he called Aromata. The names Bauhin used were descriptive, but he defined plant species and grouped species in genera, and in many cases his descriptive name for a genus or species was reduced to a single word.

He ended each entry with the name, often abbreviated, of the individual who first used it. For example, he named one of the species of bluegrass, also called fescue, as Festuca prior, Dod. (Dodoens). This being a concordance, he also listed all of the synonyms. Superficially his scheme resembles the binomial system of nomenclature that Linnaeus used, and Linnaeus was certainly influenced by it, but there is an important difference. Bauhin used names purely as descriptions, whereas Linnaeus used them as unique identifiers. A description must refer to some feature of the species by which it can be identified. An identifier need not describe the species or even have a meaning, but it must be a name that applies only to that species and not to any other. Thus, although many authors claim that Bauhin invented the binomial system that Linnaeus later adopted, this is not so.

Bauhin also compiled a catalog of the plants growing in the area around Basel, and he planned another major work, Theatrum botanicum (Theater of plants). He intended this to be a huge 12-volume work, but he had completed only three of the volumes by the time of his death, and only one volume was published, in 1658.

Jean (or Johann) Bauhin (1541–1613), Caspar's elder brother, was also a botanist. His major work, Historia plantarum universalis (Universal history of plants), was a summary of everything known about plants at that time, with descriptions of more than 5,000 species. He died before completing it, but it was finished by his son-in-law Jean-Henri Cherler and published in 1650–51 at Yverdon, Switzerland.

The Bauhin brothers were the sons of Jean Bauhin (1511–82), a French physician from Amiens who was forced to leave France because of his Protestant faith and who settled in Basel, Switzerland. Caspar Bauhin was born in Basel on January 17, 1560. He studied medicine at Padua, Montpellier, and at several schools in Germany. He qualified as a physician in Basel in 1580, and for a time he taught botany and astronomy privately. He was appointed professor of Greek at the University of Basel in 1582, and in 1588 he became professor of anatomy and botany. Later he was appointed official physician to the city of Basel and professor of medicine and later rector and dean of the medical faculty at the university. He died in Basel on December 5, 1624.

Jean Bauhin was born in Basel on December 12, 1541. He studied botany first at the University of Tubingen under Leonhard Fuchs and later at the University of Zurich under Conrad Gessner. He accompanied Gessner on botanical excursions in Switzerland, and Gessner thought very highly of him. Bauhin then began to practice medicine in Basel, and in 1566 he was appointed professor of rhetoric at the University of Basel. In 1570 he became personal physician to Duke Frederick I of Wurttemberg, who lived in Montbeliard, in eastern France. He was also director of the Montbeliard botanic gardens, which were among the oldest in Europe. While there he developed the technique for growing potatoes. Bauhin remained at Montbeliard until his death on October 26, 1612.