Biology vs botany
aceska at FREENET.VICTORIA.BC.CA
Sun Jun 4 09:19:06 CDT 1995
It would be a mistake to assume that the botany of the 18-th
and 19-th century did not deal with sex and was more
suitable for the gentle gender (I hope I use these terms
correctly, English is not my parent tongue). Two excerpts
from BEN (Botanical Electronic News) show how disgusted
Johan Wolfgang Goethe was with the Linnean sex system of
plants and why.
GOETHE ON SEX IN PLANTS
It is approximately sixteen years ago [Goethe wrote this in
1820, when he was 71 years old] that Professor Schelver, curator
of the Grand-ducal Immediate Botanical Garden under my direc-
tion, disclosed to me in strictest confidence, in that very
garden on the same paths where I still take my walks, that he
had long had his doubts about the theory ascribing two sexes to
plants and that he was now fully convinced of its untenability.
[Schelver's book, "Critique of the Theory of the Sexuality in
Plants," appeared in 1812.]
In my nature studies I had religiously accepted the dogma of
sexuality in plants and was, therefore, taken aback now to hear
a concept directly opposed to my own. Yet I could not consider
the new theory wholly heretical ... Now his brilliant theory
takes on substance through Henschel's monumentous study ["On the
Sexuality of Plants" published in 1820]; it is earnestly demand-
ing its place in science, although one cannot fortell how that
place will be found.
For the instruction of young persons and ladies this new theory
will be extremely welcome and suitable. In the past the teacher
of botany has been placed in a most embarrassing position, and
when innocent young souls took textbook in hand to advance their
studies in private, they were unable to conceal their outraged
moral feelings. Eternal nuptials going on and on, with the
monogamy basic to our morals, laws and religion disintegrating
into loose concupiscence - these must remain forever intolerable
to the pure-minded! ... Indeed, we recall having seen arabesques
in which the sexual relations within a flower calyx were repre-
sented in an extremely graphic way.
Ref.: Goethe's botanical writings. Translated by Bertha Mueller.
Ox Bow Press, Woodridge, CT. 1989.
(BEN # 97 1-April-1995)
THE SORROWS OF OLD GOETHE
From: R.T. Ogilvie <bogilvie at RBML01.RBCM.BC.CA>
The article in BEN 97 on Goethe's anti-sex views in plants is a
reaction in his old age to his youthful enthusiasm for the
Linnaean sexual system of plant classification. Linnaeus used
the number of stamens for defining Classes, and the number of
carpels for defining Natural Orders (approximately equivalent to
our present-day Families).
Linnaeus' classification system for higher categories was more
precisely a numerical system rather than a sexual system. Each
Class and Order was given a Latin name, a brief Latin descrip-
tive phrase, a short Latin "anthropocentric" phrase, and in some
editions after 1759 the English equivalent for these names and
phrases. Some examples, which may give an idea of what Goethe
was reacting to:
Class Pentandria (Five Males) - five stamens in a hermaphrodite
(bisexual) flower (five husbands in the same marriage).
Class Didynamia (Two Powers) - four stamens, two long and two
short (four husbands, two tall and two short).
Class Monoecia (One House) - male and female flowers on the same
plant (husbands live with their wives in the same house
but have different beds).
Class Dioecia (Two Houses) - male and female flowers on dif-
ferent plants; (husbands and wives have different houses).
Class Polygamia - bisexual flowers, male, or female flowers in
the same species (husbands live with wives and
Class Cryptogamia (Clandestine Marriages) - flowers are con-
cealed (nuptials are celebrated privately).
Order Polygamia Aequalis (Equal Polygamy) - many florets with
stamens and pistils (many marriages with promiscuous
Order Polygamia Spuria Segregata (Spurious Separate Polygamy) -
many flower- bearing involucres contained in one common
involucre (many beds united so that they constitute one
Linnaeus first published his system in 1735, and republished it
many times with minor changes in the next thirty years. Lin-
naeus' system was widely adopted throughout Europe as a con-
venient means of identifying plants. France was an exception,
where many French botanists such as Gerard, Adanson, and the de
Jussieus rejected the Linnaeus system because of its ar-
tificiality. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a serious amateur botanist,
saw the value of Linnaeus' system for teaching and used it for
his very popular book on plant identification "Essais Elemen-
taires sur la Botanique" (1771). Goethe was a generation younger
than Linnaeus and Rousseau, but like Rousseau he was both an
ardent student of the enlightenment and a serious amateur
botanist. It was during the very last years of his life (1820)
that Goethe wrote his remarks criticising the sexual system of
(BEN # 98 7-April-1995)
More information about the Taxacom