Footsteps: Botanical History in Cultural Context

Exploring the TimeLine for better understanding of botanical history can be entertaining, but necessarily lacks context. Entries jump from item to item, which is what a timeline does. That format, however, necessarily teases morsels, mines jewels from an expansive cultural milieu, the greater picture in which the item of interest is likely of little import. For my own understanding, I decided to create a story that incorporates the broader circumstances in which understanding of plants emerged.  This personal digging made me acutely aware that new realizations in botanical science are a product of their times; the larger world was busy with other pressing issues.

Truthfully, not too many people have been focused on understanding plants. In fact, most plant questions were not even asked until there was some reason for issues to surface. We see that it takes a particular genius to ask questions that are not ready to be posed, persistence to pursue lines of inquiry that do not seem of particular interest to others in the field, and belief in the value of the contribution (despite the pressure of a status quo). Botany has benefitted from bouts of genius, but most advances have come when new technologies and fresh perspectives from related fields were diligently introduced. Advances occurred as questions emerged.

The last point reminds us why lack of context is a problem for TimeLines, and for histories of plant science generally. We tend to present growth in knowledge as saltational, with developments jumping from one heroic revelation to the next.

Calor, dolor, rubor, and tumor: Heat, pain, redness, and swelling. The four classical signs of inflammation, per Roman encyclopedist Celsus. 

But it doesn’t really happen that way. Growth in understanding oozes along, like lava. New ideas and realizations burn hot at some points, losing their calor eventually. Concepts (like Mendelian genetics) may be immortalized through occasional moments of crystallization when a new impression seems fixed. But that fresh conviction, so pure and simple, slowly melts back into the thick swirl, representing an important advance, but with its definition no longer absolute. The embedded trail of concretion marks episodic ebbs and flows in corrugated patterns, making the very moment of gain difficult to score. Just as new realizations are seldom instantaneous, the impact of an observation is seldom as delimited as the calendar date for which it was recorded or announced. Given great heat and pressure, deep below the surface, occasional diamonds form, and harden amid the thousands of somewhat continuous veins of development. Historians (who already know the context) mine those diamonds, following veins. And they talk about those ultra-hard points to avoid being so nebulous, to avoid the avalanche of detail. It would be impossible to deliver the entire mountain of rock. It’s just too much debris, and the stratification is destroyed by the digging. Not claiming to be an historian, I approach this exhumation as a field geologist. My goal in the discussion is to gain a better sense of the terrain and to lay out some of the ruble, hoping to capture a glimpse of the mountain from which botanical ore has been extracted.

The debris I’ve collected addresses a simple question: What do we know about plants?

The tools I used were other questions, picks and pry bars, pans and screens:

  • When and how did simple awareness and cultural use of plants develop into the current level of scientific understanding? Who was involved and what other concerns drove their discovery?
  • How and why did prevailing wisdom about plants shift overtime?
  • How certain is our understanding?
  • What milestones are important, and why?

Ancient Knowledge:

There can be little doubt that early humans regarded plants as critical for food and shelter, and increasingly must have realized plants are sources of useful natural products, such as fuel, fiber, tools, medicines, stimulants, flavorings, and dyes. Though anthropologists and archaeologists will argue over timing and roles of agriculture in civilization, the importance of plants to evolving human society can’t be denied.

Working Knowledge. In that history, humans have always understood plants at a profoundly functional level, as non-academic daily users. Around the globe, people knew the qualities of wood, which woods could be fashioned into tools, which would support the best fires, which might have musical qualities. They pulled and chewed on things, which becomes evident when anatomists and anthropologists study human teeth and implements to consider the nature of paleo diets, and it remains obvious that selection of fruit and seed (especially grains) shaped human consumption and industry over millennia. Despite realities that water might be the only liquid required for human metabolism, every society has adopted, and even become addicted to particular beverages, practically all of which are plant products. And at a near subliminal level, the mere smell, sight, and feel of plants are natural and comforting. E. O. Wilson applies the term biophilia to this sensibility.

See: Christian Tryon, Briana Pobiner, & Rhonda Kauffman, 2010. Archaeology and Human Evolution, in Evo Edu Outreach 3:377–386 (DOI 10.1007/s12052-010-0246-9), 20 July 2010, Springer Science

Early plant knowledge is keyed therefore into development of civilization, tied into how people communicated among themselves and how they worked together to build and pass down a knowledge base. My assumption is that people treasured what was of value, which means we should expect early plant knowledge to be ‘applied’ – based on its usefulness. From history and lore, it is abundantly clear that ancient people were not oblivious to basic plant science; that idea would paint a bleak picture of our ancestors as unknowing and lacking curiosity. So what is the story? What can we imagine humans knew about plants during most of the last 100,000 years (500,000+ generations)?

A lot, I believe. People knew plants are seasonal resources, recognition that led to collecting and hoarding seed, dried fruit, roots, and vegetation, as is evident from archaeological middens that document stores of plant products, troves that existed because plants were valued. And for millennia, people practiced crop management. Clearly, humans have long-understood which seed were worth gathering or cultivating, when the time was right to harvest, and how to plant the best of those seed for future crops.

Aztecs and Mayans selected and processed maize (corn) so actively that modern researchers have puzzled for decades over the ancestry of modern corn. The same is true of Eurasian wheat, as well as fiber plants such as Egyptian cotton and Mesopotamian flax. This means humans understood what was of agricultural value, as well as when and where to plant. Lessons from agricultural life transferred to culture and language.

“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs…” Matthew 

“If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.” Mao 

It also means people had rudimentary appreciation for reproduction and inheritance; the parallels to human biology were obvious:

A good tree brings forth good fruit; an apple never falls far from the tree… (

People understood plants had fleshy and fibrous components, and could be sources of extracts and flavoring. Sugar was a spice, valued for its sweetness. When sugars are concentrated in dried fruit and saps, foodstuffs could be stored against spoilage. And around the world it was obvious that sweet and fleshy plants could be fermented. No manuals detailed the chemical nature of sugar or ethanol, but early societies appreciated that fermented beverages could be warehoused for many benefits. People also knew the taste of acids, from wine vinegars and tartaric acid precipitating on facets of vats, to sorrels and other herbs foraged directly from the wild.

North Africans were aware that pollen (dust, or farina) and fruit are produced on separate date palm trees, and a greater crop of fruit can be had by sprinkling pollen onto the flowers of productive trees. This wisdom is commonly cited in historical texts, but authors never mention the level of technical know-how required, that someone had to know enough about flowering of palms to relate the method, or have been successful in producing fruit. It isn’t so simple as imagined (see: Howladar et al, Receptivity of Female Inflorescence in Major Date Palm Cultivars of Saudi Arabia, International Journal of Science and technology t(7): 328-330.)

Some ancient innovator realized that flax stems could be rotted (retted) to the point that the remaining clean, resilient fibers are the raw material of linen. Other techniques were applied or developed to spin those flax bast fibers into thread, which was woven to cloth, eventually finding a recycled life as paper. Need for fibers was satisfied in other cultures through exploiting mulberry bark (Asia), agave leaves (Mesoamerica), papyrus (Egypt), banana (Manila hemp), marijuana (Indochina), etc.   Lacking the basic knowledge to develop such technologies, there would have been no rope for ships, no wrapping for mummies, no paper for scrolls.

Asian farmers developed techniques for planting rice in paddies, keenly aware of germination, growth patterns, and harvest, understanding there are benefits to paddy culture without the need for lessons in nitrogen fixation. Ancient Chinese gardeners and herbalists recorded substantial understanding of plants, especially regarding selection of new forms from the wild. They knew that grafting or rooting a stem (vegetative propagation) would clone a desirable plant, while planting seed would present fresh variation from which to select new characteristics.

What was known of plants over thousands of years came through exploration of food sources, cultivation of crops, production of useful goods dependent on plants, and even selection of plants for horticultural value. Scholars call this empirical knowledge, real working understanding gained and re-enforced through practical experience, and passed down as intelligence through successive generations. In China especially, substantial knowledge was committed to written text. A few records were also made of western farming. For confirmation of knowledge Roman landowners harbored on farming, read Varro’s de Re Rustica (circa 37 BCE) available in translation by Bill Thayer:

Whether written or not, knowledge was passed down and expanded. Someone in every community must have known what could be consumed raw, what benefited from being treated or cooked, and how to preserve and protect resources such as seed, fruit, leaves, stems, roots, and extracts.

The Known and Unknown….. What did people not know about plants? Until the close of the 17th century, nobody suspected that plants are made of cells. The first cell was described in 1665 by Robert Hooke, and it would be another century before we reached a level of microscopy and experience to appreciate that cells are the organizational basis for living beings. People knew about sexual reproduction, but even that perception was highly skewed. I mean, how did sperm (incubated in the mother) become a person? And though much terminology surrounding birth relates to plants (the seed of Abraham), nobody thought plants produced seed through a sexual process analogous to human procreation.

Even Theophrastus’ astonishing reports that palm pollen could be employed to increase date production treated the exercise as a sacrament, and carried no understanding this was what we now call pollination, or was related to fertilization and sexual reproduction.

People had hardly any idea as to plant chemistry.  Elements, as any 3rd grade student would name them today, did not exist. Ancient ideas of elements revolved around earth, air, fire, and water, and in classical Greek culture they related to each other like a wonderful game of rocks, paper, and scissors. Earth was the solid stuff, and it all wanted to regroup – solid things fell to Earth – a perfect sphere at the center of the cosmos. Water covered earth. Air, ether, formed an outer springy but weightless sphere, and Fire sought to rise. Plants were cold and wet, tied to earth (which relates to particular medicinal value of plants that were considered hot and dry). There was no thought that living plants interacted with air, or with fire (sunlight).

What was Recorded as Known? Westerners (Europeans) imagined we inhabit a given, orderly world. On Earth, humans presided, owning a godlike animation. Animals are subservient to humans, sentient but non-rational. Plants, though alive, are non-sentient, lower in the natural order.

Rocks and minerals are dead last in commanding respect – neither living nor sentient. Animals, plants, and earth existed to serve humans, though it has never been quite clear why humans exist. Our only assigned tasks were to procreate, take dominion , and give names to things.

That basic Western hierarchy, supported by the elements (earth, air, fire, and water), could be described in equilibrium as a balance of humors: hot or cold, wet or dry. In Western medicine, humans came to be considered phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, or melancholic based on their own native balance. Along with humans, animals and plants were corporeal, made of flesh and bodily fluids in their own particular balance:

  • Sanguine: Air, warm and moist 
  • Choleric: Fire, warm and dry 
  • Melancholic: Earth, dry and cool 
  • Sanguine: Water, cool and moist

Living beings grew and developed, prospered and suffered, acted independently, and reproduced themselves. And all life, plants, animals, humans…, shared death – ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the body eventually abandoned to the mineral realm of Earth. Nature, when amenable, was ordered and balanced.

Classically-oriented western culture was top-down.  Even logic was ruled by presiding thoughts, from which the details could be deduced. That means Aristotle and Theophrastus, who were about the only Europeans documented as having much to say about the nature of plants for two thousand years, dealt in speculation – syllogisms that work well in math, but are not as water-tight when considering plants and animals.

Philosophically, further understanding was vain. With functional needs met through hands-on trade knowledge (even apprenticeship), additional explanation was neither useful, nor possible. Being smart, curious, and inventive were crucial practical technical skills that did not demand literacy. Lessons learned were transmitted through work, but such trade secrets might never have been recorded. There were theological and practical limits in exploring “why” questions.

In histories of the East, researchers continue to explore the surprisingly extensive archive of writings related to crop production and even horticultural selection and garden building. Those writings, especially the dibao (official gazettes, or bulletins), which began about 1500 years ago, give details of life in China that paint a much clearer picture of planned management based on working knowledge. And records exist that extend that timeline another 1500 years, well before the time of Aristotle and Theophrastus.

Philosophically, the Asian equivalent to western classical approaches would be works ascribed to Confucius, a record that is much more original and intact than Greek writings, and has been consistently available in Chinese culture over more than two millennia. And Confucius is not the entire story; other traditions and writings expand appreciation as to what was known. The most important issue regarding early Chinese knowledge, I believe, is that a person must abandon contemporary thoughts about social and philosophical constructs we want to call Science, and consider the nature of straightforward working knowledge, much of which has been examined and is available as volume 6 of Needham’s Science and Civilization in China.  Topics are examined in six parts, published between 1985 and 2015, constituting a far greater record of knowledge than would even be possible for Western cultures. As time allows, I hope to plunder that wealth of information to provide a more balanced concept of ancient knowledge than one will encounter in typical Western-oriented histories. For an introduction, see:

Culturally, however, the “why” was unimportant in every ancient world. There was no need for greater understanding as to how or why plants make wood or generate fruit and seed (the province of plant sciences today) because society had ready answers to those more existential questions. All ancient societies (the West included) knew their worlds originated through divine means; each holding its own powerful creation story and societal traditions that hold sway yet today.  It might even have been considered thankless to speculate why things happen. Regardless, it is obvious early civilizations had real botanical understanding, informed through the technological gains of agriculture, industry, and medical traditions.

Modern science (what we know about nature and the physical world today, and how we know it) was born, necessarily, through departure from traditional belief systems, a break that occurred integral with globalization, imperialism, and industrialization. The forces that drove urbanization and globalism produced new concentrations of wealth, some of which were used to patronize arts and sciences. Thus, the basis for new developments in plant study (and all sciences) was seeded at the cross-roads of Mediterranean, Arabic, Asian, and Northern European culture, and germinated in the period we call the Renaissance – an arts term suggesting re-birth, or re- flowering.

Technically and scientifically, however, this was not warmed- over culture; it wasn’t a re: anything. Science as we approach it today emerged as something very new. In every regard, the wisdom of ancient worlds would be swept away between 1450 and 1900, as technology formed the rocky base for today’s world culture, with science as the new orthodoxy – challenging fundamentalist concepts of truth.


The break – the beginning of independence of scientific knowledge from cultural lore&more – began, I believe, with wholesale availability of information through printing based on Latin-based languages with fixed, limited alphabets. Ready exchange of knowledge is the scaffold of scientific advance, and movable, easily re-usable type wrote the revolution of information technology that continues to gain momentum.

By 1500, curiosity as to the nature and inner workings of plants gained traction, and would be informed, gradually, through observation and experimentation. The emerging interest had roots in Spain and Italy, but German introduction of printing expanded the conversation, fostering:

  • examination of libraries for ancient knowledge (especially materia medica),
  • rapid growth of literacy that made “how to” publications more readily available,
  • religious reformation which invited questioning of ancient wisdom,
  • excitement of world discovery and realization that other lands held their own useful plants,
  • growth of imperialism to scarf up natural resources, and emerging mechanics that would lead to industrialization.

Dreams and vision, possibilities, spiraled away from ancient cycles of knowledge renewal, an outbreak that spawned today’s world culture of science and technology.

“… establishment, during the second half of the century [15th], of scores of printshops relates to two notable features of European, especially western European, society at the time. The first is the fairly high rate of literacy on which the market for books and pamphlets was based. The second is the quite sudden wide availability of a multitude of philosophical and other intellectual options. Together, these two features created a situation in which knowledge for many people was no longer chained to the texts of the university curriculum. This was a new situation practically without parallel.” Peter Dear, 2009

Fallouts of increasing information availability between 1450 and 1550 include:

  • Printing of ancient manuscripts, such as Aristotle, Theophrastus, Cato (de Agri Cultura, printed 1472), Columella (de Re Rustica, first complete printing 1472 de_Re_Rustica/2*.html.  You might also read Varro: home.html), and Dioscorides (de Materia Medica, 1478 and onward)
  • Challenges to traditional doctrine through mass publication of Martin Luther’s 1517 Disputation heralding the Reformation.
  • Creation of new knowledge, particularly the first German herbals, beginning with the many revisions and printings of Ortus Sanitatus and, by 1530 and 1544, significantly improved with the herbals of Brunfels and Fuch. By 1544, Mattiolihad produced his Italian translation of Dioscorides. These kinds of works established plant recognition in various languages, initiating the first botanic gardens and study of botany as an independent discipline.
  • Andreas Vesalius’s 1543 publication of his spectacular treatise on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica libri septem; in the same year Copernicus ‘s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium was printed.
  • Production of printed books of secrets, compendia of potions, elixirs, ointments, and balms said to cure almost every known ailment and rid fabrics of stains, popular publications authored by “emperics” – people who stressed they had learned their craft emperically (gained by personal observation and experience), through travel, contacts with practitioners, and personal trial and experience. Prominent among emperical authors were Alessio Piemontese and Giambattista Della Porta. Piemontese’s Secreti del reverendo donno Alessio piemontese(1555) and Della Porta’s Magi naturalis (1558) went through scores of editions and translations, retaining some prominence for two centuries.

Compounding the capacity for greater dialogue were European voyages of discovery from 1488 to 1499. Bartolomeu Dias and crew established a sea route around the southern cape of Africa, having been the first European explorers to land at the Cape of Good Hope. Columbus completed the first of several voyages in 1493, establishing on-going contact with a world wholly new to Europeans. In 1499 de Gama returned to Portugal, completing his 2-year voyage that (in fractured stages) opened trade with India through a sea route around the Cape of Africa.

“This emerging sense that the world was large, and largely unknown, was not, therefore purely a matter of philosophy.. [the] considerable variety of intellectual options, closely associated with the new technology of printing, meant that Europe…was preparing itself for a battle over intellectual authority of epic proportions. …It became harder and harder to identify an ancient orthodoxy to be restored. Ancient texts continued to be enormously important resources, but they were no longer signposts to a past golden age.” Peter Dear, 2009 1550➛1650

Over the next century (1550 to 1650), the impacts of plant introductions from Asia and the Americas became increasing objects of imperialism, leading to establishment of trading companies and control over raw materials. Coffee, tea, chocolate, tobacco, and sugar were established as major commodities and cultural addictions. Inventories of new plants and products surpassed the traditional realm of materia medica and scholarly herbals were challenged to list and describe the new bounty of plant diversity. Simples would soon become outdated with professionalization of apothecaries, and chemical experiments (the pursuit of alchemy) began to yield results in characterizing materials that were not simply related to astrology, false cures, and pipe dreams (such as transforming materials to gold).

Shakespeare flourished in the English vernacular, and real science was becoming untethered from Latin. But perhaps most importantly, Francis Bacon, denouncing the top-down logic of Aristotelians while embracing the value of applied experiment, crystallized his program for evidence-based, replicable approaches to science.

Some items in the TimeLines include:

  • 1569 Mercator introduced his world map and a system of map projections that improved documenting and use of trade routes.
  • 1574-1477 Monardes‘ Joyfull Newes…was published in Spanish, Latin, and then English.
  • 1581-1646 The existence and nature of magnetic fields and electricity received their first analytical attention.
  • 1583 Cesalpino published de Plants libri, the first statement on general botany since classical texts attributed toTheophrastus.
  • 1601-1603 The British East India Company and the Dutch EastIndia Company were established.
  • 1602 By this date, Shakespeare had written Hamlet, which was published in the 1603 1st Quarto.
  • 1610 Galileo published Sidereus Nuncius, evidencing strong support for heliocentrism (which describes the Sun as the center of our solar system.) Galileo also provided an early microscope to his associates. His conviction of heresy in 1633 is, perhaps, the best known case tried during the Roman Inquisition.
  • 1620 Francis Bacon published Novum Organum Scientarium (his new method of scientific discovery and explanation), followed in 1627 by New Atlantis, which proposed a society that systematizes and glorifies the search for objective knowledge. Bacon’s life ended ignominiously, but his ideas were sympathetic with Puritan and Interregnum ethics that changed England by mid-century.
  • 1648 van Helmont, a prominent early chemist (who introduced study of gases), reported his trials of increase in mass of a willow tree.


One could decide that Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum Scientarium constitutes the beginning of contemporary science, due to his insistence on building a new foundation for understanding the workings of nature. Or, one could claim an actual beginning would be the founding of England’s Royal Society, chartered in 1660, shortly after Restoration of England’s monarchy. Following many of Bacon’s goals, the Society established a process of reporting and review of experiments and discoveries. Those reports (Philosophical Transactions…) became a crucial record of accomplishment and priority, as well as a centralized authority establishing priority of discovery, serving much of Europe’s growing scientific community.   Scholars, by the end of the 17th century, abandoned any sense that God would disdain inquiry addressing the inner workings of living beings, as stated by John Ray: “There are those who condemn the study of Experimental Philosophy as a mere inquisitiveness and denounce the passion for knowledge as a pursuit unpleasing to God, and so quench the zeal of the philosopher. As if Almighty God were jealous of the knowledge of men.” (1690, Synopsis Britannicarum, translated in C. Raven, 2009, pg 251)

Experiments and publications supported by the Royal Society underpin evolving understanding of cells, cell biology, and eventually molecular biology that led to our understanding that plants are alive in many of the same ways in which animals live. The first intimation of cellular structure was published by Robert Hooke, in his description (1665) of the structure of cork (the bark of Quercus suber) as seen through his handsome, yet primitively simple, microscope. Very shortly after Hooke’s publication, botanists Marcello Malpighi (Italy) and Nehemiah Grew (England) produced descriptions of plant anatomy, descriptions that held forth for more than 100 years, and ideas that were not hugely advanced until the 19th century (see Cells as the Basis of Life, at the beginning of this Footsteps Section.)

The ability to see finer detail was not a lone improvement; researchers were also increasingly able to define processes more precisely through time. Following up on concepts and prototypes developed by Galileo, Christiaan Huygens worked with clockmaker Salomon Coster to develop a pendulum clock. Minute-hands became common as mechanical clocks were developed that could keep time to an accuracy of within 15 seconds a day. Fahrenheit developed and introduced the first research-grade thermometers in 1714, followed by Celsius’s centigrade scale in 1742. Steady improvement of instrumentation (technology) would come to define science as data-driven.

People involved in developments in pneumatics, fledging organic chemistry, human anatomy, and lead-up to the industrial revolution often included plants in their studies, which contributed significantly to understanding. Robert Boyle had turned his attention to botany briefly, but powerfully enough to explain that plant biomass is mostly water. Isaac Newton’s Principia and Opticks represented incredible advances in understanding of physical principles that rule our world, expressing gravity in mathematical formula and deconstructing white light to colors of the rainbow. And by 1727, Stephen Hales had traced the flow of water through plants, describing transpiration and proposing that air somehow becomes part of plant tissues.

Importantly, stoked by caffeine from popularization of coffee, tea, and chocolate, Europeans were a bit more sober and alert to matters of the world, a world that had become yet more global with the first reported European landings in Australia. The work of Caspar and Jean Bauhin had brought increased order to the growing list of plants and plant names, and John Ray treated his regional flora in a strikingly modern (non-herbal) manner. Suggestions by Nehemiah Grew that pollen was the male generative line were confirmed through experimentation by Camerarius, published in 1694. That explanation provided the rationale on which Linnaeus constructed his famous sexual system, a classification scheme developed during three years of study in Holland (beginning in 1735). His methods, which came to full expression in 1753 as Species Plantarum, established the foundation of plant scientific nomenclature, while his classification system became one of the great dead-ends of the era.

A few notable events:

  • 1651 After decades of delay, Hernandez’s Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae... was published through efforts of the Linceans (a society in which Galileo was active).
  • 1662 London’s Royal Society was chartered, and began supporting research and authorship of scientific works. Notable investigators included Evelyn (trees and forestry), Boyle (pneumatics), Hooker, Grew, and Malpighi (microscopy and anatomy), and Newton (Planetary motion, Gravity, and Light).
  • 1694 Camerarius expounded on the sexual nature ofplants.
  • 1727 Stephen Hales applied experimental methodologies to plants, initiating the study of plant physiology.
  • 1731 Alexander Pope opined on the genius of a place.
  • 1737 Elizabeth Blackwell’s Curious Herbal constituted a final significant contribution to three centuries of the European herbal tradition. Linnaeus published the first edition of Genera Plantarum, as well as Hortus Cliffortianus.


Between 1750 and 1850, science was increasingly professionalized, with discovery growingly centered at institutions (such as universities, museums, and botanical gardens) as well as industrial and commercial workshops. Imperialism and globalization reached new heights of importance and influence, with botanist Joseph Banks succeeding Hans Sloane in dominating English plant discovery and the Jussieu clan presiding in France. While Sloane had been interested in medical benefits, Banks and botany shifted emphasis to natural resources and economic value, geared to the wheels of industrial revolution. Similarly, Linnaeus’s “artificial” way of classifying plants was quickly eclipsed by appreciation of more natural systemization (evolving in Paris).

Sent by Banks to Australia, geographic floristics instigated by Robert Brown gave substance to the incipient field of plant biogeography. Biodiversity, now viewed as boundless, could be cataloged, understood, and plundered. The world of plant study became broader, richer in species, and infinitely more complex. Interest in cartography and atmospherics led to the work of Alexander von Humboldt, who collected data and applied metrics (using the newly-adopted metric system) to environments, giving birth to field ecology.  Consequently, climate, topography, and soils were seen to hold much greater importance than previously understood; even built landscapes assumed new connectivity to nature, as had been expressed by Alexander Pope in reference to genius loci.

Microscopy advanced, allowing observation of structure and generation of cells, and forcing cross-disciplinary studies as researchers came to realize plant and animal cells share components, character, and activity. Biology emerged as the unified study of life in the light of cell theory.

Plant physiology, initiated by Hales’ work in 1727, acquired data-driven, laboratory-based trappings inspired by explanations of the composition of air and water, Ingenhousz’s explanation that plants generate oxygen in sunlight, naming and characterization of elements fostered through Lavoisier’s methods, and redefinition of elements and compounds through the work of John Dalton. Saussure had conducted studies indicating the atmosphere is the source of carbon in plants. They were all using the newly established shorthand for recently-discovered elements… C HOPKNS CaFe was possible, but not quite yet appreciated.

Applied studies in agriculture and soil nutrition, initiated in the work of Humphrey Davies, took off through concentrated studies in Justin von Liebig’s laboratory. By 1850, both the humus theory (plants generate new organic matter through input of humus from the soil) and vitalism (the concept that only living beings can synthesize organic compounds) were history (i.e. abandoned).

  • 1756 Black generated “fixed” air, i.e. carbon dioxide.
  • 1774 Steam power, harnessed for driving machinery (the work of Watt and others,) underpinned the emerging Industrial Revolution.
  • 1776 Priestley demonstrated that plants have restorative power, converting air to a flammable (oxygenated) state
  • 1776 Adam Smith provided a philosophical mantle of moral good for the capitalism inherent with Imperialism and Industrialization.
  • 1779 In his Experiments upon vegetables, Jean Ingenhousz demonstrated that plants produce oxygen in sunlight and carbon dioxide in darkness.
  • 1780 Luigi Galvani captured great public attention in demonstrating that electrical sparks cause muscle movement.
  • 1789 In Paris, the French Revolution moved forward as de Jussieu’s Genera Plantarum was published
  • 1798 Malthus reasoned that resources imposed limits on population growth.
  • 1800 Alessandro Volta introduced his first battery.
  • 1802 Gay-Lussac explained that gas pressure rises with pressure in an closed chamber.
  • 1804 de Saussure conducted the earliest thorough experiments in plant physiology and nutrition, demonstrating that carbon from the atmosphere becomes fixed as carbon in plant sugars and other organic compounds.
  • 1804 John Dalton restructured our understanding of the atomic nature and proportions of compounds.
  • 1805 Gay-Lussac and Humboldt met with Volta while traveling to study air pressure.
  • 1811 Avogadro determined that the same volume of two gases (at equivalent pressures) should have the same number of particles.
  • 1831 Faraday demonstrated functional principles of electromagnetic induction, the basis for electric generators and motors.
  • 1837 – Having published his Principles of Geology, and its support of uniformitarianism, Charles Lyell commented in a letter to William Whewell: “If I had stated… the possibility of the introduction or origination of fresh species being a natural, in contradistinction to a miraculous process, I should have raised a host of prejudices against me, which are unfortunately opposed at every step to any philosopher who attempts to address the public on these mysterious subjects”
  • 1845 The Irish Potato Famine


Scientists (who could now be recorded in photographs) increasingly held a modern understanding of plant diversity and biogeography, as well as cell biology and physiology. It was now evident cells are ubiquitous, indeed cells define life. With the 1830-1833 publication of Lyell’s Principles of Geology (3 volumes), the Earth was accepted as more ancient than suggested by Biblical numerologies; geological formations were known to have grown over long periods of time.

These changes, momentous as they were, proved of similar pace to true revolutions in how we live and view life on Earth that would occur in the second half of the 19th century. Life was swept to a new frenzy.

People and products were moving along railways. Telegraphic connection was established between Paris and London in 1854, and in other metropolitan areas soon thereafter. Over the next four years, Lincoln would communicate through this electronic means with his Generals during America’s Civil War. Organic chemistry had become an important discipline with Perkin’s synthesis of mauve (the first aniline dye) in 1857 and the 1858 explanation that carbon atoms bond to create chains and complex macromolecules.

Biologically, botanically, the most significant “idea” was evolution, introduced by Charles Darwin in his 1859 Origin of Species Darwin’s rational, fully-supported explanation for how nature, inexorably, evolves as a world of the most fit claimed a population of plants or animals would shift in composition and character over generations because the most successful also generate the most offspring. His proposal necessitated we accept many ideas:

  • life on Earth is very, very ancient,
  • the fossil record documents some kinds of organisms that have gone extinct,
  • species are not fixed (their nature changes overtime),
  • variation occurs naturally in populations of living organisms
  • a mode of inheritance conveys characteristics from one generation to the next
  • the origins of newly evolved kinds of plants and animals have ancient roots.

1854 Tennyson“…Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die…”The Charge of the Light Brigade A reading by the author was recorded in 1890 in Edison wax cylinders. 

Botanists knew much of this makes sense, and understood the implication that new species have arisen from ancestral species – over great periods of time. But thoughts had been nebulous; Darwin’s clearly-written concept of evolution altered the fundamental meaning of a ‘chain of life’, which would become interpreted as a chain of descent, all species having descended from earlier ancestors. The fallout of this reasoning is that the ancestry of all existing flowering plants might be traced to some early kind, a plant that thrived in populations hundreds of millions of years ago. The unavoidable implications for plant systematics are that:

  • plant species, though recognized by distinctive physical characteristics (morphology), are better defined based on reproductive behavior and population structure than physical characteristics alone;
  • hierarchical categories (Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species) should reflect historical patterns of origin and divergence; and
  • the workings of heredity, soon to emerge as molecular biology/cell biology, would become important for a field of study that had been purely descriptive.

The Origin also placed contemporary biology in opposition to church doctrine. Just as Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler had forced reconsideration of Biblical fundamentals concerning the centrality of Earth; Evolution challenged literal interpretations of Creation. Since writings of Augustine, 1500 years earlier, the seven days of Creation had been viewed as contracted to a single instant – the living world we know was believed to have come into being as a single thought. Adam and Eve, and their progeny, were assigned a task to name creatures, a living bounty which was there for human use. It was ingratious, even forbidden, to question this gift; our assignment was to take dominion, to manage it all. (We have not done this very well.)

Moreover, questioning Darwin’s synthesis remained viable because the genetic mechanism (the source of variability and control) was unknown. The cell nucleus had only been sighted in 1830 (by Robert Brown), and chromosomes were yet to be described.

But answers would emerge soon. At the very moment the greatest debate swirled around Darwin, Gregor Mendel and his fellow Brothers at St. Thomas’s Abbey (Augustinian) in Brno were eating a lot of peas. Mendel’s trials in hybridizing peas and recording the results were exhaustive – thousands of crosses made and marked, scored and tallied yielding a lot of shelled peas that were never wasted. Mendel realized that the likelihood of traits (such as plant stature, the color or texture of individual peas, or flower color) showing up in a population of plants could be predicted if you understood the parentage. He learned from an early experiment, for example, that a cross between flowers of a tall and a short plant would yield seed that all grow to be tall. However, seed from thefollowing generation (when plants of the first generation are self- pollinated) yielded some plants that revert to the short stature – in a predictable ratio of one short to three tall plants. Not only did Mendel record the data; he did the math.

By the end of the 19th century, the biological world was ready for a new reality, which would be the understanding of genetic control over growth and inheritance. Pure and applied sciences had advanced in this and many other profound ways. But that growth cannot be disentangled from changes in industrial technology, which led to upheavals in all areas of life and culture.  Electricity would begin to power lighting and new kinds of equipment, which meant research laboratories could operate at all hours and utilize a rapidly developing battery of of support and analytical equipment.

Development of petrol-powered engines, which began a century earlier, reached the point of practicality, which meant automobiles, trucks, tanks, ships, and new types of manufacturing would emerge. Bertha Ringer Benz (Karl Benz’s spouse) made a spontaneous 104 kilometer drive in a newly-built Benz Motorwagen (on 5 August 1888) from Mannheim to Pforzheim, reporting her successful arrival to Karl by telegram.

But it was not just Bertha who was empowered or labs that were electrified. At the turn of the century, scientists could record and publish images using photography, type research papers, and communicate live through telephone. They could travel between meetings by rail. Both x-rays and radio waves had been recently described, and we would soon enough explore structure smaller than could be seen through light microscopes, as well as realize the potential of energetic rays to cause mutation.

Dmitri Mendeleev and Julius Meyer had charted the elements in periodic tables (1869 and 1870), and researchers were busy filling in blanks. Industrial research labs were dedicated to uncovering the secrets of organic chemistry, based on new realization that carbon atoms link together to form macromolecules.  The stage was set for the 20th century. Greek science was history and Pandora’s box wasopen.


Botanically, scientists understood that life is cellular, that cells give rise to new cells, and cell organelles (nuclei, chloroplasts, mitochondria) replicate themselves. In 1900, Mendel’s work came to light in coordination with similarly-oriented studies by several research teams. Genetic understanding crystallized as dreams of Mendelian inheritance allowed researchers to make new sense of their own observations. Within three years, chromosomes were confirmed as the location of genes in cells, and by 1913 the first genes had been mapped. Genetics emerged as the most important new field of research in biology, and Thomas Hunt Morgan’s group at New York’s Columbia University was in the thick of it.

Just as the world of biology was re-invented based on Darwinian and Mendelian ideas, the Newtonian revolution in physical sciences yielded to Rutherford and Einstein. An atom was no longer the smallest imaginable unit of matter, while the light year and parsec would become the units by which we gauge the cosmos.

Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first recorded flights were in 1903, and in 1913, Henry Ford’s newly organized assembly line turned out 300,000 Model T cars. Suddenly, it seemed, high-end technology and cutting edge science were establishing strong centers west of the Atlantic Ocean.

“On the night of 1-2 March 1943, an Allied bombing raid caused a devastating fire that swept through the herbarium of the Berlin Botanical Garden, destroying all material from many plant families…” Vorontsova, M. & S. Knapp, Taxon 59(5):1585

But the remarkable kickstart in genetics, indeed much pure biological research, turned quiet as World War I struck the European centers of research. While technology  and physical sciences moved ahead rapidly, the forces of biological discovery in the first half of the 20th century were disrupted through disaster and diaspora as scientists escaped (or not) the devastation of European conflicts. Labs and institutions were diverted to war effort, or even destroyed. The great Berlin herbarium suffered huge losses through Allied bombing campaigns.

Amazingly though, progress was made in understanding plants during this demi-century (or perhaps demonic-century). Plant physiology advanced through:

  • applied studies in pathology (with significant research into fungal activity and disease),
  • crop improvement led USDA scientists Allard and Garner to initiate studies in the ways daylength controls plant growth and development,
  • study of plant hormones came (Auxins by Wendt, 1926),
  • suggestion by Gottlieb Haberlandt of potential for plant tissue culture with his 1902 publication “Culturversuche mitisolierten Pflanzenzellen” – an idea finally achieved three decades later in the independent work of Gautheret, Nobécourt, and White.
  • various advances in cell biology, including discovery of mitochondria.

Biosystematics was born (see Clausen, Keck, and Heisey, 1948), combining cytology, ecology, pollination ecology, population biology, chemo-taxonomy, and every other -ology or -otomy in order to appreciate the nature of plant species. Through these biological approaches, taxonomists hoped to shed light on how species evolved and organize plants so as to reflect their natural relationships.

Realization that plants and animals share biologies led to an obvious conclusion they also share ancestries. But that simple understanding was hard wrought. It was not until 1944, with work by numerous researchers during WWII that scientists accepted the reality that deoxyribonucleic acid (now called DNA) is the molecular basis for heredity. The code that allows us to relate sequences of nucleobases in DNA to the construction of proteins was not clearly explained until 1965.

1950➛ Recent

What has happened in my lifetime (I was born in 1950)? In the year of my birth, German entomologist Willi Hennig published his intense and arcane book, Grundzüge einer Theorie der phylogenetischen Systematik, establishing a new, comprehensive methodology for systematics. Eventually, botanists would adopt Hennig’s ideas and vocabulary, as biosystematics gave way to phylogenetic systematics. Plant Systematists in 2020 would assume their goal is to organize the plant kingdom in a cladistic system reflecting the evolutionary origins and relationships of extant species. One result has been new understanding as to the origins of flowering plants (which Darwin called “an abominable mystery.”   See: W. E. Friedman, 2009. The meaning of Darwin’s ‘abominable mystery’,  Am J. Bot 96(1)5-21.)

Access to TEM (transmission electron microscopy) and SEM (scanning electron microscopy) gave researchers access to new levels of resolution. Traditional light microscopy had allowed exploration of cellular details at 1,000×, but the new techniques and technologies allowed resolution as great as 500,000×, and meant the cell and its components were revealed as more complexly organized and structured than had been imagined. Laissez faire concepts of organelles floating in a gel-like cytoplasm are replaced by highly detailed visions of a cytoskeleton made of microfilaments and microtubules, one that orchestrates the industrial complex that is a cell. And traditional ideas of animal vs. vegetable have blurred as all living cells seem to harbor components of previously free ranging microbes. Most significantly, the “endosymbiont” concept explains why mitochondria and chloroplasts have their own genetics and multiply somewhat independently of the mother ship (the cell they inhabit).

In the same vein, early ecological ideas that certain groups of plants host soil-borne fungi in symbiotic relationships have given way to realization that symbiosis is the rule rather than the exception. Smaller yet, in 1950, Myron Brakke (working in plant pathology at Brooklyn Botanic Garden) developed a centrifugation technique that became a standard tool in purifying virus samples. This refinement became important as work with viruses moved outside concern with pathologies, as the particular capabilities of virus became a tool for transferring genetic material.

So it is not possible to disentangle successes in phylogenetic studies or advances in agriculture and cytology from the biggest stories since 1950, which relate to the unfurling of DNA and seismic gains in scientific understanding as to how plants (indeed all living organisms) control their reproduction, growth, and development. Watson and Crick published their model for the structure of DNA in 1953, which meant that in short order scientists understood how linear sequences of nucleobases provide templates for constructing proteins and perpetuate themselves. That was monumental, but one is hard pressed to explain in a few sentences the importance of discoveries in genetics and cell biology, and the impact of new understanding and techniques.

Francis Bacon was on target in this area. He could not, of course, have predicted anything about current capabilities and possibilities in the many areas that have opened. What would have seemed confirming for Bacon is the direct relationship between research in genetics and application to medicine and industry. He believed that detailed trials and analysis should be the hallmark of science, which would then advance human capacity. In plant biology, techniques and understanding developed across the range of biology further our ability to explain how plants function. Recent botany/plant biology texts explain plant structure and biology in the context of genetic control (re: Functional Biology of Plants, 2012, Martin Hodson and John Bryant, Wiley-Blackwell), attempting to explain the molecular biology of development and control – the myriad molecular events that take place in order for a plant to grow.

This is a new world, one in which humans can understand and manipulate the mechanisms that control plant life (in fact, all life). It is the world of techno-science, in which technologies drive our both our ability and desire to know.

Having the keys to the kingdom, what can be done? Of course, anyone will be aware of the debate over GMOs (OMG!), and the drivers behind genetic modification of major crops. Today, technicians can alter plant instructions (genetics) to alter resistance to disease and insects, which could mean crops can be cultivated with less need for pesticide applications. People can directly modify plant genetics to improve shelf-life, or flavor. Plants might be introduced with their own capacity to fix nitrogen, thus eliminating the need for use of certain fertilizers. Or plants can be invested with the power to generate useful chemicals, such as vitamins or medicines that could improve health.

This does not make the miracle of life any less astonishing; in fact we become increasingly aware of the richly integrated complexity that drives cells and organisms, reminiscent of sentiments in Robert Frost’s poem, Microscopic.


A speck that would have been beneath my sight
On any but a paper sheet so white
Set off across what I had written there.
And I had idly poised my pen in air
To stop it with a period of ink
When something strange about it made me think,
This was no dust speck by my breathing blown,
But unmistakably a living mite
With inclinations it could call its own.
It paused as with suspicion of my pen,
And then came racing wildly on again
To where my manuscript was not yet dry;
Then paused again and either drank or smelt--
With loathing, for again it turned to fly.
Plainly with an intelligence I dealt.
It seemed too tiny to have room for feet,
Yet must have had a set of them complete
To express how much it didn't want to die.
It ran with terror and with cunning crept.
It faltered: I could see it hesitate;
Then in the middle of the open sheet
Cower down in desperation to accept
Whatever I accorded it of fate.
I have none of the tenderer-than-thou
Collectivistic regimenting love
With which the modern world is being swept.
But this poor microscopic item now!
Since it was nothing I knew evil of
I let it lie there till I hope it slept.

I have a mind myself and recognize
Mind when I meet with it in any guise
No one can know how glad I am to find
On any sheet the least display of mind. 

Robert Frost

In Summary:

What is Science?

Contemporary thought positions science as apart from arts; contemporary politics position science as that antagonist to religion.  Both concepts seem wrong to me.  Modern science has little to do with classical knowing, what we call science today is the child of technology – having developed based on instrumentation, industrialization, and individualism.

Science is an act of human creativity, with the simple goal of explaining and exploiting living nature and the material world. By that reckoning, science is one of the arts, interpreting and expressing the world.

What do we know about plants today?

This is, of course, a very open-ended question, one that much of the Reader has been dedicated to addressing. But it’s worthwhile attempting a simpler response, an annotated outline fleshing out basic understanding through addressing basic questions.

1.1. We know that plants share their most ancient origin with other living beings, an origin that manifests itself in the fundamental structure and function. 1.2. Like other life forms, plants are cellular, building themselves through the choreography of cell division. 1.3.Instructions guiding nature and timing of cell growth and development are conserved and passed down as genetic information in long DNA double helices. Scientists have learned much about how those instructions work. 1.4.Beginning in the late 20th Century, researchers have been able to alter an organism’s genetic makeup, creating new forms of life.

2.1. Though a plant is built of millions, even trillions of cells, many of those cells are dead at functional maturity. 2.2.Only the living cells carry on life processes, which require energy captured in chemical bonds, stored in a variety of compounds, and processed through precise and elaborate mechanisms. 2.3.Only living cells can continue growth and development, growth that occurs at the tips, from points, and peripherally, along the edges. 2.4. By that, I mean plants grow outward from a core, always conquering new territory. Vines creep and twine, trees tower and overarch, herbs mound, grasses run, bulbs cluster.  And, of course, only living cells can propagate new individuals.

  • Botanists still speak of plant growth as primary and secondary. Primary growth, characteristic of all plants, produces new stem, leaves, flowers, and fruit, as well as new roots through cell division in apical meristems – tip growth.
  • Secondary growth varies in format, but basically results from development of thin layers of cells, usually call lateral meristems., that can produce layers oftissue.

3.1. In simplest terms, plants make three basic kinds of structures – roots, stems, and leaves. 3.2. Roots (like stems) grow from points; many also develop secondary growth. But roots differ internally from stems. And they tend to grow down, responding to gravity, as well as other stimuli. 3.3.Stems follow a similar pattern, exploring new territory from tips and (in many instances) able to produce thickening tissue through secondary growth.

3.4. Stems, however, show much greater structure and organization than roots. 3.5. The growing tip, which archetypically started with an embryo, gives rise to the stems, leaves, and their many derivative structures; it “lays down” the mature plant framework through modular architecture, employing iterative, nodular growth.

3.6. The stem growing tip also makes the leaves, which means leaves are all primary growth.3.7. And there are countless different kinds of plant productions that are made by the growing tip similarly to the way in which normal green leaves are made. To a botanist, therefore, bracts, spines, sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils are simply specialized leaves.

4.1.We see, in plant roots, stems, and leaves, specializations, i.e. adaptations, that make them successful components of their native habitats, allowing plants live in so many different circumstances and co-exist with other organisms in many kinds of symbiotic, mutualistic, even destructive relationships. 4.2. That success, of course, means plants must reproduce and distribute themselves effectively.

4.3. As soil science continues to expand understanding of biotic relationships between plants and other organisms, we appreciate the web of life that makes soil a biological complex necessary for plants to take in water and nutrients.

5.1. Today we can explain the physiological nature of plants and the ways they interact with the environment, from responses to environmental stimuli to the movement of water through tissues. 5.2.Scientists have detailed how the power of sunlight is captured, converted to chemical energy, and utilized to drive every life process.

6.1. And researchers have a reasonable grasp on Earth’s plant diversity, even how that diversity has evolved over hundreds of millions of years.

  • We understand there are significant similarities between plants and animals. Theyboth:
  • 7.1.a.Utilize many of the same metabolic processes, such as respiration and conversion of simple sugars to starches, fats, and aminoacids.
  • 7.1.b. Operate from genetic instructions coded in DNA and transcribed toproteins.
  • 7.1.c. Are mostly water.
  • 7.1.d. Evolve through similarprocesses.
  • On the other hand, plants and animals differ considerably. Plants:
  • 7.2.a. Generate cells that are immediately distinguishable from those of animals, with basically different mechanisms for dividing and for maintainingstructure.
  • 7.2.b. Make fibrous and woody tissues that allow them to take on large 3-dimensional shapes, but they do not havebones.
  • 7.2.c.Move fluids (water, sap, sugar solutions), but there is no circulatory system, and certainly nothing like aheart.
  • 7.2.d. Sense and respond to environmental cues, but they do not have nervous systems. And they do not think or feel pain.
  • 7.2.e. Respire (in a chemical sense) and exchange gases with the atmosphere, but there is no system of lungs or mechanism for activebreathing.
  • 7.2.f. Reproduce themselves and colonize areas in multitudinous ways, both differently and more variously thananimals.
  • 7.2.g. Produce epidermal tissue very differently from that of our skin. And plant hairs (trichomes) are are cells, while animal hair is proteinextrusion.
  • 7.2.h.“Make their own food” – which is to say: Plants make glucose and other sugars through capturing the energy of sunlight and using that energy to fix atmospheric carbon dioxide intocarbohydrates.
  • 7.2.i.In general, plants disperse through pollination as well as fruit and seed production, while most animals are individuallymobile.
  • 7.2.j.Plants are among life forms we call producers; they generate and elaborate fixed carbon which provides sustenance for many other life forms. Plants also create habitat and materials on which other life formsdepend.
    • Prior to 1600, most understanding of plants was based on simple and practical agricultural experience along with steadily growing wild harvest of everything from timber to medicinal herbs. Cultural demand and economic exploitation drove discovery and advances in planttaxonomies.Though there is no evidence for planned selection of crop plants, it is evident humans have actively improved important edible plants such as corn, wheat, and other grasses, as well as flax, cotton, and other fiber crops. This means people certainly appreciated plant variation and realized (at least in a rudimentary way) that like would yield like. For future scientists, all areas of plant study are open for further investigation. Wonders do not cease; there remains much to be discovered and brought to service. Most importantly, time to make many discoveries is quickly vanishing as the natural world is imperiled through our own activity. The only hope for preserving some of that world rests in our capacity to learn more quickly and act on the truths revealed.


c1,660 BCE – A Sumerian clay tablet (Nagpur) was inscribed with reference to about 250 plants, including poppy, henbane, and mandrake. (The Largest Surviving Medical Treatise from Ancient Mesopotamia, Circa 1,600 BCE ; R. Campbell Thompson, 1923. Assyrian Medical Texts from the Originals in the British Museum – available free online.; R. Campbell Thompson, 1924. The Assyrian herbal, … a monograph on the Assyrian vegetable drugs, the Royal society, March 20, 1924.

2,500 BC – Emperor Shen Nung’s Pen T’Sao references 365 plants used medicinally, including Chinese rhubarb, camphor, and ginseng. willow, juniper, etc.

c1550 BC – The Luxor Papyrus was written in Thebes (Egypt), referencing about 700 plants used medicinally, including aloe, castor bean, garlic, onion,and fig.The 20 meter-long scroll is more formally called the Ebers Papyrus, based on its acquisition by Georg Ebers from Edwin Smith in1873/74.

c800 BC – The epic tales, The Odysseys and The Iliad, include references to 63 different plants used medicinally.

c379 BC – Writings attributed to Hippocrates describe effects of about 300 different plants, such as garlic, sea onion, opium, nightshade, mandrake, parsley, haselwort, celery, asparagus, oak, and pomegranate.

c287 BC – Theophrastus, in his two works, refers to about 500 different kinds of plants with medicinal value.

c 50 AD – Celsus referenced approximately 250 plant species used medicinally, including, aloe, cardamom, cinnamon, flax, gentian, henbane, pepper, and poppy.

c77 AD – Dioscorides described 944 drugs derived from 657 plant sources. Examples include camomile, coriander, garlic, alse hellebore, ivy, marsh mallow, nettle, sage, sea onion, and willow.

c79 AD – Pliny the Elder commented on about 1,000 medicinal plants in his Historia naturalis.

c160 AD – Cato’s de Agri Cultura is considered one of the oldest intact Roman prose documents.

165-180 AD – Antonine Plague

c200 AD-Galen   (Saskia Klerk, 2013. Dissertation: Galen reconsidered. Studying drug properties and the foundations of medicine in the Dutch Republic ca.1550-1700)

541-542 The Plague of Justinian

814 AD – Charles the Great established a medical school in Salerno. His Capitularies mandated about 100 medicinal plants to be cultivated, including sage, sea onion, iris, mint, poppy and marsh mallow.

850 AD? – Yūhannā ibn Māsawaih (in English: John Mesue) penned Opera Medicinalia, a trilogy of pharmaceutical texts utilized around the Mediterranean. Said to be a product of the 9th century, there remain serious issues! Many earlier texts support the idea that Mesue lived and wrote before 900 AD, while De Vos clearly indicates the Opera shows every sign of having been written in the 13th century, with no indication of an Arabic version. The earliest extant manuscript dates to 1251. Despite mysterious origins, the text was incredibly influential. A version by Jacques Dubois, entitled De rei medica, went through 17 editions between 1532 and 1635. (see Paula De Vos, 2013. “The “Prince of Medicine”: Yūḥannā ibn Māsawayh and the Foundations of the Western Pharmaceutical Tradition” Isis 104(4):667-712.)

850 AD The Nikeian pharmacological codex was written

1037 Ibn Sīnā’s (Avicenna’s) Canon Medicinae (Al-Qanun fi’l- tibb; The Canon of Medicine) Volume 2 of the 5 part Canon lists approximately 800 medical sources (plant, animal, and mineral in origin) and Volume 5 represents 650 compound preparations that remained part of pharmaceutical practice for centuries. (Jamal Moosavi, 2009. “The Place of Avicenna in the History of Medicine”, Avicenna J Med Biotechnol. 1(1): 3–8. PMCID: PMC3558117 PMID: 23407771

1085 Return of Toledo (Spain) to Christian control, the “reconquista.” Though Europeans had made noteworthy strides to learn more about Arabian intellectual life (Gerbert of Aurillac), the floodgates seem to have opened with the fall of Toledo. Extensive manuscript collections, including Arabic versions of ancient Greek texts, became available for translation to Latin and other vernacular languages. One series of manuscripts to come out of Spain was the Secretum secretorum, an encyclopedic work that entered European conversation in short and long versions. The apparent restoration of this and many other works that previously had not been available to European scholars helped revitalize interest in ancient texts, most particularly Aristotelian traditions. The reconciliation of classical reasoning and approaches to science with church doctrine regarding the hubris of intellectual advancement (a legacy of Augustinian thought) would play out over the next several centuries as classical formal education and liturgical development came to reconciliation. (Eamon, 1994)

1248 Liber Magnae Colletionis Simplicum Alimentorum Et Medicamentorum is attributed to Ibn Baitar, describing more than 1,000 medicinal plants.

1256 – 1269 Thomas Aquinas made several writings available that resolved church doctrine with natural philosophy, a convention termed Thomism that has had a long philosophical run. Three centuries later (1567), Pope Pius V proclaimed Thomas Aquinas a Doctor of the Church; yet another three centuries afterward, in August, 1879, Pope Leo
XIII issued an encyclical establishing Aquinas’s theology as Catholic doctrine. For centuries, therefore, in the words of Peter Dear (2009): “In practice if not always in principle, natural philosophy and theology had become inextricably linked.” Many more recent scholars and researchers, notably Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon, and Charles Darwin would come to refine or refute Thomism. (Unsurprisingly, Lorenzo Valla did not buy into any resolution that incorporated Aristotelian logic into church doctrine. Having been invited in 1457 to deliver an encomium on the occasion of Aquinas’ anniversary for Dominicans in Rome’s Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Valla instead delivered a critique. Encyclopaedia Britannicaon-line)

1267 Roger Bacon, due to the brief papacy of his supporter Pope Clement IV, was given a window of time during which to submit his Opus majus manuscript, introducing his explanation and reasoning for bringing classical discussion and popular secrets (working techniques and formulae) into church intellectual life. Bacon’s ideas were in continual conflict with Augustinian concerns about pursuit of forbidden knowledge (the knowledge that had gotten Adam and Eve in trouble).

1334 The Black Death

1455 Gutenberg printed a Bible, the first produced utilizing moveable type. His innovation proved of immediate significance. Ancient texts, available previously only in hand
scribed versions, would now be printed. Publication of new herbals and simples advanced quickly.

1462 Inspired by George Gemistos (Plethon), Cosimo de’ Medici (of Florence) decided to re-create Plato’s Academy (in Florence).  Selecting Marcilio Ficino as the leader, he  provided Greek manuscript of Platonic material, which Ficino translated to Latin (published in 1484.)  Those labours include additional works, such as the Hermetica. Ficino is considered the first writer to invoke the termprisca theologia, which crystallized ideas that all religions are of one. Christian scientists of the 15th-17th centuries embraced Hermetics in support of the concept that Christianity culminates a single chain oftheologies.

1488“ Saladino Ferre D’Ascoli, chief physician to the Prince of Taranto, published his Compendium aromatariumin Bologna, Italy. Hailed as “the first modern treatise on pharmacy,” the work was, in many ways, the culmination of a medieval tradition in pharmacy that had developed from a combination of Greco-Roman, European, and Arabic sources.” (Paula De Vos, 2013. “The “Prince of Medicine”: Yūḥannā ibn Māsawayh and the Foundations of the Western Pharmaceutical Tradition” Isis 104(4): 667-712.)

1492 Colon – Christopher Columbus embarked on his first journey, returning to Spain 15 March 1493.

1492 Venetian Ermolao Barbaro published Castigationes Plinianae, a popular and influential editing of Pliny’s Natural History, which featured 5,000 corrections to Pliny’s text.

1497 First publication of a manuscript copy of of Circa instans. From the Wellcome Library Blog, 20/02/2017: “A medieval medical bestseller: the ‘Circa instans’, by Iolanda Ventura: “The success of the ‘Circa instans’ resulted from its pragmatic, user-friendly structure, which made it especially useful to medical practitioners. The collection provides a selection of about 270 natural substances derived from plants, animals and minerals. Plants are the most consistently represented category, with everyday, readily available substances appearing more frequently than rare or exotic ones. The text is structured in alphabetical order, regardless of whether the substance is mineral, vegetal or animal in origin. This alphabetical organisation made it easier to search for a specific item within the text.”

1499 Vasco de Gama returned from his fractured 2-year journey which opened trade with India through sailing around Africa’s Cape.

c1500 By this time, there were likely 300 distinct selected varieties of corn (Zea mays) grown in Mexico and Central America. George Beadle, “The Ancestry of Corn” (1980) writes: “the development of corn by the Indians remains man’s most remarkable plant-breeding achievement.” (Scientific American, 242(1): 112-119 (January 1980)

1503 The Spanish monarchy established its Casa del Contratación in Seville, to both gather navigational information and train pilots. This was followed in 1524 with the Consejo de Indias in Madrid, conceived to gather information on the geography and natural history of the Americas. (Dear, 2009)

1517 Martin Luther selected All Hallows’ Eve to post his Ninety-five Theses (the ‘Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences’) at the entry to the Wittenberg All Saints’ Church. Luther’s statement went viral, and is said to one of the first socio-political uses of European printing. Many people celebrate Halloween as Reformation Day, reminding us that Western culture and history were considerably altered by the Reformation, the start of which is often pegged to Luther’s Disputation. One could argue that botany (indeed natural history and science generally as independent disciplines) was unlocked by the Reformation, freeing people to consider the curiosities of nature, study that had emerged as taboo since the time of Augustine of Hippo.

Augustine (City of God Against the Pagans, c 426 AD, etc.) argued that Creation was instantaneous, and would be incomprehensible to humans. Christian doctrine evolved in Europe’s Middle Ages to trivialize, even discourage study of nature. The task assigned to humans was to name things, knowledge as to the workings of nature was not the business of humans, questioning the rationale of Creation was forbidden.

1536 French botanist Jean Ruel published De Natura Stirpium, described as the earliest attempt to popularize and democratize plant studyCharles Plumier recognized his contributions through naming the genus Ruellia.

1536-1541 Dissolution of Monasteries in England, by Henry VIII, involved confiscation of about 800 monasteries, abbeys, and other communal church properties….

1543 Andreas Vesalius published De humani corporis fabrica libri septem, which though not his first book (nor the first published on human anatomy) was certainly a groundbreaking moment in explanation of human musculature and skeletal structure.

1569 Gerardus Mercator (Flemish) introduced his world map based on ‘projections’ that included rhumb lines, which show navigation courses as straight lines. (Mercator and Vesalius were contemporaneous students at the University ofLeuven)

1574 In Seville, Spanish scholar Nicholás Monardes published Primera y segunda y tercera partes de la historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales,que sirven en medicina; Tratado de la piedra bezaar, y dela yerva escuerçonera; Dialogo de las grandezas del hierro, y de sus virtudes medicinales; Tratado de la nieve, y del beuer frio, the complete tract of his evolving book on useful (medicinal) plants from the Americas. Translated to Latin by Charles de l’Écluse, and then to English by John Frampton in 1577, Joyfull newes (Joyfull newes out of the newe founde worlde, wherein is declared the rare and singular vertues of diuerse and sundrie hearbes, trees, oyles, plantes, and stones, with their applications, as well for phisicke as chirurgerie) caused quite a sensation, running through additional translations and printings. It is a charming, small
volume that is freely available on-line. Monardes treats a selection of plants he believes will change the world. One is tobacco, concerning which Monardes’ dedicated supporter, Juan de Cardenas, wrote: “To seek to tell the virtues and greatness of this holy herb, the ailments which can be cured by it, and have been, the evils from which it has saved thousands would be to go on to infinity…this precious herb is so general a human need not only for the sick but for the healthy.” (J. Worth Estes , 1995. “The European Reception of the First Drugs from the New World,” Pharmacy in History, 37(1): 3-23. American Institute of the History of Pharmacy Stable URL:;also, Wikipedia, 2018)

1576 Cocolitzli Epidemic – Mexico

1581 Robert Norman, in his treatise The Newe Attractive, described use and values of magnets (lodestones) in navigation.

1582 The Gregorian Calendar, a solar calendar, was developed and introduced.

1600 William Gilbert’s De Magnete established the concept of Earth’s magnetic field, introducing the word electricus (“like amber,” as a term for static electricity, observed with amber), which was adopted by Thomas Browne in 1646 as the word electricity. Gilbert reflects a growing sentiment against satisfaction with classical ways of knowing: “men are deplorably ignorant with respect to natural things, and modern philosophers, as though dreaming in the darkness, must be aroused and taught the use of things, the dealing with things; they must be made to quit the sort of learning that comes only from books, and that rests on on vain arguments from probability and upon conjectures” (Dear, 2009)

1600“Science as we now know it began about 1600, when the great Italian investigator Galileo popularized the procedure of applying quantitative methods to observation, of making accurate measurements, and of abstracting generalizations that could be expressed as simple mathematical relationships.” (Isaac Asimov, 1962, The Genetic Code)

1601Philosophia epicurea, democritiana, theophrastica was published by Nicholas Hill

1609 Kepler’s Astronomia Nova “introduced the first two of his three laws of planetary motion: 1) that the planets orbit in ellipses with the sun at one focus, and 2) … their radii sweep out equal areas in equal times…, that the planets do not move uniformly.” (McClellan and Dorn, 2015)

1611 Commenting on the heady development of new ideas in science, John Donne penned:

“new Philosophy calls all in doubt, The Element of fire is quite put out;
The Sun is lost, and th’earth, and no man’s wit Can well direct him where to look for it.”

1620 – Publication of Novum Organum Scientiarum by Francis Bacon. Bacon ascribed human accomplishment to observation, experiment, and objective fact, noting that high points in human achievement included printing, gunpowder, and the magnet. ‘For these three have changed the wholeface and state of things throughout the world, insomuch that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries.’ In spirit and method, Bacon predicts development of modern scientific methods. arguing against Greek models of deductive (top down) reasoning, and in favor of inductive (bottom up) methods. In Bacon’s world, observations and study would avoid prejudices, which he called “idols of the tribe” (preconceptions passed down through th community), “idols of the cave” (individual predilections), “idols of the market” (decisions driven by economics), and “idols of the theater” (cultural dogma, such as classic assumptions).  As stated in his first aphorism: “Man, the servant and interpreter of nature, does and understands only as much as he has observed, by fact or mental activity, concerning the order of nature; beyond that he has neither knowledge norpower.”

1628 – At the height of his career, William Harvey introduced his book Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (An Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Living Beings), also called De Motu Cordis, to a growingly professional audience. Harvey established the quantities of blood flowing through human bodies, making clear this was a matter of circulation.(Harvey was not clear as to how the large quantity of blood could pass through tissues and then return, but in 1660, Marcello Malpighi described capillaries in frogs, explaining how such quantities of blood could physically circulate.)

1636-1637 Following growing interest in horticultural flower forms, tulips became the center of financial speculation in Holland. Numerous books and articles have described the details of exploding interest in beautiful and curious variations in floral form and color patterning. Collectors and investors rushed to capitalize on the newest and most exotic selections, inflating prices for bulbs to untenable heights. An inability of traders to meet purchase debts triggered abrupt sell-off that quickly led to market collapse, resulting in a multi-year downturn for the Dutch economy.

1643 Evangelista Torricelli began experiments that demonstrate the air has weight, inventing the barometer in the process. Even Torricelli’s mentor Galileo had accepted historical assumptions that air is weightless. The new idea impacted many considerations, such as the nature of a vacuum, and character of atmosphere at various altitudes. Blaise Pascal furthered Torricelli’s work, and by 1648 Pascal’s prediction that air would weigh less at higher altitudes was confirmed when his brother-in-law, Pierre Petit ascended Puy de Dome taking measurements with a mercury barometer.

1646 – Thomas Browne introduced the word electricity. in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Enquiries into very many received tenets and commonly presumed truths, in which Browne (though a supporter of alchemy) condemns superstitions of the time. Pseudodoxia Epidemica evidences Browne’s support for Francis Bacon’s empirical methods.

Subjects covered include the nature of errors and fallacies through to concerns of the cosmos, thus we consider him a harbinger of future science, though we also understand Browne was regarded of nearly spiritual significance by alchemists (read the curiosities concerning theft and recovery of his skull). Browne’s library (and that of his son) were acquired in 1711 by Hans Sloan, and thus incorporated with founding collections of the British Library. (Wikipedia, 2018)

1648 Jean Baptiste van Helmont reported on his experiment in plant physiology and nutrition. A five pound willow tree was planted in 200 pounds of dry soil. It was watered and allowed to grow for five years. At the end of this period, the total gain in weight was one hundred and sixty-nine pounds and three ounces, while the soil had lost only two ounces. As an alchemist,Van Helmont assumed that water is a complex substance which is changed into plant material. Van Helmont did not mention publication of the idea for such an experiment two centuries earlier by Nicolus of Cusa [see 1450; also see John Woodward, 1699], or make associations between plant growth and gas exchange. David Hersey, Misconceptions about Helmont’s Willow Experiment, 2003, in Plant Science Bulletin on line, 48(3): 78. Von Helmontwas
considered the successor to Paracelsus, and a believer in the Alkahest as the universal analyzer (solvent.)

1649 Nicholas Culpeper published his herbal, The English Physitian (subtitled: Astrologo-physical Discourse of the Vulgar Herbs of this Nation Being a Compleat Method of Physic Whereby a man may preserve his body in health or cure himself being sick for thee pence charge with such things onely as grow in England, they being most fit for English Bodies.) The English physician dealt considerably with astrology and the signatures of plants. (Sanecki, 1992) But Culpeper was not a quack, rather he was quite the iconoclast, infuriating other physicians by offering free services and insisting that medicines should be inexpensive. His philosophy seemed to be: “Three kinds of people mainly disease the people – priests, physicians and lawyers – priests disease matters belonging to their souls, physicians disease matters belonging to their bodies, and lawyers disease matters belonging to their estate.” Culpeper died at the age of 37, from a battle wound.

1650 John Evererard published his English translation of The Pymander of Hermes.

1651 Rerum medicarum Novae Hispaniae… (HNT) was published, 80 years late. This work resulted from one of the earliest explorations of the natural history of the New World, made in 1570 by Francisco Hernández, private physician to Philip II of Spain. He was sent to assess natural resources and reported on more than 1000 plants that were considered medicinally important by the natives of Mexico. Some of the plants he described and preserved as botanical specimens are now extinct.

1651 William Harvey’s Exercitationes de Generatione Animalium (On the Generation of Animals) was published, in which he explains that all animals come from eggs (ex ovo omnia). Without the benefit of a microscope (see 1665, Hooke; 1677 Leeuwenhoek), Harvey was not able to see individual eggs or sperm; he had to deduce their presence.

1652 Capetown was founded, though Europeans had known the site since 1488. The Dutch sent two ships to Table Bay, near Cape Town, South Africa to establish a garden to provide fresh foods and fruits for sailors on their voyages by the Cape of Good Hope. By 1679 the garden included ornamental plants from upcountry regions of Africa, as well as edible and decorative plants from China, Java, Zanzibar, etc. By 1700 plants native to Table Bay had become common in Holland. Among those plants were the calla (Zantedeschia aethiopica), bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae, named in honor of Queen Charlotte Sophia, wife of George III), and impatiens (Impatiens holsti). [See 1772]

1656 Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens is credited with inventing the pendulum clock (based on Galileo’s observations of the behavior of pendulums and proposed designs for such a device), followed by his 1673 book Horologium Oscillatorium. Huygens contributed extensively to astronomy and physics, best known for his works on centripetal force and in probabilities and theories on the nature of light. Later in his career, 1677, Huygens collaborated in areas of microscopy with the younger Dutch mathematician and lensmaker, Nicolaas Hartsoeker, who himself is often cited for his exposition of the homunculus theory in his 1694 Essay on dioptrics. (Wikipedia, 2019) Botanical Significance: For science, the pendulum clock became the most accurate method of time measurement over the next three centuries. It meant that by 1690, clocks with minute hands began to appear in the market.

1657 Gaspar Schott, of Germany, published Mechanica Hydraulico-Pneumatica, which described many trials with pumps and pressure. His is the first published description of a vacuum pump devised by Otto von Guericke, in Magdeburg. Paired copper hemispheres, once evacuated through a valve, could not be separated, even when pulled by a team of horses during a demonstration in 1656. Schott’s book is said to have inspired Robert Boyle in his studies of air.

1661 Robert Boyle carefully experimented with increase in plant biomass (as had van Helmont), reporting his results in his first book, The sceptical chymiste.Though an alchemist, Boyle rejected many of the more fanciful conceits in that realm, i.e. “experiments whereby vulgar Spagyrists are wont to endeavour to evince their Salt, Sulphur and Mercury to be the true Principles of Things.” In an effort to determine what had happened to the water taken up by plants, he actually boiled the liquid away from the plant tissue and found a coal- like residue.  He defines elements newly: “I now mean by
Elements, as those Chymists that speak plainest do by their Principles, certain Primitive and Simple, or perfectly unmingled bodies; which not being made of any other bodies, or of one another, are the Ingredients of all those call’d perfectly mixt Bodies are immediately compounded, and into which they are ultimately resolved.”

1662 Following Restoration of the English monarchy, The Royal Society of London was created through royal charter. Formation of the Society began as early as 1660, based on an “Invisible College” of like-minded intellectuals. The initiating group, a committee of 12, included: William Ball, Robert Boyle, William Brouncker, Alexander Bruce, Jonathan Goddard, Abraham Hill, Robert Moray, Paul Neil, William Petty, Lawrence Rook, John Wilkins, and Christopher Wren. John Wilkins, having been a supporter of Oliver Cromwell, was out of favor with the monarch, but remained associated with others in the committee based on his character, knowledge, and intellectual power. Wilkins maintained a remarkable network of correspondence, including communication with William Harvey, and friendship with Heinrich (Henry) Oldenburg, who (having early on become a member and corresponding secretary of the Royal Society) introduced the concept of peer review to scientific publication. The Ross-Wilkins Controversy forms the basis for the astronomical dialogue at the beginning of Book VIII in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. (Grant McColley, 1992 inJohn Wilkins and 17th-Century Linguistics

1662 Notes from lectures by Joachim Jung appear as De Plantis Doxoscopiae Physicae Minores and Isagoge Phytoscopica (which was not formally published until 1679). These publications express an increasingly modern approach to the study of plant morphology, including a strikingly contemporary definition of plant: “A plant is a living, non-sentient body, attached to a particular place or habitat, where it is able to feed, to grow in size, and finally to propagate itself.” Jung’s thoughts appear to have had great influence in later works, such as those of Ray, and eventually the publications of Linnaeus. (Morton, 1981)

1664 John Evelyn published Sylva: Or a Discourse on Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majestie’s Domain. Evelyn’s Sylvawas the first book published by London’s Royal Society, and remained the dominant English treatise on forestry for over a century. [See on-line: Gabriel Hemery, Nature507, 166–167 (13 March 2014) doi:10.1038/507166a, Published online 12 March 2014] (Campana, 1999)

1667 In his book Physica subterranea, German alchemist Johann Joachim Becker introduced the idea of terra pinguis, a flammable substance that is expended when material burns. With further work by German chemist Georg Ernst Stahl, the substance came to be known as Phlogiston (from the Greek for burning, Phlóx = flame.) As Johann Heinrich Pott (one of Stahl’s students) elaborated, phlogiston was considered the active ingredient in all materials, the basis of colors, and the main driver of fermentation. The phlogiston paradigm was patched together over a century as the only explanation for transfer of energy during combustion and fermentation, finally extinguished by the work of Lavoisier.

1665 In his Micrographia, Robert Hooke detailed the structure of cork and described “cells” as studied through a microscope that had been constructed for him. This is recognized as the first time the word cell was applied to what we now understand is the basic unit of life, though the cork Hooke studied was composed of dead cells, and he had no idea as to the contents and organization future research would reveal.

1668 John Wilkins’ Essay Toward a Real Character and a Philosophical Language was published. As a founding member of London’s Royal Society and a close associate of John Ray, Robert Hooke, and others, Wilkins influenced crucial advances in scientific thought. Even though considered a failure, Hooke’s Essay and development of a proposed language provoked Ray to develop a plant classification schema and more developed terminologies. (Aarsleff inSubbiondo, 1992) It also generated as much engagement through engendering critiques as the original essay formulated itself. From Sidonie Clauss essay: “…Wilkins probably intuited its failure, even from the start. But, as a scholar and teacher committed to theadvancement of learning and the consolidation of Christendom, he persevered in his life-long inquiry into the nature of language; conventional, recondite, universal, scientific, philosophical. While his ‘real character’ never became a
reality, the Essay did succeed in its primary objective of inspiring other attempts to improve the theory and practice of methods of obtaining, recording, and communicating knowledge.” (inSubbiondo, 1992)

1677“Leeuwenhoek discovered that the origin of semen was the testicles and was a committed preformationist and spermist. He reasoned that the movement of spermatozoa was evidence of animal life, which presumed a complex structure and, for human sperm, a soul.” (Wikipedia, 2019, citing David Friedman, 2001, A Mind of its Own: The Cultural History of the Penis, Freeman Press)

1679 French Hugenot Denis Papin, after having been employed to run experiments by Robert Boyle for three years, made a presentation to London’s Royal Society, describing his “steam digester” (the earliest pressure cooker.) By 1690, Papin held an academic position in Marburg, Germany, where he introduced his concepts for a steam-powered engine. (Wikipedia,2018)

1687 Isaac Newton’s Principiawas published, following up on earlier work on planetary motion. Highly technical and mathematical, Principia addressed problems of great antiquity and created mathematical models related to the motion of planets, the nature and pull of gravity, and the predictability of comets. (McClellan & Dorn, 2015)

1694 Rudolf Jacob Camerer (in Latin, Joachim Camerarius) wrote a scientific letter (later published by Valentini in his Polychresta exotica, 1700, HNT) that made the first clear case (with solid experimental evidence) for the nature of sex in plants and the actual role of pollen and ovule in this process.

1698 Thomas Savery introduced the first commercially-viable steam apparatus. His piston-less steam pump (the “miner’s friend”) was employed to pump water out of deepening coal mines in England. The pump was modified and re-invented over following decades, becoming part of the curious coming together underpinning the industrial revolution. (Wikipedia, 2018)

1704 Isaac Newton’s Optickswas published, summarizing his work of the past four decades. Addressing diffraction of light, his Opticks discusses the nature of white light and its refraction into the rainbow of colors. (McClellan & Dorn, 2015)

1712 History accepts this date for introduction, by Thomas Newcomen, of his atmospheric-engine, a practical piston-run steam engine employed for the same purpose as Savery’s vacuum pump – removing water that seeped and flooded into mines. Newcomen’s engine was improved and manufactured successfully over the next century. [See 1774, James Watt]

1714 Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, a Dutch scientist, devised the first sealed thermometer, which means it was not open to the air and thus not impacted by barometric pressure. His Fahrenheit scale was finely divided and remains in use (especially in the US). Andres Celsius proposed a metric scale in 1742, which adopted Huygen’s much earlier suggestion that 100 ºC scores the boiling point of water at one atmosphere,
and 0 ºC represents the freezing point (more accurately, the triple point of water). In 1848, William Thomson (later given the title Lord Kelvin) published his paper On an Absolute Thermometric Scale, in which he proposed a scale using zero as the lowest temperature (which he calculated as -273 ºC).That temperature was termed 0 ºK (degrees Kelvin) initially, and refined as -273.16 ºC. Today it is simply called kelvin (kelvins plural), like a kelvin (one degree Kelvin), or 5kelvins (suggesting a change of 5 degrees Kelvin or its equivalent of 5 degreesCelsius(Wikipedia,2019)

1717 Thomas Fairchild is credited with creating the firstbona fide pre-meditated plant hybrid.

1727, 1733 – Stephen Hales, a minister and resident of Teddington, Middlesex, was elected to the Royal Society in 1718, based on his tireless and somewhat grim studies of anatomy and circulation, as well as his studies of air and other physical phenomena. Using apparatus and techniques he developed, Hales established early understanding of the movement of water through plants, and concepts underlying transpiration. Beginning in 1727, Hales published two volumes describing physical measurements (staticks), the first on plants (Vegetable Staticks), and the second on animals (Haemastaticks). With plants, Hales is the first to observe that air is somehow taken into and becomes part of the substance of plants. Though recognized for so many contributions and fine traits, Hales was also chastised for some of his experimental studies with animals. As Thomas Twining commented (in his poem The Boat on Hales):

Green Teddington's serene retreat 
For Philosophic studies meet,
Where the good Pastor Stephen Hales
Weighed moisture in a pair of scales,
To lingering death put Mares and Dogs,
And stripped the Skins from living Frogs,
Nature, he loved, her Works intent
To search or sometimes to torment.

(Note: Hales was a founding Trustee for establishment of the Colony of Georgia, which became one of the original 13 US colonies, and in its earliest description stretched across North America to the Pacific Ocean) Reference: Eknoyan G. , 2016. “Stephen Hales: the contributions of an Enlightenment physiologist to the study of the kidney in health and disease.” G Ital Nefrol. 2016 Feb;33 Suppl 66:33.S66.5.; Rajni Govindjee and David Krogmann, 2004. “Discoveries in oxygenic photosynthesis (1727-2003): a perspective.”Photosynth Res. 2004;80(1-3):15-57. Hales was a friend of Alexander Pope, though Pope (a lover of dogs) is documented as having commented: “He (Hales) commits most of these barbarities with the thought of its being of use to man. But how do we know that we have a right to kill creatures that we are so little above as dogs, for our curiosity, or even for some use to us?”

1731 Alexander Pope, in AN EPISTLE To the Right Honourable RICHARD Earl of BURLINGTON, wrote:

  • Consult the genius of the place in all;
  • That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
  • Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale, Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
  • Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
  • Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades, Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines; Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

1754 Charles Bonnet, in Recherches sur l’usage des feuilles dans les plantes, observed that plants submerged in water and exposed to light emit bubbles (later determined to be oxygen), and improvised a system to measure output rates of photosynthesis still in use today. Bonnet was a brilliant, wide- ranging philosopher, his earliest studies contributing considerably to understanding of insects, followed by his work on botany. In this same year, Bonnet began writing on psychology and philosophy, becoming known for his observations and arguments.  In 1960 he described a condition of vivid hallucinations, now termed Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

1756 Over 3-4 years, Scottish physician and chemist Joseph Black experimented with alkaline materials, demonstrating that the gas generated when carbonates are heated is chemically distinct from the general atmosphere. He called it “fixed air” because (one presumes) it had been fixed as part of the minerals. Today we understand his fixed air is carbon dioxide, which constitutes less than 1% of the atmosphere.

Curiously, Black was responsible for another discovery of occult properties, through bringing forward the earliest examples of latent heat from his heating experiments with ice, water, and steam (the beginnings of thermodynamics as a study). (Kuhn 1962/1996/2012; McClellan & Dorn, 2015; Wikipedia, 2018)

1772 Extending Joseph Black’s work with fixed air, Daniel Rutherford reported that the atmosphere created through burning a substance in an enclosed jar, once cleansed of Black’s fixed air, was noxious (deadly.) We understand, today, that he had rid the atmosphere in the bell jar of both oxygen (through combustion) and carbon dioxide (the fixed air), leaving almost pure nitrogen, a suffocant.

1774 Joseph Priestley reported (Experiments and observations on different kinds of air, HNT) that burning a candle in a closed container changes the quality of the atmosphere so the flame is extinguished. Animals placed in that environment quickly die. A living sprig of mint renews the air so a candle will once again burn. Today we know that the non-flammable air is the mix of carbon dioxide and nitrogen; growing a plant in such an environment replenishes the oxygen which is necessary to sustain life. On learning of his results, Benjamin Franklin, a correspondent of Priestley’s, commented in a letter: “I hope this [rehabilitation of air by plants] will give some check to the rage of destroying trees that grow near houses, which has accompanied our late improvements in gardening from an opinion of their being unwholesome.” [See 1604]

1774 In October of this year, Priestley and his patron met with Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, perhaps the most famous chemist of all time. Priestley described a new gas he had discovered (through heating mercuric oxide) that supported a brighter flame than normal air. Because Priestley was trained in the concept of phlogiston as the active agent of flammability and fermentation, he loosely believed that during burning the phlogiston quality or substance was released into the atmosphere.  But the new kind of gas supported flames several times brighter and the life of mice several times longer than regular atmospheres. Those observations caused Priestley to suspect the new gas was completely devoid of phlogiston, and thus he generated the term dephlogisticated air for it. Lavoisier would soon give Priestley’s dephlogisticated air the name oxygen. (Cobb and Goldwhite, 1995) [See 1777] Though Priestley receives credit for describing the gas to become known as oxygen, Polish alchemist Michael Sendivogius produced the “elixir of life” in 1604 by heating Chilean saltpeter (potassium nitrate – note there is much confusion in the internet as to whether Chilean saltpeter is potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate) – a reaction that also liberates oxygen. (Schwarcz, 2005)  Kuhn (1992) says it isn’t really clear who made the discovery; perhaps we should say Priestly discovered oxygen, while Lavoisier inventedit.

1774 – Having repaired and studied Newcomen engines, James Watt recognized inefficiencies involving the cooling/ condensationof steam.     After considerable trials,Watt
patented his own design for a steam engine with a separate condenser. The following year, he partnered with Matthew Boulton in creating the firm Boulton & Watt (renamed James Watt & Co in 1849). Boulton & Watt, in alliance with other firms (such as the cast iron foundries of John Wilkinson) are core industries giving rise to the Industrial Revolution. (Wikipedia, 2018)

1776 Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations hit the stands, introducing Economics as an area of study, while vaunting the profit motive as underlying societal good, and influencing how investors viewed the marketplace. “In Agriculture nature too labors alongside man.”

1779 Following up on studies by Charles Bonnet (see 1754), Jan Ingenhousz’s Experiments upon vegetables demonstrated that plants produce oxygen in sunlight and carbon dioxide in darkness. These observations added to studies by his friend Priestley, but unlike Priestley (who was interested primarily in the nature of gases) Ingenhousz was concerned with the physiology of plants. Ingenhousz was a noted physician who had ventured from his native Dutch Republic to England, where he studied and productively employed methods of smallpox inoculation (vaccination would be devised and described by Jenner in 1798). Invited to Austria, he successfully inoculated monarch Maria Theresa, and was appointed court physician.

1780 Luigi Galvani demonstrated muscle movement elicited in dead frogs through applying electrical sparks.

1783 A first workable lighter-than-air balloon was devised and employed in Annonay, France. (McClellan & Dorn, 2015)

1784 Production of wrought iron through the “puddling” process (developed and patented by Henry Cort) made malleable iron abundant and less expensive. Functionally, the availability of iron that could worked like modern steel increased both utility and demand. Significantly, puddling meant ductile iron could be mass-produced for making rails (a process which John Birkinshaw patented in 1820), to build railroads.

1788 Living in Geneva, Calvanist pastor Jean Senebier was a noted naturalist, strongly inspired by the work of Charles Bonnet. In his Expériences sur l’action de la lumi re solaire dans la végétation established the relationship between the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the production of oxygen by plants. His studies built on the work of Ingenhousz. [See 1779]

1788 John Hutton published Theory of the Earth, in which he introduced concepts of gradual geological change, later called Uniformitarianism. Hutton similarly suggested gradual change was part of the nature of living species.

1789 Antoine Lavoisier published his Elemetary Treatise of Chemistry, a landmark textbook that modernized the ways we talk about chemicals. (McClellan & Dorn, 2015)

1798 Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population, which influenced British attention to the size of population. Later editions of his book were significant inputs to evolutionary concepts developed by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.

1800 Following through on work describing electric currents by Luigi Galvani, Alessandro Volta introduced his pile (battery). Galvani and Volta were at odds over the source and nature of the electrical currents that caused the muscle movement in Galvani’s frogs. (McClellan & Dorn, 2015)

1802 William Paley introduced the concept of God as the master designer through his Watchmaker Analogy, in Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature.  (see also the BridgewaterTreatises)

1802 The South American expedition of Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland ascended Chimborazo – the top of which is said to be the furthest physical point from Earth’s center. Here, as in all of their expeditions, these field scientists made extensive records of plants, animals, geology, and atmospheric conditions. Humboldt believed fervently in capturing detailed data, a field research style that became known as Humboldtian Science. His travels, published in 1814 (in English, Personal Narrative of Travels of the Equinocial Regions of the New Continent during Years 1799– 1804 ), confirm this: “Nature herself is sublimely eloquent. The stars as they sparkle in firmament fill us with delight and ecstasy, and yet they all move in orbit marked out with mathematical precision.”    For discussion of the Chimborazo climb, search: Caroline Schaumann, 2009. ‘Who Measures the World? Alexander von Humboldt’s Chimborazo Climb in the Literary Imagination’, The German Quarterly, 82(4): 447-468

1803 Based on simple ratios of elements involved in chemical reactions, John Dalton proposed atoms to be discrete particles, the smallest units of elements. (McClellan & Dorn, 2015)

1804 Nicolas Théodore de Saussure (whose great uncle was Charles Bonnet, and whose Grandfather was noted agriculturist Nicolas de Saussure), published his book Recherches chimiques sur la végétation, which marked the beginning of modern plant physiology through its well thought-out, documented experiments and attention to good experimental methodology. Working in Geneva, de Saussure achieved advances in our knowledge of plant nutrition and demonstrated that carbon from the atmosphere is fixed into the carbon that makes up organic compounds by plants undergoing photosynthesis. Saussure answered questions concerning the role of water in plant growth. In one experiment he combined various lines of study and demonstrated that cuttings set in distilled water continued to assimilate carbon, a result that denied earlier conclusions by Senebier and should have dispelled belief in the idea that carbon enters plants in the same manner as other nutrients
from the soil [See 1813, the humus theory].   (Morton, 1981) Saussure’s findings were not well-known until Justus von Liebig confirmed and extended his findings three decades later.

1804 John Dalton described the fact that atoms combine with each other in clear, whole-number ratios. This meant he was content in adopting the ancient word ‘atom’ – which derives from the concept that these are the smallest units of matter; they cannot be divided further (a = not able; tome = refers to knife, or the ability to cut). Dealing with a small number of atoms (=elements), Dalton was content to retain historic symbols for them. As the number of known elements expanded, chemists adopted the more flexible system of one- or two-letter abbreviations, introduced by Jacob Berzelius in 1813. Chemists today use the term Dalton to describe the units used in measuring the mass (“weight”) of atoms. (Kroll, 2013)

1805 – In 1802, the young French chemist Joseph Louis Gay- Lussac had established the concept that pressure of a constant mass and volume of gas would increase directly in proportion to rising temperature, i.e. Gay-Lussac’s Law. His observations were of great interest to Alexander von Humboldt, and when the two met in late 1804, they agreed to collaborate in a series of atmospheric studies. In January, 1805, Gay-Lussac and Humboldt discovered that water decomposes into hydrogen and oxygen at a 2:1 ratio (not reported by Gay-Lussac until 1808). On 12 March that year, Humboldt and Gay-Lussac left on a several month journey, making numerous important observations en route and meeting Volta in Milan in September (an encounter that predicted Gay-Lussac’s important later work with electric piles.) He would become a professor at the Sorbonne, and then chemist at the Jardin des Plantes. Gay-Lussac would mentor Justus von Liebig, whose contributions to plant science were substantial (see 1840).

1811 The ‘mole’ is born, or at least established as a concept. Amedeo Avogadro determined that equal volumes of gases (at the same pressure) must contain equal numbers of particles. Years after his death, researchers were able to draw a direct correlation. Since each atom, molecule, or compound should have the same mass (in Daltons) as another, then that number (the mass in Daltons) if assigned as a mass in grams should have the same number of particles, regardless as to what kind of atom or compound is under examination. Avogadro’s number for this constant, 6.02214076 ×1023, was determined by Jean Perrin (a French chemist) around 1909. The term ‘mole’ comes from the Latin moles and German mol as first used by German chemist Wilhelm Ostwalt in 1903 to indicate the gram molecular mass of a substance.

1812 A commercially-successful steam locomotive, Salamanca, began operation on the Middleton Railway in Leeds, England. The first successful public railway, the success of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, began operation in 1825.

1813 Jacob Berzelius established a system for chemical annotation that is the standard today – 1-letter and 2-letter
abbreviations for elements, with subscripts for the numbers of atoms involved (though he used superscripts) in a compound. Based on his understanding of the makeup of compounds, Berzelius coined many important terms, including the words protein, polymer, isomer, and catalysis. He identified Silicon and several other elements. Berzelius was the first to distinguish organic from inorganic compounds, but very shortly ended up on the wrong side of history in his support of vitalism, a concept holding that only living beings could make organic compounds (see 1828, Wöhler)

1828 Friedrich Wöhler produced carbamide (urea), a constituent of urine, from potassium cyanate and ammonium sulfate, which constitutes the first synthesis of an organic compound from inorganic components. Wöhler’s report is regarded as the end of Vitalism (the assertion that all organic compounds begin with organic precursors). It is worth noting that by current definitions, any compound involving Carbon is considered the province of organic chemistry).

1830 Publication began on Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology: being an attempt to explain the former changes of the Earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation. In reviewing Lyell’s work, William Whewell coined the terms Uniformitarianism (as proposed by Lyell) and Catastrophism (popular theories that supported belief in events such as Noah’s flood. Lyell’s ideas prevailed, creating understanding a new foundation on which Darwin’s concept of evolution would sit.

1831 Michael Faraday confirmed the process of electromagnetic induction, which meant spinning of motors could generate electricity. (McClellan & Dorn, 2015)

1835 Henry Fox Talbot devised the two-step negative-positive procedure and produced camera negatives on paper. In 1837, Louis Daguerre introduced his daguerreotypes, detailed permanent photographs on silver-plated copper sheets. (Wikipedia, 2019)

1837 Based on Faraday’s explanation of electromagnetic induction, Charles Wheatstone (see Wheatstone also 1867) and associates devised an electric telegraph. A functional system was patented by Samuel Morse the same year. London and Paris were connected through telegraphy by 1854. (McClellan and Dorn, 2015)

1840 Justus Freiherr von Liebig, a young associate in the laboratory of Joseph Gay-Lussac, and friend to luminaries such as Alexander von Humboldt and Georges Cuvier, was “one of the first chemists to organize a laboratory in its present form, engaging with students in empirical research on a large scale through a combination of research and teaching.” He developed many techniques and capacities, including his kaliapparat (1830), a device that simplified the process of determining oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen content of organic substances. Later in his career, Liebig turned his attention to agriculture, resulting in his influential book Die organische Chemie in ihrer Anwendung auf Agricultur und Physiologie (Organic Chemistry in its Application to Agriculture and Physiology), arguing that “chemistry could revolutionize agricultural practice.” (Wikipedia, 2018)

1844 French scientist Lucien Vidi devised the aneroid barometer, providing a simple method of capturing atmospheric data.

1845 The Irish Potato Famine.

1847 Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis investigated high mortality rates in the maternity clinic of Vienna General Hospital (Austria). By introducing hand washing and aseptic techniques, he was successful in greatly reducing the death rate. His lessons had little impact on the community of Physicians – see Joseph Lister, 1867.

1851 The Great Exhibition, London’s Crystal Palace

1851 Otto Ule employed the term ‘light year’ in a popular article to give some intelligible dimension to astronomical units of measure. Astronomers accept light years as a useful term for communicating with the public, but use the easily calculated parsec for their studies and discussion. The parsec was suggested as an astronomical unit of measure around 1913 by Herbert Hall Turner.

1852-1860 The 3rd Cholera Pandemic

1854 Japan was compelled to sign the Convention of Kanagawa, opening trade with the west. The subsequent Meiji Restoration, 1868, led to creation of a Ministry of
Industry, signaling Japan’s entry to the nations promoting research and industrialization. (McClellan and Dorn, 2015)

1854 Paris and London were connected through telegraphy. IBy 1861 New York and San Francisco were connected. (McClellan and Dorn, 2015)

1855 The 3rd Plague Pandemic – China 1855 Exhibition Universelle, Paris

1858 Friedrich August Kekulé and Archibald Scott Couper. through independent research, proposed bonds between tetravalent carbon atoms would form a carbon skeleton, the organic basis for life.

1865 Louis Pasteur patented pasteurization,

1867 Based on Faraday’s concept of induction, functional industrial dynamos were invented independently by Werner Siemens (Germany) and Charles Wheatstone (England). Powered by steam engines, the dynamos introduced electrical current to industry, and led to development of practical systems of lighting. (McClellan and Dorn, 2015)

1867 Joseph Lister published a series of articles in Lancet, describing success with antiseptic treatment (using carbolic acid, i.e. phenol) of serious wounds in a 7 year old boy. His observations were not universally well-received, but slowly the medical profession came to adopt some of his ideas. Regardless, Lister’s reputation was solid and he served as
President of London’s Royal Society from 1895-1900. (Wikipedia, 2019)

1869 Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev published his organizational groundwork explaining the pattern of relationships in the properties of elements, the logic that underlies today’s periodic table. Missing from Mendeleev’s arrangement were the noble (rare) gases. Beginning with the discovery of helium (named for the sun because its spectral lines was first observed emanating from the sun), the remaining noble gases were soon isolated and given equally interesting names: argon (the lazy one), krypton (hidden), neon (new), xenon (the stranger), and radon (a disintegrative product of radium). (Cobb & Goldwhite, 1965)

1874 Germany’s Friedrich Bayer Company hired its first Ph.D. chemist, establishing industrial presence in chemical research. German establishment of a uniform patent system in 1876 initiated an era of industrial research. (McClellan and Dorn,2015)

1874 The earliest commercially-viable typewriter, the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer (with its QWERTY keyboard), was introduced by E. Remington & Sons.

1876 Thomas Edison established his research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

1876 Alexander Graham Bell held the documented telephone conversation, summoning Thomas Watson to his aid.

1876 Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia

1881 Werner von Siemans opened the first electric tramwayin in Lichterfelde near Berlin. In 1895, Baltimore opened the first electric main line, a 4-milestretch.

1882 Thomas Edison had patented an incandescent lamp in 1879 , and on Monday, 4 September 1882, the Edison Illuminating Company began generating power, lighting the Wall Street offices of is partner J. Pierpoint Morgan. Within a year, the company had 500+ customers supporting a system of over 10,000 electric lamps. Edison’s system was DC (direct current), in direct competition with the Westinghouse AC system (alternating current). By 1917, nearly all systems in the US were AC (which is based on patents developed by Nikola Tesla).  Thus began the modern world of electrification. . (McClellan and Dorn,2015)

1885 Eduard Suess, aware of fossil deposits of Glossopteris (a fern) common in South America, Africa, and India, concluded the three continents constitute a supercontinent (Gondwanaland) that is separate through low-lying areas flooded by the oceans. (Wikipedia, 2018)

1886 Adolf Mayer conducted experiments demonstrating that foliar deformation (called mosaic) was due to a causative agent. He demonstrated the infectious agent could be de- activated by boiling in water, and concluded it must be an extremely small bacterium. related discoveries drove new areas of research. In 1892, Dimitri Ivanovsky demonstrated the agent could pass through a filter that would normally
block passage of bacteria, and proposed it was some form of toxin. However, by 1898 Martinus Beijerinck had repeated Ivanovsky’s filtration experiments, demonstrating the agent (for which he coined the term virus) could reproduce and multiply in the tobacco host cells. In 1935, Wendell Stanley reported isolation of virus crystals, which believed to be a protein. In his 1979 book on advances in molecular biology,

H. F. Judson wrote: “It was the most portentous and publicized biological discovery of the decade.” Subsequent researchers reported the material is RNA. (Arthur Kelman, inFrey, 1994)

1887 Heinrich Hertz described radio waves. In the same year, he described the photoelectric effect produced by UV light.

Heinz died at a young age of serious illness, after a short but brilliantcareer.  (McClellan and Dorn,2015)

1889 Exhibition Universelle, Paris – the Eiffel Tower 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition, Chicago

1894 With trials and development in many shops, 1894 is a reasonable date to consider as the birth of the automobile, the year in which Karl Benz and his company introduced the first production automobile, the Velo. Benz had introduced his first commercial machine (the Benz Patent Motorwagen) in 1888, following technologies he patented in the previous few years related to gas engines, ignition, gear shifting, and radiators. In 1899, Benz produced 572 units. (Wikipedia, 2019)

1895 William Roentgen demonstrated the existence of x-rays. Marie Curie would create the term “radioactivity” in 1898. (McClellan and Dorn, 2015)

1895 Auguste and Louis Lumière, French brothers, initiated Cinématographe, marking a beginning for the motion-picture industry.

1896 Rudolf Diesel and Maschinefabrik Augsburg completed the first functional diesel engine. By 1903, the first diesel- powered ships were launched. and the following year France launched its first diesel submarine. The machinery of war was gathering. (Wikipedia, 2019)

1897 J. J. Thomson discovered the electron.

1899 Imagining ship to shore communication, Guglielmo Marconi received a patent for radio transmission in 1896. in this year, he broadcast the first radio signal across the English Channel, followed by the first trans-Atlantic broadcast in 1901. (McClellan and Dorn, 2015)

1900 Sigmund Freud published Interpretation of Dreams.

1902 Telephotography (“wire photography”) was introduced by Arthur Korn.

1903 The first powered flight by Orville and WilburWright.

1903 Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy proposed the radioactive disintegration of certain atoms to other, more stable elements.  Rutherford also described gamma rays,as
distinct from alpha and beta rays, which he had named earlier.

1903 Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company, with a mission to produce “the car for the great multitude.” (Mclellan and Dorn, 2015)

1905 Albert Einstein’s annus mirabilis, during which he produced a series of papers that proposed profound changes impacting scientific understanding in physics. Asserting that nothing can move faster than the speed of light, he altered assumptions that had been in play since writings by Isaac Newton. (McClellan and Dorn, 2015)

1906 The “Victrola” record-player, using vinyl discs, was introduced. Emile Berliner had patented the concept of records for his Gramophone in 1896. Berliner partnered with Eldridge Johnson in 1901 to establish the Victor Talking Machine Company. (Wikipedia, 2019)

1908 George Shull’s “The composition of a field of maize” “marked the beginning of the exploitation of heterosis in plant breeding, surely one of genetics’ greatest triumphs… In his 1908 paper, Shull reported that inbred lines of maize showed general deterioration in yield and vigor, but that hybrids between two inbreds immediately and completely recovered; in many cases their yield exceeded that of the varieties from which the inbreds were derived. Furthermore, they had a highly desirable uniformity. In a subsequent paper in 1909, he outlined the procedures that later became standard in corn-breeding programs ” James F. Crow, 1998.
‘90 Years Ago: The Beginning of Hybrid Maize’, Genetics 148(3): 923-928 (see also Shull, G., 1908. The composition of a field of maize” Am. Breeders Assoc. Rep. 4: 296–301.)

1911 Ernest Rutherford formulated the first workable model for the structure of an atom.

1912 Alfred Wegener introduced his ideas of continental drift. As a climatologist, Wegener was positioned to bring ideas about climate-dependent formations, such as bauxite deposits, that supported other evidence (such as the shapes of continental shorelines) suggesting shifting of landmasses. Many significant geologists did not accept this idea until after mid-century.

1913 Panchromatic motion picture film (35 mm) was introduced by Kodak. (Wikipedia: Timeline of Photography Technology, 2019)

1914-1918 World War I

1915 Einstein postulated concepts introducing the concept of a 4-dimensional world that includes the space-time continuum.

1915 Panama Pacific Exposition, San Francisco 1918 The Great Flu Epidemic

1922 Rediscovery of the tomb of Egypt’s King Tutankhamen.

1925 Tennessee teacher John Scopes was tried and found guilty of teaching Darwinism, which was contrary to state law.

1927 Talking pictures (movies) made their first appearance with The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson.

1929 Black Tuesday, 29 October, the New York Stock Market Crash and beginning of the Great Depression.

1930 Commercial television began.

1931 Completion of the Empire State Building 1932 The neutron was confirmed.

1932 Disney introduced Flowers and Trees – a Silly Symphonies animated cartoon credited as the first 3-color animated film shown. (Wikipedia Timeline of Photography History, 2019) Aldous Huxley published Brave New World.

1939-1945 World War II

1945 The first atomic weapon was tested, then later employed by the USA in bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

1947 William Shockley, an engineer at Bell Labs, devised the first solid-state transistor. (McClellan and Dorn, 2015)

1948 Clausen, Keck, and Heisey published their recipricol transplant studies of Achillea ecotypes.

1951 UNIVAC, the first commercially available computer server was produced.

1953 Watson and Crick published their model for the structure of DNA.

1957 The USSR launched Sputnik 1, the first satellite to be launched by Earthlings. That team and system also launched the Yuri Gagarin into earth orbit in 1961” (McClellan and Dorn, 2015)

1962 Samuel L. Kuhn introduced the concept of the paradigm shift in his mold-breaking The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

1962. Launching of Telstar inaugurated the epoch of communication satellites.

1969 The first computer network, ARPANET, was established. This was also the year of the first manned moon landing.

1973 Motorola introduced the commercial cell phone, the Dyna-Trac. By 1977, a cell system was active in Chicago, but the first commercial system was established in Tokyo in 1979. (McLellan and Dorn, 2015)

1986 The megapixel sensor was introduced by Kodak (Wikipedia Timeline of Photography History, 2019)

1990 The Hubble Telescope was launched and began operation.

1991 The WWW was activated

1991 Lectures delivered in the Plant Science Lecture Series at Iowa State University focused on “Historical Perspectives in Plant Science,” featuring Robert Burris, John Dudley, Brue Griffing, Neal Jensen, Arthur Kelman, Charle Levings, Ralph
Riley, and G. Ledyard Stebbins. Those lectures were published in 1994 by Iowa State University Press as Historical Perspectives in Plant science, edited by Kenneth J. Frey. The book documents the state of scientific understanding of plants at that moment in time, comparing contemporary awareness to past thoughts. Stebbins, in his lecture Biological Revolutions of Thought during the Twentieth Century, defines four revolutions: 1. the Mendelian Revolutions: Genes on Chromosomes; 2. The Macromolecular Revolution; 3. The Transfer-of-Energy Revolution; and 4. The Second Molecular Revolution: Nucleic Acids and the GeneticCode.

2003 Completing a project initiated in 1990, the entire human genome was sequenced, cataloging 20,000 genes.

2008 The multi-national Large Hadron Collider began operation as the world’s largest instrument. The LHC was used to test and confirm presence on the Higgs Boson in 2012.(McClellan and Dorn,2015)

2019 Pete Hegseth, a news commentator and broadcast host explained to his viewers and co-hosts (10 February) that he does not wash his hands to prevent spread of disease because ‘Germs are not a real thing. I can’t see them, therefore they are notreal.‘    Hegseth’s pronouncement expressed the anti- science conservative movement that rejects implications and realities of a wide range of scientific studies, from the impact of human activity on global warming to concern about GMOs and vaccinations to denial of biologicalevolution.


Biljana Bauer Petrovska, 2012. “Historical review of medicinal plants’ usage”, Pharmacogn Rev. 2012 Jan-Jun; 6(11):1–5,   doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.95849,PMCID:

PMC3358962, PMID: 22654398 – an odd summary, heavy on early documents and completely unresponsive to later periods (Plagarized by: Md. Mohibul Alam ID: 2014-1-70-006 Department of Pharmacy East West University November, 2017, as history in the paper: “A Pharmacological Investigation on CNS Activity of Methanolic Extract of Syzygium samarangense Leaves “) Jeremy Norman’s

Bulge, E. A. Wallis, 2011. The Devine Origin of the Craft of the Herbalist, Routledge, NY.

Dear, Peter, 2009. Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and its Ambitions, 1500-1700, 2nd Ed., Palgrave MacMillan, eBook ISBN 978-1-08958-8,

Eamon, William, 1994. Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-02602-5, 490 pp.

Frey, Kenneth J., 1994. Historical Perspectives in Plant Science, Iowa State University Press, Ames, ISBN 0-8138-2284-X, 205 pp.

Kroll, LeRoy, 2013. Food and Chemistry: from Farm to Table, ebook, ISBN 13 978-0-615-76169-5

McClellan, James E., III and Harold Dorn, 2015.Science and Technology in World History – An Introduction, 3rd Edition, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 978-1-4214-1776-9, electronic version.

Subbiondo, Joseph L., 1991. John Wilkins and 17th-century British Linguistics (Studies in the History of the Language Sciences. 67, John Benjamins Publishing Company, ISBN 90 272 4554 1, Amsterdam & Philadelphia, 374 pp. Hans Aarslef, “John Wilkins (1614-1672): Life and Work”; Sidonie Clauss, “John Wilkins‘ Essay Toward a Real Character; Its place in the seventeenth century episteme”

Gibson, Susannah, 2015. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? How eighteenth century science disrupted the natural order. Oxford Univ Press, Oxford, 978-0-19-870513-0, 215 pp.

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