Charles Bommer (1866-1938)

Charles Bommer

Charles Bommer was the son of Jules Edouard Bommer. He graduated in zoology at the University of Brussels (1889) and received a Ph.D. in botany in 1894. When his father died, he searched for a job to help his family. The very same year (1895) he became Aide-Naturaliste in the state botanic garden and teacher at the University of Brussels. He taught subjects including palaeobotany, phytogeography and botany applied to technologies. In 1902, thanks to the reformation of the botanic garden that Théophile Durand launched, Charles Bommer was promoted to the rank of head of Department.

Forestry, sylviculture and dendrology had become his favorite fields of research. Indeed, the country was worried about spending money abroad in order to provide its coal mines with wood. That is why the Musée Forestier was created (1902) in the botanic garden and the Arboretum Géographique in Tervueren, near Brussels. Both were designed by Bommer, and both were big successes. In 1910, Bommer collaborated with Count Visart de Bocarmé to publish the Rapport sur l’introduction des essences exotiques en Belgique. It was soon regarded as classical literature in practical botany.

At the beginning of the XXth Century, Bommer and fellow Jean Massart created a special section dedicated to phytogeography in the Société Royale de Botanique de Belgique (1904). It was designed to be a tool in their hands to achieve a huge project: Les Aspects de la Végétation en Belgique. This magnum opus was supposed to describe and illustrate all the major plant associations and landscapes of the country. Although they were acclaimed by botanists, and even politicians, only two parts out of the five would ever be released. They are still regarded as outstanding documents and some of the first occurrences of ecological studies in Belgium.

Although Bommer was never as charismatic as some of his collegues at the botanic garden, such as De Wildeman or Jean Massart, he focused on fields where he gained real respect. Moreover it has been said that he drew attention to the loss of native flora and landscapes, and showed the path to follow in the study of phytogeography of Belgium. His mother was a famous cryptogamist (E. Bommer) whose herbarium was given to the botanic garden after she died, in 1910.

by Dr. Denis Diagre

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