Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius

Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius

Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius was born on 17th April 1794 in Erlangen, Germany. He is, no doubt, one of the most famous naturalists of the nineteenth century. At the age of sixteen he started a personal herbarium with plants from the vicinity and the botanic garden of Erlangen. He studied botany with Schreber and graduated in 1814.

In 1817 the then King of Bavaria , Maximilian Joseph, organised an expedition to Brazil with von Martius as the botanist and Johann Baptist von Spix as the zoologist. Spix contracted Schistosomiasis on the trip, which was later to kill him at the premature age of 46. The 12,000 herbarium specimens made on that expedition are now conserved in the Munich Herbarium.

The Brazil trip was the start of a keen interest in tropical plants. He became an expert on palms publishing the Historia naturalis palmarum in three volumes (1823-1850). He founded, with Stephan Endlicher, the magnificent Flora Brasiliensis, of which 46 of the 130 fascicles were published before his death. The series was completed by August Wilhelm Eichler and Ignatz Urban.

Martius' botanical collection grew, by sale and exchange, to become one of the largest private herbaria. When he died, it contained about 300,000 specimens covering the entire world, although about half were from the Amazon Basin. The Herbarium Martii was acquired by the Belgian government in 1870 and formed the beginning of a world collection for the then newly established Jardin botanique de l’Etat. The entire archives, with detailed lists for many of Martius’ acquisitions, are also conserved in the herbarium of the National Botanic Garden of Belgium.

von Martius died in Munich on 13th December 1868. His Grave stone is decorated with two palm leaves and the latin phrase In palmis semper virens resurgo.

The Martius Project (external link)

An example of a label from the Herbarium MartiniiA label from the Herbarium Martii

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