About Natural History

Meet Andrea Cesalpino

As a student, during the very firs class of Introduction to Systematics, I learned about Andrea Cesalpino (1524/25 – 1603), the italian botanist. Unfortunately, this scholar is not that famous, but it surely isn’t because of the quality of his work. While travelling in Florence, I was very pleased to find a statue of the naturalist in front of the Ufizzi Museum (and frankly, it probably was the only one I knew among all of the other statues).


In Tuscany, Renaissance began quite a while before in the rest of Europe, so being born there Ceslpino was more enclined to studying science from a different perspective than what used to be done. His main focus was on the systematics of plants, but he also contributed to taxonomy, physiology and philosophy.

During the Middle Ages, the classification of plants was done according to their medicinal virtues – which was also reflected in the gardens of that period. The innovation that Cesalpino brought was that he used the fruits and the seeds of the plants in order to classify them. This is very important as we now know that these are key systematic characters for reconstituting phylogenies. So this was a very modern method that helped and inspired botanists in all of Europe, and of course his ideas are still used in current botany.
One of his books, perhaps the most famous of his works, “De plantis libri XVI” was published in 1583, is considered to be the most importan publication of botany before Linnaeus.  It develops the concept of genus, and a classification of flowering plants (Angiosperms). His will for observation was such that he successfuly described organs of plants without using a microscope (as it hadn’t yet been discovered).
Another thing Cesalpino is known for, is that he was one of the first botanists to constitute a herbarium, in fact his is one of the oldest still in existence as it dates back to 1550-60.

Surely, Cesalpino was a great thinker of his time and his contributions to modern science were valuable in many ways.


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