Cervantes, Vicente (1755–1829)

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Cervantes, Vicente (1755–1829)

Vicente Cervantes (b. 1755; d. 26 July 1829), distinguished botanist of Bourbon Mexico. Born in Zafra, Badajoz, Spain, Cervantes began his career as an apprentice to an apothecary, studying pharmacy part-time. After passing the pharmacist's examination, he served as chief pharmacist at the general hospital in Madrid until Charles III chose him as a member of the royal botanical expedition to New Spain. The expedition arrived in New Spain in 1787; Cervantes, appointed professor of botany at the University of Mexico, began teaching the following year. His popular courses, which emphasized Linnaean principles, introduced a generation of Mexican creoles to the modern study of botany.

Cervantes also was a founder of the Royal Botanical Gardens, located in the viceregal palace, and its head from 1802. There, he and his assistants cultivated some 1,400 species of plants; the New World flora came mostly from central Mexico, though some species were imported from as far away as Havana. Cervantes, who remained in Mexico when the rest of the expedition departed, faced difficulties after 1810. The hard-pressed viceregal government progressively slashed the Royal Botanical Gardens' budget, and Cervantes was unable to prevent the institution's gradual deterioration. He died in Mexico City.

See alsoMedicine: Colonial Spanish America .


The most complete study of Cervantes and the Royal Botanical Gardens is Harold William Rickett, The Royal Botanical Expedition to New Spain, 1788–1820 (1947). For a more general treatment of botanical studies under the Bourbons, see Arthur R. Steele, Flowers for the King: The Expedition of Ruíz and Pavón and the Flora of Peru (1964), esp. pp. 3-49.

Additional Bibliography

Aceves Pastrana, Patricia. Química, botánica, y farmacia en la Nueva España a finales del siglo XVIII. México, D.F.: Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Xochilmico, 1993.

Lozoya, Xavier. Plantas y luces en México: La real expedición científica a Nueva España (1787–1803). Barcelona: Ediciones del Serbal, 1984.

                                         R. Douglas Cope