Schimper, Andreas Franz Wilhelm

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(b. Strasbourg, France, 12 May 1856; d. Basel, Switzerland, 9 September 1901)


Schimper was the son of Wilhelm Philipp Schimper, professor of natural history and geology at the University of Strasbourg and director of the city’s museum of natural history. From 1864 to 1874 he attended the Strasbourg Gymnasium. His father allowed him to take part in the excursions he conducted for his students. His mother, Adèle Besson, who was greatly interested in her husband’s botanical activities. stimulated the boy’s interest in natural history.

In 1874 Schimper entered the University of Strasbourg. where he came under the influence of Anton de Bary. he received the doctorate in natural philosophy in November 1878. While at Strasbourg he studied the origin and development of starch grains. Following the death in 1880 of his father, whose assistant he had been, the trustees of the museum of natural history elected him director. De Bary opposed the appointment, although he acknowledged Schimper as one of his best students. As a result, Schimper accepted a post at the Lyons botanical garden but soon returned to Germany to work with Julius Sachs at Würzburg.

In the autumn of 1880 Schimper was appointed a fellow of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltirmore. The results of his further observations on the growth of starch grains induced him to abandon Naegeli’s intussusception theory. In the spring of 1881 he went to Florida and, the following winter, to the West Indies. These trips awakened Schimper’s interest in plant geography. During the summer he visited the zoological summer laboratory at Annisquam, Massachusetts, where he studied insectivorous plants. Schimper returned to Germany in January 1882 and worked in the laboratory of Eduard Strasburger at Bonn until 1898. Strasburger, who ranked Schimper as one of his outstanding students, was instrumental in keeping him in Germany when an attractive post in the United States was offered to him in 1889.

From December 1882 to August 1883 Schimper traveled in Barbados, Trinidad, Venezuela, and Dominica, studying the morphology and biology of the epiphytes. On 16 November 1883 he was appointed lecturer in physiological botany at the University of Bonn. He lectured on plant geography, historical and geographical distribution of important cultivated plants, and, after 1885, on medicinal plants, pharmacognosy, and microscopic research on drugs and food products. He also made botanical excursions with his students. On 12 February 1886 he was named extraordinary professor.

During these years Schimper wrote very important medicopharmaceutical books. In August 1886 he traveled to Brazil, where he studied the mangrove vegetation. In both the West Indies and Brazil he made observations and physiological experiments to determine the influence of high salt concentrations on the marine littoral vegetation. To study the vegetation of tropical beaches Schimper visited Ceylon and Java in 1889–1890. During this voyage he visited the Buitenzorg (now Bogor) botanic garden, near Batavia (now Jakarta) and made excursions to several volcanoes with solfataras and halophytic vegetation.

In July 1898 Schimper joined the important German marine expedition on board the Valdivia during which he studied the oceanic plankton flora and the vegetation of the Canary Islands, Kerguelen, the Seychelles, Cameroon, the Congo and eastern Africa, Sumatra, and the Cape of Good Hope. In October, near Cameroon, he suffered a severe attack of malaria, from the effects of which he never recovered.

In June 1898 Schimper had been appointed professor of botany at the University of Basel, where he took up his duties in April 1899. The following February he delivered his inaugural oration on marine plankton but his deteriorating health (he had suffered from diabetes since 1899) prevented him from carrying out his duties for long.

Schimper, who was able to penetrate quickly to the core of scientific problems, preferred to work independently. Not physically strong, he had enormous energy and enthusiasm, and a very deep love for nature. He was greatly interested in literature and the arts. Schimper did not care for large groups, preferring to spend the evenings with a few close friends. Although solid and accurate in his research, he was impulsive in thought and speech.


The most important of Schimper’s 27 books and articles are Untersuchungen über die Proteinkrystalloide der Pflanzen (Strasbourg, 1878), his dissertation: “Untersuchungern über die Entstehung der Stärketörner”, in Botanische Zeitung, 38 (1880), 881–902, in English in Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science, 21 (1881), 291–306: “Untersuchungen über das Wachsthum der Stärketömer”, in Botanische Zeitung, 39 (1881), 185–194, 201–211, 217–228: “The Growth of Starch Grains”, abstract, in American Naturalist, 15 (1881), 556–558: “Die Vegetationsorgane von Prosopancne burmeisteri”, In Abhandlungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft zu Halle, 15 (1882), 21–47: Anleitung zur mikroskopischen Untersuchung der Nahrungs’ und Genussmittel (Jena, 1886): Taschenbuch der medicinisch-pharmaceutischen Botanik und pflanzlichen Drogenkunde (Strasbourg, 1886): Schimper’s botnische Mittheilungen aus den Tropen, 3 vols. (Jena, 1888–1891): I. Die Wechselbeziehungen zwischen Pflanzen und ameisen im tropischen America: II. Die epiphytische Vegetation Amerikas: III. Die indommalyische Strandflora; “Ueber Schutzmittel des Laubes gegen Transpiration. besonders in der Flora java’s”, in Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Phys-’math.Kl., 40 (1890). 1045–1062; and Pflanzengeographie auf physiologischer Grundlage (Jena, 1898). trans. as Plant Geography Upon at Physiological Basis (Oxford, 1903).

A good biograph, with complete bibliography, is H. Schenk, “A. F. W. Schimper”. in Berichte der Deutschen botanischen Gesellschaft, XIX, Generalversammlungsheft, 1 (1901), 54–70.

A. P. M. Sanders

Schimper, Andreas Franz Wilhelm

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Schimper, Andreas Franz Wilhelm (1856–1901) A German botanist and ecologist who was a professor at the Bonn Botanical Institute (1886–98) and at Basle (1891–1901). He showed (1881) that starch grains are not formed in cytoplasm, and (1883) that plastids originate from the division of pre-existing plastids. His major work, Pflanzengeographie auf physiologischer Grundlage (first edition 1898, first English edition, Plant-Geography upon a Physiological Basis, 1903), includes his classification and a systematic account of world vegetation based on physiological adaptation, and did much to establish a sound method for ecological investigation.

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Andreas Franz Wilhelm Schimper

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