Eichler, August Wilhelm

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Eichler, August Wilhelm

(b. Neukirchen, Germany, 22 April 1839; d. Berlin, Germany, 2 March 1887)


Eichler has been considered one of the most prominent systematic and morphological botanists of his time. He was an enemy of dogmas and philosophical speculations; his main contributions concern the symmetry of flowers and the taxonomy of higher plants. These accomplishments followed in the tradition of another great German botanist, Alexander Braun, and culminated in the introduction of a widely adopted system of plant classification.

The eldest son of a cantor who also taught natural sciences, Eichler demonstrated an early interest in nature, collecting minerals and flowers and becoming skilled in mountain climbing. After his early education in Eschwege and Hersfeld, he studied mathematics and natural science at the University of Marburg from 1857 to 1861. There Eichler developed a close personal relationship with one of his teachers, the botanist Albert Wigand, an association that proved decisive for his future career. His main interest turned to the study of flowers and their basic structure and, in opposition to Wigand’s ideas, he became a vigorous defender of Darwin. Warmly recommended by his teachers, Eichler went to Munich after his graduation, as private assistant to the naturalist Karl Friedrich von Martius. There he assisted Martius in editing the monumental Flora Brasiliensis. After becoming a lecturer at the University of Munich, Eichler assumed the sole editorship of this ambitious project upon the death of Martius in 1868. Three years later, in 1871, he accepted an offer to become professor of botany at the Technische Hochschule of Graz and to supervise the local botanical gardens. Eichler occupied this post for only one year, until he heeded a call from the Prussian government to assume the chair of botany at Kiel. There he completed the first part of his most famous work on the comparative structure of flowers, Bliüthendiagramme. This publication was based on meticulous and repeated observations, and Eichler himself executed some of the woodcuts that illustrated the book.

After the death of Alexander Braun in 1877, Eichler was appointed professor of systematic and morphologic botany at the University of Berlin. In addition he assumed the direction of the university’s barium and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Schoeneberg. Eichler’s contemporaries were impressed with his ability as a teacher as well as with the combination of scholarship, strict objectivity, and personal modesty that he constantly exhibited. What had begun as an eye complaint during the years at Kiel gradually became a disabling systemic disease, diagnosed before his death as leukemia. It greatly hampered his death as leukemia. It greatly hampered his research and teaching during the years in Berlin.

In 1867 Eichler was elected secretary of the International Botanical Congress held in Paris on 16–23 August of that year. After his call to the German capital, he was elected a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1880. He also became a corresponding or honorary member of several other societies, such as the French Academy of Sciences, such as the French Academy Sciences, the Royal Academy of Belgium, the Academy of Sciences of Munich, and, in 1881, the Linnean Society of London.


I. Origanal Works. A complete list of Eichler’s publications can be found in Annals of Botany, 1 (1887–1888), 400–403; and in I. Urban, “A. W. Eichler’s botanische Arbeiten,” in Botanisches Centralblat, 32 (1887), 123–127.

Among his best-known books are Zur Entwicklungs-geschichte des Blattes mit besonderer Beruecksichtigung der Nebenblattbildungen (Marburg, 1861); Bewegung im Pflanzenreiche (Munich, 1864), Blüthendiagramme, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1875–1878); Beitraege zur Morphologie und Systematik der Marantaceen (Berlin, 1883); and Syllabus der Vorlesungen ueber specielle und medicinisch-pharmaceu-tische Botanik, 4th ed., rev. (Berlin, 1886).

Eichler was also one of the editors of Flora Brasiliensis, 15 vols. (Munich–Leipzig, 1840–1906).

Some of his best articles are “On the Formation of the Flower in Gymnosperms.” T. Thomson, trans., in Natural History Rewiew, 4 (1864), 270–290; “Bemerkungen ueber die Structur des Holzes von Drimys und Trochodendron, sowie ueber die systematische Stellung der letzteren Gattung,” in Flora, oder allgemeine botanische Zeitung, 47 (1864), 449–458 and 48 (1865), 12–15, partially trans. into Englis in Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, 3 (1865), 150–154; and “Einige Bemerkungen ueber den Bau der Cruciferenbluethe und das Dedoublement,” in Flora, oder allgemeine botanische Zeitung, 52 (1869), 97–109.

II. Seconary Literature. An extensive biography of Eichler is Carl Mueller, “August Wilhelm Eichler, ein Nachruf” in Botanisches Centralblatt, 31 (1887), 61–63, 120–128, 155–160, 188–191, 229–232, 261–263, 294–296, 325–327, 357–360; 32 (1887), 27–32, 61–63, 121–123. This biography was also published as a book, together with I. Urban’s bibliography, under the same title (Kassel, 1887). Other biographical sketches appeared in Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1886–1887), 38–39; Berichte der Deutschen botanischen Gesellschaft, 5 (1887), xxxiii-xxxvii; and Flora, oder allgemeine botanische Zeitung, 70 (1887), 243–249.

Guenter B. Risse

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August Wilhelm Eichler

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