Engelmann, George

views updated


(b. Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 2 February 1809; d. St. Louis, Missouri, 4 February 1884)


Engelmann was the ablest and best-known scientist in the Mississippi Valley for the fifty years during which important expeditions explored and surveyed the West. More than anyone else he was responsible for persuading Henry Shaw to establish I a botanic garden in St. Louis, not merely for flower beds but as a scientific center. Since its founding in 1859 the Missouri Botanical Garden, its proper name, has become an international center for research and teaching in systematic botany. With exceptional library and herbarium resources, the Annals of the garden and its graduates occupy positions on all continents. Besides practicing medicine Engelmann studied many taxonomically difficult plant groups and published fundamental revisions.

The eldest child of George and Julia May Engelmann, who conducted a school for girls in Frankfurt am Main. Engelmann wrote that he “became greatly interested in plants” at the age of fifteen. He entered the University of Heidelberg as a scholarship student and was influenced there by the work of Alexander Braunand Karl Schimper. Because of his liberal political sympathies he moved to the University of Berlin in 1829 and then to the Univergree in 1831 with a thesis on plant monstrosities, De antholysi prodromus, published in 1832. Later that year, on a trip to Paris, Engelmann incidentally met Louis Agassiz and other scientists; and in September he set out for the United States. He landed at Baltimore and reached St. Louis the following February. For two years Engelmann lived on the farm of a relative twenty miles from St. Louis and studied the local flora.

In December 1835 he began medical practice in St. Louis and was immediately successful. He did not, however, neglect his scientific interests: in 1836 he started meteorological observations that he continued until his death, launched a German-language paper, Das Westland, and began studying plant groups overlooked by other botanists. After meeting Asa Gray in 1840, Engelmann operated a clearinghouse in St. Louis for botanists who, with their own funds or as members of government expeditions, were collecting plants in the West. Engelmann’s service resulted in a How of new information to study centers in the East. He encouraged, among others, Ferdinand Lindheimer in Texas, August Fendler in New Mexico and Central America, and J. C. Frémont in the West.

Engelmann’s first botanical recension (1842), which treated the genus Cuscuta, attracted international commendation. Cactaceae of the Boundary (1859), illustrated by Paul Roctter of St. Louis, was based on his “Synopsis of the Cactaceae of the United States “(1856) and established fundamental criteria for the classification of the cacti. His monographs on conifers, grapes, dodders, mistletoes, yuccas, rushes, and quillworts remain essential references.

Oligotropic pollination studies began with Engelmann’s findings on the requisite role of the moth Tegeticula iPronubu yuccasella in effecting seed set in Yucca; this work was later elaborated by C. V. Riley (1892). Engelmann published “Diseases of Grapes” (1873), which John A. Stevenson characterized as the “only [paper] of scientific significance in the plant disease field prior to 1870. “The first monograph of a genus of Pteridophyta published in America was Engelmann’s “Genus Isoëtes in North America” (1882).

On 11 June 1840, Engelmann married his cousin Dorothea Horstmann during his first visit to Germany. Their only child, George Julius Engelmann, became a distinguished physician. After his wife’s death Engelmann accompanied Charles Sprague Sargent on a four-month field survey, during which, according to Charles White, Engelmann’s “pluck,good nature, good spirits, and good fellowship” struck Sargent “most forcibly.” Asa Gray said in his obituary of Englemann:” Not very many of those who could devote their whole time to botany have accomplished as much.”


I. Original Works. C. S. Sargent lists about 100 titles in “Botanical Papers of George Englemann,” in Botanical Gazette, 9 (1884), 69-74; William G. Bek adds about a dozen titles in Missouri Historical Review, 23 (1929), 189-195. Articles written with Asa gray are indexed in American Journal of Science, 3rd ser., 36 (1888), app., 1-42. Engelmann’s scattered publications were published as Botanical Works of the Late George Engelmann Collected for Henry Shaw, William Trelease and Asa Gray, eds. (Cambridge, Mass., 1887). Thousands of letters from 509 correspondents; 60 volumes of notes and drawings; his books, often with marginalia; his extensive herbarium; and theses of European colleagues, often privately printed and rare in the United States are preserved at the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis. A few of Engelmann’s books are in the Hitchcock-Chase Library at the Smithsonian Institution. There are 532 Engelmann letters (1840-1884) at the Gray Herbariuom, Harvard University; a selection, in abstract, was published by jane Loring Gray, Letters of Asa Gray(Boston-New York, 1893), Passim.

II. Secondary Literature. No biography of Engelmann has been published. Biographical sketches, largely repetitive, are based on the obituaryo oby Asa Gray, in Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and sciences, 19 (1884), 516-522; repr. verbatim in American Journal of scinece, 3rd ser., 28 (1884), 61-67; in Engelmann’s Botanical Workss, iii-vi; and in Scientific Papers of Asa Gray, C.S. Sargent, ed., II (Boston-New York, 1889), 439-446. Sargent adds a personal estimate in Scinece, 3 (1884), 405-408; and in his Silva of North America, VIII (Cambridge, Mass., 1895), 84. Ignatz Urban, in Berichte der Deutschen botanischen Gesellschaft, 2 (1884) xii-xv; and Charles A. White, in Biographical Memoris. National Academy of Sciences, 4 (1902), 1-21, provide incidental facts.

For Engelmann’s role in the introduction of American grape stock to combat the Phylloxera epidemic in Europe, see John A. Stevenon, “Begining of Plant Pathology in America,” in C.S. Holton et al., eds., Plant pathology, problems and Progress (Madison, wis., 1959), 14-23. Edgar Anderson relates Englemann’s role in the development of the Missouori Botanical Garden, in Washington University Magazine, 39, n0. 3 (1969), 38-43. The omission of the intended map of distribution of cacti in Cactaceae of the Boundary is discussed by L.E. Newton, in National Cactus and Succulent Journal, 17, no. 3(1962), 43-45; and Englemann’s pioneer work on cacti is analyzed by Larry W. Mitich, in Excelsa, no. 4 (1974), 31-39. For bibliographic notes on his Cuscuta papers, see F. A. Stafleu, Taxonomic Literature (Utrecht, 1967). 132. C.V. Riely, “The Yucca Moth and Yucca Pollination,” in Report. Missouri Botanical Garden, 3 (1892), 99-158, is placed in modern perspective by Michael Proctor and Peter Yeo, Pollination of Flowers (London, 1973), 316-318.

Joseph Ewan

About this article

George Engelmann

All Sources -
Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic