Bischoff, Gottlieb Wilhelm

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Bischoff, Gottlieb Wilhelm

(b. Dürkheim an der Hardt, Germany, 21 May 1797; d. Heidelberg, Germany, 11 September 1854)


Bischoff, who came from a family of pharmacists, was introduced to botany in Kaiserslautern by Wilhelm Koch, the author of Synopsis florae Germanicae et Helveticae, while he was studying graphic arts. In 1819 he entered the Academy of the Creative Arts at Munich, in order to perfect his drawing techniques; but in 1821, at the University of Erlangen, he turned to the study of botany and chemistry. Here he published his first work, Die botanische Kunstsprache (1822), in which his interest in terminology is apparent.

The botanist and scientific explorer Philipp von Martius encouraged Bischoff to continue his studies in Munich. In the first volume of Martius’ Nova genera et species plantarum (1824), nearly all the drawings of plants, which Martius had brought back with him from his explorations in Brazil, were done by Bischoff. After completing his studies, Bischoff managed his father’s pharmacy for about a year, but in 1824 he went to Heidelberg to study botany. By 1825 he had established himself there as a Privatdozent; in 1833 he became extraordinary professor, and in 1839 full professor of botany and director of the Botanical Garden of Heidelberg, which he completely reorganized.

Bischoff grew up in the era of Naturphilosophie in German science, which still bore the imprint of Schelling, but he sought to dissociate himself from speculative discussion of nature. His investigations of cryptogams showed him to be an excellent observer, and his work on Characeae and on the Archegoniatae deserves special mention. He collected great amounts of the material that enabled Wilhelm Hofmeister to trace the development of lichens and ferns and to elucidate the relations between the life cycles and life histories of different plant phyla. In this connection his unfinished work Die kryptogamischen Gewaechse (1828), with its experiments on spores, must be mentioned because it prepared the way for Hofmeister’s discovery of the alternation of generations. In De hepaticis, Bischoff described the reproductive organs of liverworts, calling the male sexual organs “antheridia” and the female ones “fruit-germs”, only later did he call the latter “archegonia.”. He also studied the Selaginellales and the Equisetales, which are interesting from the point of view of organic evolution.

In Lehrbuch der Botanik (1834–1840) Bischoff presented in detail the morphology and physiology of plants. He concurred with Goethe’s assumption that all parts and organs of the plant orginate from the leaf. The Lehrbuch contains a synopsis of plant pathology and one of the first histories of botany. In a clear and orderly fashion, Bischoff treats botanical knowledge up to 1837, when Matthias Schleiden’s cell theory was published. His Handbuch der botanischen Terminologie und Systemkunde (1833–1844) is still of value as a general survey of the plant kingdom, for orientation on the development of botanical terminology, and for its discussion of numerous synonyms and the history of plant classification. Several of the nearly 4,000 figures that Bischoff himself drew for the book are still used in textbooks.


I. Orginal Works. A complete bibliography of Bischoff’s works is in G. A. Pritzel, Thesaurus literaturae botanicae, new ed. (Leipzig, 1872), pp. 27–28. Among his works are Die botanische Kunstsprache (Nuremberg, 1822); Die kryptogamischen Gewaechse, 2 pts. (Nuremberg, 1828); Handbuch der botanischen Terminologie und Systemkunde, 3 vols. (Nuremberg, 1833–1844); and Lehrbuch der Botanik, 3 vols. (Stuttgart, 18834–1840).

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Bischoff are Botanische Zeitung, 12 (1854), no.39; Martin Möbius, Geschichte der Botanik (Jena, 1937), pp. 85, 122, 135, 152; Neue deutsche Biographie, II (Berlin, 1955), 263; Claus Nissen, Die botanische Buchillustration, 2 vols. (Stuttgart, 1951), see especially 1, 217, and list of works illustrated by Bischoff in II, 16, nos 165–167; 117, no. 1288; M. Seubert, “G. W. Bischoff,” in Badische Biographien, 1 (Heidelberg, 1875), 86; and E. Stöbler, Geschicte der medizinischen Fakultät der Universität Heidelberg (Heidelberg, 1926), pp. 1267, 274, 297.

Johannes Steudel