(b Zafra, Badajoz, Spain, 1755; d Mexico City, Mexico, 26 July 1829),
Of humble origin, Cervantes began the study of Latin and botany while still an apprentice in pharmacy; after being licensed as an apothecary, he was patronized by Casimiro Gómez Ortega and became a member of the Royal College of Pharmacy, Cervantes had four children, Mariana, Julian (who was also a botanist), Vicente, and Antonio.
In 1786, while pharmacist to the General Hospital in Madrid, Cervantes was made a member of the royal botanical expedition to New Spain led by Martin Sessé. Cervantes was a founder of the botanical garden in Mexico City in 1788 and in that year became professor of botany at the University, a position he held until his death. In 1802 he became director of the botanical garden, member of the Real Tribunal del Protomedicato, inspector of pharmacies, and pharmacist to the Hospital de San Andrés, where he was also director for eighteen years. Cervantes considerably expanded the knowledge of Mexican botany and in his Hortus mexicanus described 1,400 botanical species. He started the training of Mexicanbotanists in the Linnaean system; for his communications on medicinal plants to the Royal Academy of Medicine, Madrid, he was elected a member of that body.
I. Original Works. Cervantes’ best-known work is the Ensavo a la materia médica vegetal de México, written in 1791 but published posthumously (1889). The Gazeta de México published in 1788 the first Ejercicios públicos de botánica, in which Cervantes reviewed the history of botany up to Linnaeus and the work of the botanical expedition in Mexico. Several other papers appeared in the same journal and in the Gazeta de literatura (Mexico, 1788– 1792), where Cervantes and his pupils presented their studies in the botanical garden. The description of the rubber tree Castilloa elastica was published in 1794, and many more monographs were published before the Mexican War of Independence.
II. Secondary Literature. For biographical and bibliographical data on Cervantes, see Silvio Ibarra Cabrera, Dr, D. Vincente Cervantes. Boceto biográfico (Mexico, 1936) and Rafael Roldan Guerrero, Diecionario biográfico y bibliográfico de autorex españoles (Madrid, 1958). An annotated survey of Cervantes’ works is included in Ida K. Langman. A Selected Guide to the Literature on Flowering Plants of Mexico (Philadelphia, 1964).