Jussieu, Antoine-Laurent De

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Jussieu, Antoine-Laurent De

(b. Lyons, France, 12 April 1748; d. Paris, France, 17 Sepyember 1836)


Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu’s father, Christophle, was the elder brother of Antoine, Bernard, and Joseph de Jussieu, and himself a dedicated amateur botanist. In 1765 Antoine-Laurent went to Paris to finish his studies at the Medical Faculty, from which he obtained a doctorate in 1770 with a thesis comparing animal and vegetable physiology. Soon afterward Jussieu became deputy to L. G. Le Monnier, professor of botany at the Jardin du Roi. In his first botanical publication (1773), a reexamination of the taxonomy of the Ranunculaceae, Jussieu developed his idea on plant classification in general. In 1774 he published a paper on the new arrangement of plants adopted at the Jardin du Roi, an arrangement which was essentially that used by his uncle Bernard at the Trianon garden, Versailles. The paper dealt mainly with the units of classification above the family level and stressed that for the purposes of taxonomy certain characteristics had been given unequal importance.

Jussieu’ thorough study of the genera and families of flowering plants (1774-1789) resulted in the publication of his epoch-making Genera plantarum (1789). For this work Jussieu had at his disposal not only the rich collections of living plants at the royal garden, but also his uncle’s and his own rich herbarium, as well as the collections made by Philibert Commerson on his world voyage with Bougainville; the Commerson collections proved to be of critical importance for the inclusion of many tropical angiosperm families. Through an exchange of specimens, Jussieu also had access to part of Sir Joseph Banks’s collections from Cook’s first voyage, and another valuable London contact was with James Edward Smith, Owner of Linnaeus’s herbarium.

The Genera plantarum soon found its way to centers of botanical research. With excellent generic description, the book presented a through summary of current knowledge of plant taxonomy. The genera were arranged in a natural system based upon the correlation of a great number of characteristics, a system which proved to be so well designed that within a few decades it was accepted by all leading European botanists, the most active proponents being Robert Brown and A. P. de Candolle. Jussieu’s arrangement of families is among those elements of the Genera plantarum that remain a part of the contemporary system of classification.

During the French revolution Jussieu occupied a civil post in the municipal government, but in 1793, with the reorganization of the Jardin du Roi as the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, he was appointed professor of botany and was charged with field courses. one of his first tasks was to set up an institutional herbarium at the museum, making use of herbaria captured by the French revolutionary armies in Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands, and of collections and libraries confiscated from monasteries and private homes. Until 1802 much of the scientists’ time at the museum was directed toward organizational duties characteristic of the revolutionary change. Jussieu signed the declaration of “hate to royalty and anarchy” presented by the Welfare Committee of the Division of Plants, “and in 1800 succeeded Daubenton as director of the museum. After the resumption of scienctific activity in 1802, Jussieu” published six memoirs on the history of the Paris botanical garden in the new Annales of the museum, to which journal he continued to contribute regularly. Most of his later articles, which numbered fifty-nine, and those on plants that he wrote for the sixty-volume Dictionnaire des sciences naturelles (1816-1830) elaborated the principles he had set down in Genera plantarum, and although he made many notes, a second edition of this classic work never appeared.

Jussieu resigned from his post at the museum in 1826 and went to live with his family, where he remained until his death.


I. Original Works. Jussieu’s works are are “Examen de la familles des Renoncules,” in Mémoires de l“Académie royale des sciences (1773), pp. 214-240; Principes de la méthode naturelle des végétaux (Paris, 1824), repr. from G. Cuvier, ed.,Dictionnaire des sciences naturelles, III (1805); “Exposition d’un nouvel ordre de plantes adopte dans les demonstrations du jardin royal,” in Memoires de l’Academie royale des sciences (1774), pp. 175-197; Genera plantarum (Paris, 1789); other eds. are P. Usteri, ed. (Zurich, 1791); and facs. of 1789 ed. (Weinheim, 1964); “Notice historique sur le Museum d’histoire naturelle, “in Annales du Museum d’histoire naturelle, 1 (1802), 1-14; 2 (1803), 1-16; 3 (1804), 1-17; 4 (1804), 1-19; 6 (1805), 1-20; 11 (1808), 1-41; and Introductio in historiam plantarum (Paris [1838]), posthumously published by his son Adrien de Jussieu in the Annales des sciences naturelles.

II. Secondary Literature. Information on Jussieu is in A. Brongniart, “Notice historique sur Antoine-Lairent de Jussieu,” in Annales des sciences naturelles, botanique, 2nd ser., 7 (1837), 5-24; P. Flourens, Eloge historique d’ Antoine Laurent de Jussieu, (n .p ., n .d .) ; A . Lacroix, “Notice historique sur les cinq Jussieu,” in Memoires de l’Academie des sciences de l’ Institut de France, 2nd ser., 63 (1941), 34-47-;G. A. Pritzel, Thesaurus literaturae botanicae (Leipzig, 1871-1877), with a listof nearly all of Jussieu’s memoirs (p. 160); and F. A. Stafleu, Introduction to Jussieu’s Genera Plantarum (Weinheim, 1964).

Frans A. Stafleu