Jussieu, Bernard De

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Jussieu, Bernard De

(b. Lyons, France, 17 August 1699; d. Paris, France, 6 November 1777)


At the invitation of his elder brother Antoine de Jussieu, Bernard came to Paris in 1714 to finish his botanical and medical studies. He accompanied Antoine, who was then professor of botany at the Jardin du Roi, on his travels through Frances, Portugal, and Spain, and then took a degree in medicine at Montpellier and another at Paris in 1726. He was appointed sous-démonstrateur de l’extérieur des plantes at the Jardin du Roi on 30 September 1722, filling the vacancy created by the death of Sebsdyirn Villant. Jussieu was charged with field courses and supervision of the gardens and greenhouses, and it was at the royal gardens that he developed his greatest gift, that of teaching, in which he exhibited profound botanical knowledge and great personal charm. Jussieu’s field trips were famous, and the list of those botanists inspired by his course includes Adanson, Guettard, Poivre, Duhamel, L.G. Le Monnier, Thouin, Claude and Antoine Richard, his brother Joseph, and his nephew Antoine-Laurent. Among those attending his classes were Buffon, Malesherbes, and foreign visitors such as Carl Linnaeus in 1738.

Although he published little, Jussieu’s influence on eighteenth-century French botany was unequaled. He wrote on Pilularia, Lemna, and Litorella but never prepared his botanical lectures or ideas on classification for publication. Rather, it was through the arrangement of the botanical garden of the Trianon, near Versailles, that Jussieu became known as one of the great protagonists of oa natural classification of plants. Louis XV, interested in horticulture and forestry, wanted a living collection of as many species of cultivated plants as possible for his Trianon garden. Jussieu was charged with the arrangement, on the recommendation of one of his amateur pupils, Louis de Noaille, Duc d’Ayen.

With the help of the gardener Claude Richard, Jussieu designed part of the garden as a “botany school” to illustrate his his natural system, the layout of the grounds reflecting his natural relationships of plants and the circumscriptiob of his plant families. It was not until 1789 that this system appeared in print. At that time Antoine-Laurent published in his Genera plantarum a simple list of genera, which, according to his uncle, constituted certain natural families. Although in many ways comparable to similar enumerations published by Linnaeus in his Genera plantarum (1737) and philosophia botanica (1751), Jussieu’s work played an important role in the development of the concept of natural relationship as the main basis for classification, opposing the prevalent artificial sexual system of Linnaeus.

Jussieu had a decisive influence on the expansion of the botanical garden of the Jardin du Roi, a task which Antoine left almost entriely to him. Under Jussieu’s care the collections of living plants grew rapidly, and the garden evolved form a simple apothecary’s establishment to one of the best botanical gardens of the time. Jussieu corresponded with many of his colleagues abroad, and his letters to Linnaeus, published in 1855, provide perhaps the greatest source of information on his life, ideas, and character.


I. Original Works. Jussieu reviewed and enlarged J. P. Tournefort’s Historie des plantes qui naissent aux environs de Parisavec leur usage dans la médecine, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Paris, 1725). Among his other works are “Historie d’une plante, connue par les botanistes sous le nom de Pilularia,” in Mémoires de l’Acadénie royale des sciences (1739), pp. 240-256; “Histoire du Lemma,” ibid. (1740), pp. 263-275; “Observations sur les fleurs de Plantago palustris gramineo foiol monanthos parisiensis,” ibid. (1742), pp. 121-138; “Examen de quelques productions marines, qui ont été mises au nombre des plantes, et qui sont I’ouvrage d’une sorte d’insectes de mer,” ibid., pp, 290-302; “Dissertation sur le Papyrus,” in Mémories de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, 26 (1759), 267-320, written with A. P. de Caylus; and “Bernardi Jussieu ordines naturales in Ludovici XV horto Trianonensi dispositi, anno 1759,” in A. L. Jussieu, Genera plantarum (1789), pp. lxiii-lxx. lxiii–lxx.

II. Secondary Literature. Information on Jussieu and his work is in Adrien de Jussieu, “Caroli a Linné ad Bernardum de Jussieu ineditae, et mutuae Bernardi ad Linnaeum epistolae,” in Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2nd ser., 5 (1855), 179–234; A. Lacroix, “Notice historique sur les cinq Jussieu,” in Mémoires de l’ Académie des sciences de l’ Institut de France, 2nd ser., 63 (1941), 21–34; A. Magnin, “Prodrome d’une histoire des botanistes Lyonnais,” in Bulletin de la Société botanique de Lyon, 31 (1906), 28–29; and F. A. Stafleu, Introduction to Jussieu’s Genera plantarum (Weinheim, 1964), vi-viii.

Frans A. Stafleu