Martius, Karl Friedrich Philipp von

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(b. Erlangen, Germany,17 April 1794; d. Munich, Germany, 13 December 1868)

botany, ethnology.

The Martius family, many members of which had pursued learned professions, traced its lineage back to Galeottus Martius, who was a professor at Padua in 1450. Karl was the son of Ernst Wilhelm Martius, an apothecary and honorary professor of pharmacy at Erlangen University, and Regina Weinl, a noble-woman. Martius at an early age manifested a resolve to devote himself to science. He was also much interested in classical studies and composed many of his works in a very elegant Latin. In 1810 he was admitted to Erlangen University, where he studied medicine and received his M.D. with the dissertation Plantarum horti academici Erlangensis (Erlangen, 1814).

In 1814 Martius became an élvè of the Royal Bavarian Academy at Munich and was appointed assistant to the conservator of the botanic garden, F. von Schrank. In this position he published his Flora cryptogamica Erlangensis (Nuremberg, 1817), which he had begun while at Erlangen. In 1816 he was admitted as a member of the Leopoldine Academy, of which he became director ephemeridum in 1858.

A man of superior talents, indefatigable energy, and excellent personal qualities, Martius attracted the attention of the older members of the Royal Academy. The king of Bavaria, Maximilian Joseph I, was a lover of botany and often selected Martius as his guide when visiting the botanic garden. His plans for sending scientific explorers to South America were realized in 1817, when an Austrian expedition was sent to Brazil. Martius and several other Bavarian scientists, including his companion, the zoologist Spix, went along. They left Trieste on 2 April 1817 and returned to Munich in December 1820. The Munich herbarium received 6,500 carefully preserved species of plants, which constituted a most valuable portion of its collection, and the botanic garden received many living plants and seeds from the expedition. This voyage laid the foundation of Martius’ future success, and as a result of the expedition he was appointed a member of the Royal Bavarian Academy and assistant conservator of the botanic garden. In 1826, when King Ludwig I had transferred Landshut University to Munich, Martius was appointed professor of botany, and in 1832, when Schrank retired, he was named principal conservator of the botanic garden, institute, and collections. Among his students were A. Braun, H. von Mohl, K. Schimper, and O. Sendtner. In 1840 Martius became secretary of the physicomathematical section of the academy and was charged with all correspondence and commemorative addresses. The excellent style of these eulogies is comparable to that of the éloges of G. Cuvier. The decision of the government to erect the glass building of the Munich industrial exhibition within the area of the botanic garden deeply disappointed Martius, who had vainly remonstrated, and it caused him to resign his professorship and superintendence of the garden. After his retirement much of his time was taken up in editorial activities and scientific labors.

In 1823 Martius married Franciska Freiin von Stengel; they had four children.


I. Original Works. Martius wrote more than 150 books, monographs, and minor works, as well as several poems, His monograph, Historia naturalis palmarum, 3 vols. (Munich, 1823–1853), written in cooperation with H. von Mohl, A. Braun, and O. Sendtner, was highly appreciated, In 1840 he began his great work, the Flora Brasiliensis, 15 vols. (Munich, 1840–1906), assisted by many collaborators and financially supported by the Brazilian government. After his death this magnificent work was continued by several others such as A. Eichler and I. Urban. Together with Spix he wrote Reise in Brasilien … in den Jahren 1817–1820, 3 vols. (Munich, 1823–1831). The eulogies are contained in Akademische Denkreden von C.F. ph. von Marius (Leipzig, 1866). Those of a later date are in Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen Akademie der Maturwissenchaften zu München (Munich, 1868).

Martius also wrote about the potato disease, of which he had discovered the cause, in Die Kartoffelepidemie (Munich, 1842). One of his more important ethnological works in Beiträge zur Ethnographie und Sprachenkunde Amerikas zumal Brasilien,2 vols.(Leipzig, 1867).

II. Secondary Literature, For works about Martius, see A. W. Eichler, “C. F. Ph. v. Martius, Nekrolog” in Flora,52 (1869), 3–13, 17–24; K.Goebel, Zur Erinnerung an K. F. Ph. von Martius (Munich, 1905); C. F. Meissner, Denkschrift auf Carl Friedr. Phil, von Marius (Munich, 1869); and the article by E. Wunschmann in vol. 20, Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie,517–527.

A.P.M. Sanders

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