Mettenius, Georg Heinrich

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(b. Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 24 November 1823; d. Leipzig, Germany, 19 August 1866)


Mettenius was the son of a Frankfurt merchant. He studied medicine at Heidelberg from 1841 to 1845, defending a doctoral dissertation, De Salvinia, in 1845. After periods of further study in Heligoland, Berlin, Vienna, and Fiume, he became a Privatdozent at Heidelberg. He moved to Freiburg im Breisgau as professor extraordinarius in 1851. In 1852, following the death of Gustav Kunze, he became professor of botany and director of the botanic garden at Leipzig. Kunze had assembled a rich collection of living plants and herbarium specimens of ferns. This abundant material led Mettenius to concentrate his attention thereafter on pteridological studies.

In June 1859 Mettenius married Cecile Braun, second daughter of the Berlin botanist Alexander Braun; her sister married the Königsberg botanist Robert Caspary on the same day. Mettenius’ life, according to Caspary, was the most regular possible;

At five o’clock he began the work of the day and finished it punctually at ten in the evening. His whole mind was turned towards the study of plants and especially of ferns…. Mettenius generally took the whole management of the garden upon himself, being out by six o’clock in the morning and directing the operations of each of the labourers.

By such incessant toil, he accomplished much in his relatively short life. An athletic man of great bodily strength, he was in splendid health when he contracted cholera during the epidemic of 1866, and died suddenly at the age of forty-two. His years of intensive study of ferns were leading to comprehensive monographs on the species of individual genera. He had already published, in the Abhandlungen der Senckenbergischen Naturforschenden Gesellschaft, on Polypodium in 1856; Plagiogyra, Phegopteris, and Aspidium in 1858; and Cheilanthes and Asplenium in 1859. These writings revised existing classifications, and, together with his Filices Lechlerianae Chilenses et Peruanae (1856–1859), Filices horti botanici Lipsiensis (1856), and Ueber die Hymenophyllaceae (1864), place him among the leading pteridologists of the nineteenth century.

Like J. W. Hooker, Mettenius preferred a few large genera divided into sections instead of a multitude of smaller genera as proposed by his older contemporaries C. B. Presl, John Smith, and Fée (see Webbia, 17 [1962], 207–222). His work remains important for its detailed and precise descriptions of species.


I. Original Works. Some of Mettenius’ pteridological publications were issued both as parts of the Abhandlungen herausgegeben von der Senckenbergischen Naturforschenden Gesellschaft, 2–3 (Frankfurt am Main, 1856–1860), and as separates; for their precise dates of publication, see W. T. Steam, “Pteridological Publications of G. H. Mettinius,” in Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, 4 (1967), 287–289.

II. Secondary Literature. The main source of biographical information is in the obituary by his brother-in-law, Robert Caspary, in Gardeners’ Chronicle (1866), 1018; repr. in Journal of Botany, 4 (1866), 388–391, with a iist of publications. Various references occur in the biography of his father-in-law by Cecile Braun Mettenius, Alexander Braun’s Leben nach seinem handschriftlichen Nachlass dargestellt (Berlin, 1882).

William T. Stearn

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Mettenius, Georg Heinrich

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