Mociño, Jos

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(b. Temascaltepec, Mexico, 24 [?] September 1757; d. Barcelona, Spain, 19 May 1820)


In botanical literature Mociño is the generally accepted spelling. The owner of the name always signed it Moziño. On the title page of Noticias de Nutka it is written Moziño Suarez de Figueroa. His mother’s name was Manuela Losada, and the name under which his degree of bachelor of medicine was conferred was José Mariano Moziño Suares Losada. Nineteenth-century authors wrote the name Mocinno, Moçino, Mozino, or Mozinno.

Mociño studied for a career in theology, philosophy, and history, then about 1784 turned to the natural sciences. After medical training at the University of Mexico, he became committed to botany, and in March 1790 he joined the Royal Botanical Expedition to New Spain, which under the direction of Martin Sessé had been exploring in Mexico since 1787. He continued as a member of the expedition until its effective termination in 1804, traveling to western Mexico (1790–1791), to the coast of California and Nutka Island (1792–1793), the Atlantic slope of Mexico (1793–1794), and Central America (1795–1799).

When the period of exploration came to an end (1803), Mociño and Sessé went to Spain to complete their work and to get support for a new Flora Mexicana, to be based on their collections and the approximately 1,400 paintings made by the expedition’s artists, Athanasio Echeverria and Vicente de la Cerda. The Napoleonic government then in power in Spain did not support the Flora; Sessé died in 1808; Mociño assumed responsibility for the manuscripts and paintings, and when he was forced to leave Madrid with the retreating French (1812), he carried a part of the material with him to Montpellier, where he worked with the botanist Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle. Most of the manuscripts of the Flora Mexicana were lost before they came into Candolle’s hands, but most of the paintings were saved and some of them formed the bases for almost three hundred new species of plants described by Candolle. Mociñ’o returned to Spain, probably in 1820, and died the same year.

The Plantae Novae Hispaniae (1887–1891) and the Flora Mexicana (1891–1897), two posthumous volumes, together comprise almost the sum of the original publication which resulted from the Royal Botanical Expedition. The names of Sessé and Mociño are commonly linked (and in that order) in any mention of the botanical work of the expedition, but their contributions seem to have been quite different. Both were competent and active botanists as shown by their existing analyses and descriptions of plants according to the Linnaean method. Sessé was the more competent administrator, with numerous responsibilities and an enormous amount of paper work, and he seems to have delegated much of the purely botanical work to Mociño. The latter was charged, for example, with the preparation of Plantae Novae Hispaniae—the entire manuscript is in his handwriting—which he completed in a little over a year after joining the group. The archives at the Instituto Botánico in Madrid contain various inventories of paintings and specimens summarizing the botanical activities of the expedition; which inventories are also for the most part in Mociño’s hand. The herbarium of Sessù and Mociño, which is also at Madrid, contains much internal evidence that Mociño began and attempted to carry on some final organization of the specimens leading to publication of a flora of New Spain. That Mociño was a scholar—neither merely a collector nor a menial assistant—is attested by the opinions of his contemporaries and by his surviving reports on his expeditions to Nutka and to the Volcán de Tuxtla in Veracruz. He had some facility with languages; he wrote Latin well, and when in Nutka he soon learned the language of the aborigines well enough to serve as the interpreter for the Spanish party.

The surviving remains of the abortive Botanical Expedition include more than 10,000 herbarium specimens, some 1,300 paintings, and a mass of sorted and unsorted manuscript material. Through Mociño’s efforts the paintings came to play a part in the development of nineteenth-century botany, and twentieth-century interpretation of the collections and other documents, including the paintings, has been made possible largely through the manuscripts that Mociño compiled systematically while he was in Mexico.


I. Original Works. Two vols., attributed to Sessé and Mociño jointly, were published in Mexico between 1887 and 1897. These appeared first in pts., as supps. to the periodical La Naturaleza. Plantae Novae Hispaniae (1887–1891), 1–184, I-XIII, was based on a MS written by Mociño, completed at Guadalajara, Jalisco, forwarded from there to the Viceroy, the Conde de Revilla-Gigedo, in July 1791, and now in the archives of the Instituto Botánico “A. J. Cavanilles,” Madrid. It is a complete flora, including the species of flowering plants studied by the Botanical Expedition up to about the beginning of 1791. A 2nd ed. was published in bk. form in 1893.

Flora Mexicana (1891–1897, pp. I-XI [intro.], 1–263, and I-XV [index]) was based on a very heterogeneous sers. of nn. on individual plant species from many parts of Spanish America. These nn. comprised a part, but by no means all, of those prepared by the members of the Botanical Expedition. The nn. were found in no particular order in the archives in Madrid; they were organized by the editor into the Linnean classes and published without careful study or collation. A 2nd ed. was published in bk. form in 1894, before the later pts. of the 1st ed. appeared in La Naturaleza.

Mociño’s own writings are listed by Rickett (v. inf.). The most important are the Noticias de Nutka, first published in Gazeta de Guatemala (1803–1804), then in bk. form by Alberto M. Carreño, ed. (Mexico, 1913), I-CIX, 1-117. This account of Nutka includes descriptions of the island itself and its inhabitants, comments on the then prevailing political situation, and a vocabulary of about five hundred words. Included in the 1913 vol. is Mociño’s report on his ascent of the Mexican volcano of Tuxtla “Descripción del Volcán de Tuxtla,” in Noticias de Nutka (Mexico, 1913), 103–117.

Original letters, memoranda, and other documents relative to the Botanical Expedition to New Spain and the Royal Botanical Garden in Mexico, are to be found in the Mexican National Archives, the Archivo General de la Nación, in the section Historia, vols. 460–466, 527. A few documents apparently of similar origin are in the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The richest source of MS material in Spain is the archive of the Instituto Botánico “A. J. Cavanilles,” Madrid; here are most of the existing MSS having to do with strictly botanical matters, for example, the MS of Plantae Novae Hispaniae, various botanical descriptions, fragments of unpublished floras including a Flora guatemalensis by Mociño, inventories of paintings and collections from the different excursions which were carried out in Mexico. Descriptions or copies of most of these inventories have been published by Arias Divito or in the papers cited by him. Arias Divito also lists (p. 307) the other major sources of MS material in Madrid and Seville.

II. Secondary Literature. An extensively documented account of Sessé, Mociño, and their co-workers, based primarily on materials in the Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico, is H. W. Rickett, “The Royal Botanical Expedition to New Spain,” in Chronica botanica, 11 (1947), 1–86. Juan Carlos Arias Divito, Las expediciones cientificas españolas durante el siglo XVIII (Madrid, 1968), is based primarily on Spanish archival sources; it includes copies of many previously unpublished inventories of plants, animals, and paintings, and a considerable bibliog. that supplements the references cited by Rickett. Additional information, especially relative to the members of the Malaspina Expedition who were in Mexico at the same time as the Royal Botanical Expedition, may be found in Iris Higbie Wilson, “’Scientific Aspects of Spanish Exploration in New Spain During the Late Eighteenth Century,” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Southern California, 1962).

The original account of the intercourse between Mociño and Candolle and the story of the copying of some 1,200 paintings by 120 artists in ten days is told in Mémoires et souvenirs de Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle (Geneva, 1862), 219–221, 288–290.

Rogers McVaugh