Moench, Conrad

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(b. Kassel, Germany, 20 August 1744; d. Marburg, Germany, 6 January 1805)


Moench, the son of a pharmacist, worked for six and a half years in pharmacies in Hannover, Bern, and Strasbourg before returning to take charge of his family’s pharmacy, the Apotheke zum Einhorn, in Kassel. He had studied pharmacy, botany, chemistry, and mineralogy; in 1781 he became professor of botany at the Collegium Medicum Carolinianum attached to the court of the landgrave of Hesse-Kassel at Kassel. In 1785 the college and its professors were transferred to Marburg and incorporated into the Philipps-Universität, which had been founded there in 1527.

Moench initiated a new period in the teaching of botany at Marburg. Under his supervision, a site for a botanic garden was prepared in 1786; the following year it was planted with material brought from the Kassel botanic garden. Strongly influenced by the Mannheim botanist C. F. Medieus, a bitter opponent of Linnaeus, Moench likewise frequently rejected Linnaean classification, generic concepts, and nomenclature, restoring the names and genera of Tournefort wherever possible, and often subdividing Linnaean genera. His rebellion against the dominant Linnaean taxonomy of the period found expression in the Methodus plantas horti botanici et agri Marhurgensis a staminum situ describendi, published at Marburg in 1794. The Methodus deals with 674 species, including both those cultivated in the Marburg botanic garden and those growing wild in the Marburg district. In it Moench used names at variance with those of most floristic works of the time. A Supplementum ad Methodum plantas of 1802 added 634 more flowering plants.

Moench’s works remain nomenclaturally important because, although they include many generic names that have never been adopted elsewhere, they also comprise a number of generally accepted ones, among them Bergenia, Cedronella, Froelichia, Kniphofia, Myosoton, Olearia, and Sorghum. Moench also provided various binomial specific names needed to avoid tautonyms—Fagopyrum esculentum and Omphalodes verna, for example—although most of his new names are now considered technically illegitimate. In dealing with the Leguminosae, Moench, a follower of Medicus, overlooked an important paper published by the latter in 1787 and thus renamed plants already named by him.


I. Original Works. Moench’s most important works, Methodus plantas horti botanici et agri Marburgensis a staminum situ describendi (Marburg, 1794) and Supplementum ad Methodum plantas (Marburg, 1802), are repr. in facsimile with an intro. by W. T. Stearn, Early Marburg Botany (Königstein, 1966).

II. Secondary Literature. On Moench and his work, see F. Grundlach, Catalogus professorum academiae Marburgensis (Marburg, 1927); C. Rommel, Memoriam Conradi Moench (Marburg, 1805); R. Schmitz, “Naiurwissenschalt an der Universität Marburg,” in Sitzungsberichte der Gesellschaft zu Beförderung der gesamten Naturwissenschaften zu Marburg, 83–84 (1963), 1–33, with portrait; and W. T. Stearn, Early Marburg Botany (cited above), for the nomenclature and concepts of Medicus and Moench in opposition to those of Linnaeus, as well as for their nomenclatural conflict with each other.

William T. Stearn