Pontedera, Giulio

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(b. Vicenza, Italy, 7 May 1688; d. Lonigo, Italy, 3 September 1757), botany.

Pontedera studied philosophy and medicine at the University of Padua, from which he graduated in 1715. He early became interested in botany and in 1718 produced his first botanical tract, Compendium tabularum botanicarum, which treated new or otherwise interesting plants of the province of Venetia. With few exceptions his plant system mirrored that of Tournefort. In 1719 Pontedera was appointed prefect of the botanical garden of the University of Padua and lecturer in botany. He held this combined post until his death.

Pontedera’s chief work in botany was Anthologia sive de floris natura (1720). Its main subject was the negation of the sexuality of plants, which had been reported by Nehemiah Grew, Rudolf Camerarius, and Sébastien Vaillant. To prove his thesis Pontedera discussed in great detail the morphology of different flower types and their organs, including stamens and pistils. The many figures illustrating the text were not original but stemmed from Tournefort’s Éléments de botanique. Pontedera ascribed to the pollen a function quite different from the sexual: in the pollen grains there was, according to him, a liquor essential to the growth and development of the embryo. But the liquor was not dispersed with the pollen grains. Instead, before the grains loosened from the anther, the liquor moved out of the grains, through the filaments, down to the receptacle, and from there to the embryos.

With a series of examples Pontedera tried to demonstrate the nonsexuality of plants. He mainly used dioecious species, of which he claimed to know female individuals isolated at considerable distances from male representatives of the same species and still bearing fully matured fruit. Linnaeus, who in the 1730’s based his systematics upon the sexuality of plants, wrote polemics against Pontedera. Yet Pontedera’s detailed studies of the flower and its parts and his insight into contemporary theories stimulated knowledge of the function of the flower in plant reproduction.

From the 1720’s Pontedera became absorbed in classical studies and prepared new versions of Latin texts.


A complete list of Pontedera’s writings is in A. Béguinot, “Giulio Pontedera,” in A. Mieli, ed., Gli scienziati italiani, I (Rome, 1921), 93–94. His botanical works are also listed in G. A. Pritzel, Thesaurus literaturae botanicae (Leipzig, 1872). Among them are Cómpendium tabularum botanicarum (Padua, 1718) and Anthologia sive de floris natura (Padua, 1720). An MS in 7 vols. concerning the history of the botanical garden of Padua is in the archives of the garden.

There is a biographical account in Béguinot (see above), pp. 90–94.

Gunnar Eriksson