Schouw, Joakim Frederik

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(b. Copenhagen, Denmark, 7 February 1789; d. Copenhagen, 28 April 1852)

Plant geography, climatology.

Schouw was the eldest of seven children born to poul Schouw, A wine merchant, and Sara Georgia Liebenberg. Since he had to work at his father’s business, he was educated by a tutor. His interest in botany began while he was attending the lectures on cryptogamic botany given in the winter of 1803–1804 by Martin Vahl, who assisted him in making a herbarium. Because working in his father’s wine cellar had undermined his weak health, Schouw became a clerk in a lawyer’s office in 1804; seven years later he passed the examination for the candidate’s degree in law.

In 1812 Schouw took part in a botanical expedition to Norway headed by the Norwegian botanist Christian Smith and was strongly impressed by the conspicuous division of the vegetation into zones. After his return Schouw obtained a civil-service post in 1813. He pursured his interest in botany by studying all the available literature on plant geography, especially the works of Humboldt and Wahlenberg.

In 1816 Schouw received the Ph.D., along with a grant and a three-year leave to make a botanical trip to Italy, where he visited the Alps, the Apenines, and Sicily. On his return trip he visited P. deCandolle in Generva and Adrien de Jussieu and Humboldt in Paris. Schouw returned to Copenhagen in 1820, where he was appointed extraordinary professor of botany, especially phytogeography, at Copenhagen University. During 1823–1824 Schouw had meteorological observations made in several Danish towns, the results of which he published in Tidsskrift for Naturvidenskaberne. In 1829, en route to Italy to complete his observations, he met Martius. Schouw ws greatly interested in popularizing science and in improving the teaching of natural history. From 1831 he was editor of Dansk Ugeskrift, in which many of his popular-science lectures were printed. Through this work he became well known, and during the summer of 1839 he was invited to take part in the preparations for the meeting of Scandinavian naturalists at Göteborg.

In 1841 Schouw was appointed curator of the botanical gardens of Copenhagen, and four years later he became a full professor. During his last years his health deteriorated, and on 1 April 1853 he resigned.

While in Italy in 1817, Schouw met Susette Dalgas. They were married in 1827 and had a son and a daughter.


I. Original Works. Schouw’s writings include Dissertatio de sedibus plantarum originariis. Sectio prima. De pluribus cujusvis speciai individuls originarüs statuendis (Copenhagen, 1816), his dissertation; “Einige Bemerkungen über zwei, die Pflanzengeographie betreffende Werke des Herrn von Humboldt,” in Jahrbücher der Gewächskunde, 1 (1818), 6–56, unsigned; Grundraek til en almindelig Plantegeographie (Copenhagen, 1822), translated by Schouw into German as Grundzüge einer allgemeinen Pflanzengeographic (Berlin, 1823), one of his principal works on plant geography; Skildring of Vejrligets Tilstand i Danmark (Copenhagen, 1826), his major work on climatology; Specimen geographiae physicae comparativae ... (Copenhagen. 1828): and Europa, En letfattelig Naturskildring (Copenhagen, 1832).

Collections of his popular lectures are Natur-Skildringer. En Raekke of almeenfattelige Forelaesniger (Copenhagen, 1837, 1845) and Naturskildringer. En Raekke populaere Foredrag. Ny foroget Udgave. Med Forfatterens Biographie (Copenhagen, 1856).

Many or Schouw’s letters are in the library of the botanical gardens, Copenhagen, and in the Royal Library, Copenhagen.

II. Secondary Literature. Detailed biographies, in Danish, are Carl Christensen, “Joachim Frederik Schouw,” in Botanisk Tidsskrift, 38 , no. 1 (1923), 1–56; and Den Danske Botanisk Historie, I , pt. 1 (Copenhagen, 1924), 253–276; with a bibliography of Schouw’s works. II (1926). 165–179.

A. P. M. Sanders