Scott, Dukinfield Henry

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(b. London, England, 28 November 1854; d Basingstoke, England, 29 January 1934)

botany, paleobotany.

Scott was the youngest son of George Gilbert Scott, an eminent architect, and Caroline Oldrid. An unusually well-informed botanist, he was among those who laid the foundations of scientific botany and paleobotany.

He was educated privately at home, where he became an avid collector of the local flora. From an early age he used a standard work on systematic botany, and his interests and reading were surprisingly profound. At the age of fourteen he read Joseph Hooker’s presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1868) in support of Darwinism, and soon thereafter (using English translations), the books of the Continental botanists Alexander Braun, Hugo von Mohl, Carl Wilhelm von Naegeli, and Wilhelm Hofmeister. In addition, he studied Henfrey and Griffith’s Micrographic Dictionary, with its many German citations. (German literature was ahead of the field in those days.)

Upon entering Christ Church, Oxford, Scott’s botanical interests and scholarship, which had sustained his boyhood, slackened or failed, probably through lack of encouragement. In 1876 he received his B.A. and from 1876 to 1879 studied engineering. Upon the death of his father in 1878, Scott came into independent means. His old enthusiasm for botany reasserted itself, and in 1880 he went to Würzburg to study botany with Sachs.

In August 1882 Scott graduated as doctor of philosophy, summa cum laude, with a thesis on plant structure: “The Development of the Milk Vessels in Plants.” Upon returing to England he succeeded Bower in 1883 as assistant to Daniel Oliver at University College and in 1885 as lecturer in the Royal College of Science under T. H. Huxley. During this period Bower and Scott, great frieds, labored on their individual anatomical projects in the small Jodrell Laboratory in Kew Gardens, where Scott produced further evidence for his interpretation of the nature of milk vessels. Later he became honorary keeper of the laboratory and wrote (sometimes in collaboration) several excellent anatomical papers on the fleshy roots of Sesbania: on the stems of species (Strychnos, Ipomoea, Yucca, Dracaena) with peculiar or anomalous stem vascular tissues: and on the pitchers of Dischidia. Scott’s associations with the many distinguished visiting botanists and his sojourn in Germany—his “spiritual home”—made him something of an internationalist.

In 1889–1890 the aging W. C. Williamson of the University of Manchester invited Scott and Bower to see his collection of fossil plants and sections thereof—in the hope that they might continue his novel investigations. As Scott himself said, he became an instant convert to the study of fossil plants. While he never ceased to emphasize the important of comparative anatomical studies of fossil and living plants, he also kept in close touch with virtually the whole field of botany, including plant physiology and genetics. For example, although he did not work in physiology or genetics, both active fields of research, he was alert to their importance. Scott wrote two admirable textbooks, which together make up An Introduction to Structural Botany; pt. I, Flowering Plants; pt. II. Flowerless Plants (1896). Essentially based on the detailed study of selected “types,” the textbooks contain many drawings by Scott’s wife.

Williamson’s pioneering work on Carboniferous fossils had been published in a series of memoirs in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1871–1893). Unfortunately many of his contemporaries had but little understanding of his remarkable achievements. In Scott, Williamson recruited as a co-worker a first-class scholar and plant anatomist, who had an eye for detail and possessed an enviable objectivity. In a joint memoir to the Royal Society on “Further Observations on the Organization of Fossil Plants of the Coal Measures,” Williamson and Scott in 1894 gave an important general review of the morphological characters of Calamites, Calamostachys and Sphenophyllum, including comparisons with recent plants. The complex strobili (cones) of some of these plants must have taxed their techniques and powers of interpretation. Scott pointed out, with convincing vigor, that studies of the diverse anatomy of extinct and of living species were essentially reciprocal in character and quite essential to any basic consideration of the evolution of plants. In 1895 (the year of Williamson’s death) two further memoirs, which dealt with the roots of Calamites, Lyginodendron, and Heterangium, were published, again under joint authorship. In the memoirs the anatomy of fossil species, with relevant comparisons with recent ferns and cycads, was impeccably portrayed for the first time.

In a notble memoir, contributed to the Royal Society in 1897, Scott described Cheirostrobus, a new and exceptional type of cone from the Lower Carboniferous beds at Pettycur on the Firth of Forth. This paper affords a good example of Scott’s skill in investigation and interpretation.

In 1900 Scott gave a course of lectures at University College, London, published in Studies in Fossil Botany. Because of the beautiful illustrations and engaging clarity of the book, it became, and has remained, a classic. In 1908 the original volume was so enlarged that it was necessary to issue the work in two volumes, and a third edition appeared in 1920– 1923. These volumes and Scott’s various public lectures did much to bring a proper awareness of the importnce of the study of fossils to the botanical world.

During this period Scott also continued to work on selected living plants, for example, cycads and I soetes hystrix. In 1901 he described the seedlike fructifications of special interest because they afforded an indication of how early seeds—“in a nascent stage of evolution”—might have originated. In 1902 he published an account of Dadoxylon and of its curious vascular structure. In the same year there appeared The Old Wood and the New. in which the common anatomical features of Paleozoic stems were closely and critically examined. Later he elucidated the structure and probable affinity of Stauropteris. Botryopteris. Trigonocarpus. Mesoxylon. and Ankyropteris.

Numerous investigations of ancient Pteridophyta. Cycadofilicales. and other groups. with discoveries by contemporaries, provided Scott with a wide range of information on ancient plants and enabled him to write The Evolution of Plants (1911). At the time, the book was of rather special interest, for Scott gave an unusually concise and clear account of the possible affinity of the Jurassic-Cretaceous Bennettitales, that is, of plants that vegetatively seem close to recent cycads but which, on the evidence of their reproductive structures, must be far apart. Scott raised the question: Could plants with these remarkable reproductive organs perhaps have prepared the way for the evolution of the flowering plants? In 1922 he included a wider range of materials in Extinct Plants and Problems of Evolution.

In 1887 Scott married Henderina Victoria Klaassen, who had written several botanical papers. In addition to illustrating some of Scott’s books and papers, she also provided secretarial help. They had two sons who survived infancy: the younger died suddenly at school in 1914: the elder was killed in the British Ypres salient in 1917. Four daughters survived.

Scott received many academic honors. In 1894 he was elected a member of the Royal Society and in 1906 received the Royal Medal. From 1908 to 1912 he was president of the Linnean Society. In 1926 he was awarded the Darwin Medal and two years later, the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society.


Besides the works listed in the text. Scott wrote “The Present Position of Morphological Botany,” in Reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1896), 922–1010: and “The Present Position of the Theory of Descent, in Relation to the Early History of Plants,” ibid. (1922). 170–186, his presidential addresses to the botany section of the Association. See also “Reminiscences of a Victorian Botanist,” A. B. Rendle, ed., in Journal of Botany. British and Foreign (1934). A bibliography is given in Annals of Botany, 72 (1935), with portrait.

On Scott and his work, see F. O. Bower, Sixty Years of Botany (1875–1935): Impressions of an Eyewitness (London, 1938); and A. C.S., “Dukinfield Henry Scott,” in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 1 (1932), 205–227.

C. W. Wardlaw

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Scott, Dukinfield Henry

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