Suringar, Willem Frederik Reinier

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(b. Leeuwarden, Netherlands, 28 December 1832; d. Leiden, Netherlands, 12 July 1898)


Suringar was the eldest son of Gerard Tjaard Nicolaas Suringar, a book dealer and publisher, and Alida Boudina Koopmans. The family probably belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. Suringar received his secondary education at Oostbroek, near The Hague, and at the Gymnasium of Leeuwarden. In 1850 he enrolled at the University of Leiden, planning to study medicine, but soon turned to botany. In 1855 he was awarded a gold medal by the university for an essay on the algae of the Netherlands: the work was the basis for his dissertation in natural philosophy, for which he received his doctorate on 13 March 1857. In November of that year he was appointed extraordinary professor of botany at the University of Leiden, substituting for de Vriese, who was on an extended study trip in the Dutch East Indies. De Vriese died shortly after his return, and in May 1862 Suringar succeeded him as professor, occupying the chair until his death in 1898.

In 1857 Suringar was appointed conservator herbarii of the Netherlands Botanical Society and coeditor of its journal. Nederlandsch kruidkundig archief. In 1868 he became director of the national herbarium. As director of this institutions, Suringar was a leading plant taxonomist of the Netherlands. Although not published under his name, the Prodromus florae Batavae could not have been compiled without Suringar’s assiduous work at the herbaria. Intended as a preliminary study for an extensive, national flora of the Netherlands to be published by the Netherlands Botanical Society, the work went through two editions (1850–1866, 1901–1916) but was never completed. Suringar’s own flora of the Netherlands, first published in 1870 and frequently reprinted, was the leading work until the turn of the century. The planned national flora was not begun until the 1970’s, as it seemed no longer needed after the publication of the floras of Oudemans (1859–1862), Suringar, Heimans and Thysse (1899), and Heukels (1990).

Suringar sustained a continuing interest in algae; and his monograph on Japanese algae, written in 1870, was based on herbarium material available in Leiden. His brief concern with bacteriology was reflected in the publication of his study on Sarcina ventriculi (1865), for which he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Munich in 1872. He subsequently investigated the cactus family (Cactaceae), especially the genus Melocactus, on which he began a monograph that was never completed. According to his student Hugo de Vries, he also contributed studies of the carpels of Cruciferae, polycephaly of Compositae, pitcher formation of Ulmus leaves, and peloric flowers of Digitalis

A long-standing opponent of the theory of evolution, Suringar surprised his friends with Het planenrijk (1895), published shortly before his death. In it he discussed the evolution of plants, based on the work of Darwin and his followers, in addition to his own ideas.

Suringar’s students included Melchior Treub, who became director of the botanical garden in Buitenzorg, Java [now Bogor, Indonesia], in 1880. Under Treub’s leadership, this institution became one of the world’s most important centers of the botanical research. Many important posts at Buitenzorg were held by Suringar’s pupils, for example, J.G. Boerlage, W. Burck, and J. van Breda.


I. Original Works. There is apparently no complete bibliography of Suringar’s works. His more important books include Dissertatio botanica inauguralis continens observationes phycologicae in floram Batavam (Leeuwarden, 1857), his doctoral diss.; De beteekenis der plantengeographie en de geest van haar onderzoek (Leeuwarden, 1857), Suringar’s inaugural diss. as professor of botany: De Sarcine (Sarcina ventriculi, Goodsir) (Leeuwarden, 1865): De kruidkunde in hare betrekking tot de maatschappij en de hoogeschool (Leeuwarden, 1868); Algae japonicae musei botanici Lugduno-Bata-vorum (Haarlem, 1870); Illustration des algues du Japan, Musée botanique de Leide, I (Leiden, 1872), 63–69; II (Leiden, 1874), 1–15; Handleiding tot het bepalen van de in Nederland wild groeiende planten (Leeuwarden, 1870–1873), the flora of the Netherlands, which went through at least 13 eds.; De kruidkunde in Nederland (Leiden, 1889): Het plantenrijk, philogenetische schets (Leeuwarden, 1895): and Illustrations du genre Melocactus, 5 pts. (Leiden, 1897–1905), continued by his son, J. Valckenier Suringar.

Suringar’s memoirs are listed in the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific papers, V, 888; VIII, 1046; XI, 530; XII, 711; and XVIII, 1039–1040. They include a series of papers on Melocactus, in Verslagen en mededeelingen der K. Akademie van Wetenschappen, Afd. Natuurkunde, 3rd ser., 2 (1886), 183–195; 6 (1889), 408–437, 438–461; 9 (1892), 406–412; and in Verslagen van de zittingen der wis-en natuurkundige afdeeling der K. Akademie van Wetenschappen, 4 (1896), 251–252; 5 (1897), 1–46; and 6 (1898), 178–192.

II. Secondary Literature. On Suringar’s life and work, see the notices by K. Schumann, in Verhandlungen des Botanischen Vereins der Provinz, Brandenburg, 40 (1898),, 134–137; J. Valckenier Suringar, in Nieuw nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek, X (Leiden, 1937), 990–995; and H. G. van de Sande Bakhuysen, in Verslagen van de gewone vergadering der afdeeling natuurkunde, K. Akadamie van wetenschappen te Amsterdam, 7 (1899), 129–130.

Other notices are by Hugo de Vries, in Eigen Haard, 23 (1897), 724–727; and Berichte der Deutschen botanischen Gesellschaft, 17 (1899), 220–224; L. Vuyck, in Nederlandsch Kruidkundig archief, 3rd ser., 1 (1899), i x; and H. Witte, in Tijdschrift voor tuinbouw, 4 (1899), 1–5. Two unsigned articles are “Biographische Mitteilungen (Suringar),” in Leopolsina, 34 (1898). 144; and “Necrologio (W. F. R. Suringar),” in Nuova notarisia10 (1899), 45–46.

Peter W. van der Pas