Florence: Georgium Marescottum, 1583. FIRST EDITION. Woodcut printer’s device on title and on the colophon, woodcut initials. Full calf, gilt decorations in an antique style, morocco spine label, spine label; minor waterstain to index leaves. Faint contemporary ownership signature at foot of title page. An excellent copy. Item #15495
First edition of the first “rational system of plant classification” (PMM). Cesalpino’s work became the foundation of scientific botany and the first articulation of the modern concept of species. With the knowledge of the existence of a greater number of plants, a method of scientific classification was needed. This era began with Cesalpino, who created his system of classification based upon plant morphology. “He insisted that distinctions among species should be made only according to similarity or dissimilarity of forms, and that ‘accidental’ attributes, such as medicinal use and habitat, must not be considered; in doing so, he elevated botany to the level of an independent science” (Norman). The first section of this ground-breaking work contains the general system of comparative study, retaining the traditional divisions of trees, shrubs, half-shrubs and herbs, but further sub-dividing them into different categories according to their seed, fruit and flower. The remaining sections describe over fifteen hundred plants, placing them into fifteen classes. Cesalpino focuses on the roots, stems and fruit as the basis for his classification. It is in this taxonomy that the De plantis most decidedly marks an epoch in the history of botany.
The effect of this work was enormous, profoundly influencing botanists that followed, including Linnaeus in his famous works on classification, his Systema naturae of 1735 and his Classes plantarum in 1738. Indeed, Linnaeus’ own fully annotated copy of De plantis now resides in the library of the Linnean Society.
Cesalpino (1519-1603) was born at Arezzo in Tuscany and studied under Ghini at Pisa, where he graduated in medicine, and thereafter succeeded Aldrovandi as director of the garden at Bologna, in 1555 becoming professor of botany. He later became a professor in Rome and physician to Pope Clement VIII.
Adams, C-20; Arnold Arboretum, p. 147; Cleveland Collections, 122; Dibner 20; Printing & the Mind of Man, 97; Hawks, Pioneers of plant study, pp.184-187; Morton, History of botanical science, pp. 128-140; Norman, 432; Pritzel, 1640; Sparrow, 34; not in the Hunt Catalogue.