BOT 360F - Families of Vascular Plants 

History of botanical exploration and the development of botanical thought

The former mainly eastern North America, 1492-1978

1492 Modern European discovery of Americas  
1497 Cabot's voyage to the east coast of Newfoundland; European cod fishery on the Grand Banks (during 16th c. cod fishery and whaling led to summer and some year-round European occupation on the coast).  
1521 Conquest of Mexico  
1534 Jacques Cartier begins explorations of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (1535-36, 1541)  
1536, Cartier believed to have brought back plants of Pinus strobus, Acer saccharum, and Thuja occidentalis, this last the "annedda" that had saved his expedition from scurvy.

Thuja occidentalis (Cupressaceae) [click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page. Photo: M. Ferguson © 1997 Royal Ontario Museum]

Thuja occidentalis
  Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603) director of the botanical garden at Bologna; herbarium of 768 dried and mounted plants; recognized importance of leaf arrangement, fruits, and seeds as sources of characters.

The Fabaceae genus Caesalpinia honors Cesalpino, and gives its name to subfamily Caesalpinioideae to which Cercis canadensis belongs. [click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page. Photo: M. Ferguson © 1997 Royal Ontario Museum]

Cercis canadensis
1623 Gaspard Bauhin (1560-1624) published Pinax theatri botanici, an account of all plants known to exist at that time. It is noteworthy for including a compilation of all of the names by which a given plant was known. Bauhin clearly distinguished between genus and species, and sometimes employed a binomial nomenclature.

Bauhin was honored by Linnaeus who named the Caesalpinioid genus Bauhinia after him. [Photo: R. Presgrave © 2001 Royal Ontario Museum (TRT 1975)]

Bauhinia ?blakeana
Joachim Jung (1587-1657), "the first terminologist" (nodes, internodes; leaf blade, petiole; leaves simple, compound, pinnate, digitate; perianth [as calyx only], stamens, styles; capitula of disk and ray florets in Asteraceae)  
1569 Description of the medicinal properties of Sassafras albidum (sassafras) by Spaniard Nicholas Monardes; translation of his work into English by John Frampton led to exploration of the New England coast by sassafras hunter Batholomew Gosnold

Sassafras albidum (Lauraceae) occurs in the Toronto region, and is widespread in southwestern Ontario. Infusions of the roots and bark have been used medicinally in the past but now are known to also be carcinogenic. [click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page. Photo: E. Harris © 1999 Royal Ontario Museum]

Sassafras albidum
1600 Tadoussac settlement (abandoned 1601)  
1603 Samuel de Champlain's first survey of the St. Lawrence valley.

See the site, L'ICONOGRAPHIE BOTANIQUE EN AMÉRIQUE FRANÇAISE DU 17e AU 19e SIÈCLES, by Pierre-Simon Doyon for an analysis of Champlain's map of New France (excerpted at right) [click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page]

Champlain's map (portion)
1608 Québec founded  
  John Ray (1627-1705), recognized distinction between monocots and dicots, while retaining distinction between herbaceous and woody plants emphasized by predecessors  
1635 Canadensium Plantarum Historia of Jacques Cornut, Paris; descriptions and illustrations of Actaea alba, A. rubra, Apiosamericana, Aquilegia canadensis, Asarum canadense, Maianthemum racemosum, Rhus radicans.

The Papilionoid genus Apios (Fabaceae) comprises 10 species in eastern Asia and North America; A. americana shown here is a low vine of the deciduous and mixed forest regions that produces edible tubers. [click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page. Photo: M. Ferguson © 1997 Royal Ontario Museum]

Apios americana
1642 Montréal founded  
1663 Université de Laval founded in Québec  
1682 Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712) published his Anatomy of Plants... in which he speculated that plants reproduce sexually, much like hermaphroditic animals.

Click on the graphic at the right to visit a site with illustrations from Grew's Anatomy.

1688 Rudolf Camerarius (1665-1721) becomes professor and director of the botanical garden at Tübingen in Germany.
1689 Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), divided plants into families in his Prodromus historiae generalis, in qua familiae per tabulas disponuntur.

The genus Magnolia (Magnoliaceae) was named in honor of Magnol by Linnaeus. [click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page. Photo: M. Ferguson © 2001 Royal Ontario Museum (TRT13436)]

Magnolia flower
1694 Camerarius writes to a colleague an essay on the sexuality of plants, in which he describes experiments that demonstrate the sexual functions of stamens and pistils. In particular, he was able to show for the first time that pollination is required for seed-set.

Parnassia cf. palustris. Photo: R. Presgrave © 1998 Royal Ontario Museum (TRT1469)]

  Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708), student of Magnol, Professor of Botany, Jardin du Roi, and author of the Élémens de botanique (1694), subsequently translated into Latin (and better known to botanists) as Institutiones Rei Herbariae (1700), which characterized generic concepts for the first time. The surgeon Dièreville visited Acadia 1699 and collected 25 plants for Tournefort, including that now called Diervilla lonicera by Linnaeus.  
Michel Sarrazin (1659-1734) visited Canada 1685-1694 and then returned to France to study medicine. While in France he became friends with Tournefort. He returned to Canada in 1697 as médecin du roi at Québec. He made plant collections in and around Québec and Montréal, and sent duplicates of his collections to Tournefort for identification or verification, in addition to seeds and living plants. Eight names proposed by Sarrazin were published by Tournefort in l'Addenda des Institutiones (1700).

The eastern North American pitcher plant Sarracenia (Sarraceniaceae) was named by Linnaeus in honor of Michel Sarrazin. [click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page. Photo: M. Ferguson © 1998 Royal Ontario Museum]

Sarracenia purpurea pitcher-leaves
1708 Beginning in 1700 when Tournefort left on a four-year expedition to the Levant, his student Sébastien Vaillant (1669-1722) took over the correspondance with Sarrazin. Most of Sarrazin's collections, received in 1700 or later, formed the basis for a list of Canadian plants made by Vaillant that eventually (1708) came to be titled Histoire des plantes de Canada. One copy of this list, apparently taken to Canada by Gaultier, was preserved by the seminary at St. Hyacinthe until its discovery in 1919 by Frère Marie-Victorin.

See the article by the late Québec botanist, Dr J. R. Bernard Boivin, LA FLORE DU CANADA EN 1708 - Étude d'un manuscrit de Michel Sarrazin et Sébastien Vaillant.

1710 Antoine de Jussieu (1686-1758) succeeds Tournefort as Professor of Botany at the Jardin du Roi.  
1718 The Jesuit P. Lafitau publishes on "the precious ginseng plant of Tartary" that he discovered in Canada after having been inspired to look for it there by a suggestion in the account of Chinese ginseng published by Pierre Jartoux in 1713.

See the John Carter Brown Library site for a brief account of Lafitau's discovery of ginseng in Canada. The thumbnail at the right was from a similar page on Pierre-Simon Doyon's website, and links to the Brown University image of the complete illustration from which the thumbnail was taken [click on the thumbnail to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page]

Panax by Lafitau
Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778); botanical survey of Lapland 1732 (4,800 miles in 5 months, 537 specimens); Systema Naturae (1735); Genera plantarum and Methodus Sexualis (1737); Species Plantarum (1753); his sexual system provided an artificial method of pigeon-holing that used 24 classes based on stamen number. These, in turn, were subdivided in turn into orders based on pistil number. Of course, Johann Georg Siegesbeck (1686-1755) complained "What man will ever believe that God Almighty should have introduced such confusion, or rather such shameful whoredom, for the propagation of the reign of plants? Who will instruct young students in such a voluptuous system without scandal?" In reply, Linnaeus named the rather smelly genus Sigesbeckia after him. Click HERE for a history of the disputes between Linnaeus and Siegesbeck that sheds light on how linnaeus saw his contribution to systematic botany. Click HERE for an online biography of Linnaeus.

Linnaeus named the monotypic genus Linnaea (Caprifoliaceae) after himself; at the right a scan of an Ontario specimen of L. borealis L.

Linneaea borealis
1734 (or later) Sarrazin succeeded at Québec by Jean-François Gaultier (1708-1756; Gaultheria) who planned a work on the plants of North America with the encouragement of French academicians and botanists, but this never came to anything because of war and Gaultier's death.

Gaultheria procumbens (Ericaceae; teaberry, wintergreen) leaves and fruits have a strong flavor and aroma of wintergreen; a fleshy calyx surrounds the capsular fruit. [click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page. Photo: M. Ferguson © 2001 Royal Ontario Museum]

Gaultheria procumbens
1744 Description des plantes principales de l'Amerique septentrionale published by Pierre François-Xavier de Charlevoix after having spent a few years in New France. His book included material taken from the manuscript Histoire des plantes de Canada as well as from many other sources, including descriptions and specimens sent to France by Sarrazin.

These sources included the Montréal widow Catherine Gertrude Jérémie, a herbalist described on an earlier version of Pierre-Simon Doyon's website as being interested in learning about First Nations' medicinal plants.

See the site, L'ICONOGRAPHIE BOTANIQUE EN AMÉRIQUE FRANÇAISE DU 17e AU 19e SIÈCLES, by Pierre-Simon Doyon for reproductions of illustrations in Charlevoix's book and a detailed analysis of the sources that he used in compiling it. Click on the thumbnail at the right to see an illustration in the Charlevoix book compared with its earlier source (such as the Cornut Maianthemum excerpted here). [use your browser's BACK command to return to this page]

Maianthemum by Cornut
1747 Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière acting governor of New France for two years; correspondant of Bernard de Jussieu; arranged for the commandants of the forts in New France to obtain botanical and other specimens for French botanists.  

Pehr Kalm visited Québec, botanized along the St. Lawrence with Gaultier; also visited Niagara Falls (travelling there from New York), where he discovered a Hypericum that was subsequently named in his honor by Linnaeus, H. kalmianum (the genus Kalmia was named in his honor later).

Kalmia polifolia (Ericaceae) [click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page. Photo: M. Ferguson © 1997 Royal Ontario Museum (TRT 2740)]

Kalmia polifolia
Bernard de Jussieu (1699-1777), younger brother of Antoine de Jussieu, succeeded Sebastien Vaillant in his post at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris in 1722. He was a generous host when Linnaeus visited Paris on his way back to Sweden from the Netherlands in 1737 or 1738. Although he could not be induced to succeed his brother as Professor of Botany, in 1758 Bernard de Jussieu was appointed superintendent of the royal garden at Trianon, where he arranged the plantings not according to the Linnaean system, but rather according to a more "natural" system of his own based on more than just stamen and pistil numbers.  
1763 Treaty of Paris; France cedes North American and Caribbaean territories to Britain, retaining only Guadeloupe and Martinique; publication of Familles des Plantes by Michel Adanson (1727-1806) in which, following Bernard de Jussieu, genera and families arranged so as to reflect their affinities, based on the sum total of all their features.

Guyana was also fought over for its sugar-producing potential (at right, canefields outside Georgetown). [click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized image; use your browser's BACK command to return to this page. Photo: T. A. Dickinson © 1977]

sugarcane cultivation, Guyana
Jean de Lamarck (1744-1829) introduced identification keys in his Flore Française.  
1768 Joseph Banks (1743-1820) collects plants from the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland  
1789 Publication of Genera Plantarum by Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (1748-1836; nephew of ), in which genera arranged into 100 families based on concepts developed by his uncle, Bernard de Jussieu, and those of Adanson.  
1792 André Michaux (1746-1802) and son François André Michaux (1770-1855) arrive in Montréal from U.S.A., botanize in northern Québec (Tadoussac to Lac St. Jean, north to Mistassini - Primula mistassinica, and then down the Rupert River toward James Bay).

Primula mistassinica (Primulaceae) [Photo: M. Ferguson © 1997 Royal Ontario Museum (TRT 8421)]

1803 Publication of Flora boreali-americana by Louis-Claude Richard, based on the collections of the Michauxs; employed a modification of the Linnaean and de Jussieu systems promoted by Augustin Pyramus de Candolle (1778-1841); the first flora of North America.  
1804 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out from St. Louis on their expedition to the Pacific Ocean, returning there two years later. The botanical specimens they collected that survived the trip back were studied by Fredrick Pursh (1774-1820), taken with him to England, and then lost to science for almost 100 years.  






Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859) begins his botanical explorations of North America in Philadelphia. In 1809 Nuttall briefly visited Upper Canada, botanized in the vicinity of Niagara Falls, but then fell ill and returned to the United States.

Portrait of Thomas Nuttall from the first of two Adam White scrapbooks in the Green Plant Herbarium (TRT) of the Royal Ontario Museum. [© 2003 Royal Ontario Museum]

1814 Publication of Flora Americae Septentrionalis by Fredrick Pursh, based for the first time on collections from western North America; Pursh died in Montréal in 1820 after having seen his Canadian collections destroyed by fire.
1816 Botanical exploration of Newfoundland and St. Pierre and Miquelon by Bachelot de la Pylaie (and again in 1818).  
1823 David Douglas (1799-1834) visits Philadelphia, New York, and Upper Canada (southwestern Ontario) in the employ of the Royal Horticultural Society of London; the following year he began his explorations of the Pacific northwest.  
Thomas Drummond (1780-1835) and Dr John Richardson (1787-1865) collect plants on the 2nd Franklin "Land expedition to the Polar Sea," 1825-1827, south and east from the Mackenzie River to the Rocky Mountains and Hudson Bay.  
1829 (through 1840) Publication of Flora Boreali-Americana... by William Jackson Hooker based on specimens from Douglas, Drummond, Richardson and others.
1834 James McNab (1810-1878) collecting in southeastern Canada.
John Richardson and others search for the ill-fated 3rd Franklin expedition.  
1853 William Hincks appointed first professor of natural history at the University of Toronto. He collected specimens for the university's herbarium (now at the Royal Ontario Museum) that was begun with specimens collected by his predecessor, H. H. Croft. Charles Darwin's friend, T. H. Huxley, applied for the position as well, but was not hired.  
1858 George Lawson (the "father of Canadian Botany") emigrates from Edinburgh to take up a position at Queen's University.  
1860 First issue of the Annals of Lawson's Botanical Society of Canada  
1862 Publication of Flore Canadienne by Léon Provancher (1820-1892)  
1868 Publication in Toronto of Canadian Wildflowers, Painted and Lithographed by Agnes Fitzgibbon. with botanical descriptions by C. P. Traill. William Hincks provided a note on the correct botanical terminology for the perianth that he deemed was lacking in Traill's description of Erythronium americanum.

Erythronium americanum (Liliaceae) [Photo: M. Ferguson © 2003 Royal Ontario Museum (TRT 9654)]

1869 John Macoun (1831-1920) makes "botanical trip" to Lake Superior; expeditions across the Canadian northwest in 1872, 1875, 1879 and to southern Saskatchewan (1880) and southern Manitoba (1881)  
1872 Joint British-U.S. survey of the boundary along the 49th parallel begins; T. J. W. Burgess (1849-1925) collects plants that are deposited in the Vascular Plant Herbarium of the University of Toronto (TRT; now at the Royal Ontario Museum)  
1882 Macoun appointed to the Geological Survey of Canada; begins publication of Catalogue of Canadian Plants in 1883 (seven parts, completed 1902); accompanied on many of his travels by son James M. (1867-1920), also of the Geological Survey  
1920 Frère Marie-Victorin (1885-1944) establishes the Institut Botanique of the Université de Montréal; establishes the municipal Jardin Botanique de Montréal 1931; publication of Flore Laurentienne 1935.  
1943 Botanical explorations by Abbé Ernest Lepage (1905-1981) and Père Arthème-Antoine Dutilly (1896-1973) across northern Canada.  
The National Museum of Canada sponsors the botanical exploration of northern Canada by a number of workers, including Hugh Raup (b. 1901) and Alf Erling Porsild (1901-1977).
Publication of The Flora of Canada (four parts) by H. J. Scoggan.  


Connor, S. New England natives - a celebration of people and trees. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (1994).

Ertter, B. The changing face of western botany. Kalmiopsis 5:18-25 (1995).

Gray, C. Sisters in the wilderness - The lives of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill. Viking, Toronto (1999).

Gunn, A. Past and current practice: the botanist's view. Pp. 11-14 in R. E. Child (ed.), Conservation and the herbarium. Institute of Paper Conservation, Leigh (1994).

Harris, R. C. and G. J. Matthews. Historical Atlas of Canada, vol. I, From the beginning to 1800. University of Toronto Press, Toronto (1987).

Marie-Victorin, Frère. Flore Laurentienne, 2nd ed. Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal, Montréal (1964).

Pringle, J. S. The history of the exploration of the vascular flora of Canada. Canadian Field Naturalist 109(3): 291-356 (1995)

Radford, A. E., Dickison, W. C., Massey, J. R. and C. R. Bell. Vascular Plant Systematics. Harper & Row, New York (1974).

Reveal, J.L. & J.S. Pringle. "Taxonomic botany and floristics," pp. 157-192. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.), Flora of North America north of Mexico Vol. 1. Oxford University Press, New York (1993).

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