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Abstract Detail

Floristics & Taxonomy


Indignities in the life and legacy of Jean Louis Marie Poiret, a French botanist and evolutionist of the early nineteenth century.

Much of the history of early evolutionary thought has been written through the eyes of zoologists. Such zoocentric writings tend to trivialize or even ignore important contributions by botanists and horticulturists to the development of an evolutionary understanding of biodiversity. Jean Louis Marie Poiret (1755-1834) was a French botanist whose work on the flora of Barbary was followed by major contributions to  Encyclopédie méthodique: botanique  (1804-1808) and  Tableau encyclopédique et méthodique des trois règnes de la nature: botanique  (1823); both in collaboration with the French evolutionist Jean Baptiste Lamarck. However, it is in  Leçons de flore  (first edition,  1819-1820; republished as  Ã‰dition classique, 1823) that Poiret reveals his evolutionist views. Poiret devotes an entire chapter ("Des espèces") to examine the concept of species and how new species might form over time. Other than a passing reference to Poiret's evolutionism by Frédéric Gérard (also a botanist and evolutionist) in 1844, another brief acknowledgement by Dominique Alexandre Godron in 1847, and a footnote appearance in Darwin's 1861 "Historical Sketch" in the third English edition of  On the Origin of Species  (pulled from Godron - Darwin never read Poiret's evolutionary speculations), Poiret's name did not otherwise grace a single history of evolutionism in the last 200 years... until last year. In a 2020 work on early evolutionists, it is concluded that "Poiret does more to affirm fixity in nature than species transmutation." This characterization of Poiret as a species fixist serves as a cautionary tale of the often-daunting challenges of variant editions and the vagaries of citation in the nineteenth century.  In order to return Poiret to the ranks of early botanist evolutionists, I will discuss Poiret's arguments that varieties can give rise to new species, that hybrids between distinct species can also beget new species, and that  character change as a consequence of altered environmental conditions is a central mechanism of descent with modification. I will show that Poiret deserves to be viewed as an important figure in the early history of evolutionary thought and as one of the first three individuals (along with Leopold von Buch in 1817 and William Herbert in 1819) to draw heavily on plants to posit an evolutionary worldview.

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Related Links:
Early evolutionists website entry on Jean Louis Marie Poiret

1 - Harvard University, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, 1300 Centre Street, Boston, MA, 02131, USA

early evolutionary thought
species concepts.

Presentation Type: Oral Paper
Session: FTI, Floristics & Taxonomy I
Location: Virtual/Virtual
Date: Monday, July 19th, 2021
Time: 10:15 AM(EDT)
Number: FTI002
Abstract ID:82
Candidate for Awards:None

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