Adolphe Théodore

Adolphe Théodore

Brongniart, Adolphe Théodore, 1801-76, French botanist; son of Alexandre Brongniart. He was a pioneer in the study of plant morphology and physiology and was author of an important work on plant fossils (1828-37) and of a valuable first account of pollen. His classification of plants in the natural history museum at Paris was the basis of the system now used in Germany and developed by Adolph Engler. He helped establish the Annales des sciences naturelles and founded the Société botanique de France.
Adolphe-Théodore Brongniart (January 14, 1801 - February 18, 1876) was a French botanist. He was the son of the geologist Alexandre Brongniart and grandson of the architect, Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart. Brongniart's pioneering work on the relationships between extinct and existing plants has earned him the title of father of paleobotany. His major work on plant fossils was his Histoire des végétaux fossiles (1828–37). He wrote his dissertation on the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae), an extant family of flowering plants, and worked at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris until his death on 8 February 1876.

Brongniart's works

Brongniart was an indefatigable investigator and a prolific writer, so that he left behind him, as the fruit of his labours, a large number of books and memoirs. As early as 1822 he published a paper on the classification and distribution of fossil plants. This was followed by several papers chiefly bearing upon the relation between extinct and existing forms - a line of research which culminated in the publication of the Histoire des vegetaux fossiles ("History of fossil plants"), which has earned for him the title of "father of palaeobotany." This brought order into chaos by a classification in which the fossil plants were arranged, with remarkably correct insight, with their nearest living allies; it formed the basis of much subsequent progress in paleobotany. It is of especial botanical interest, because, in accordance with Robert Brown's discoveries, the Cycadeae and Coniferae were placed in the new group the gymnosperms. In Brongniart's Histoire des végétaux fossiles attention was also directed to the succession of forms in the various geological periods, with the important result (stated in modern terms) that in the Palaeozoic period the Pteridophyta are found to predominate; in the Mesozoic, the Gymnosperms; in the Cenozoic, the Angiosperms, a result subsequently more fully stated in his Tableau des genres de végétaux fossiles. But the great Histoire itself was not destined to be more than a colossal fragment; the publication of successive parts proceeded regularly from 1828 to 1837, when the first volume was completed, but after that only three parts of the second volume appeared. Brongniart, no doubt, was overwhelmed with the continually increasing magnitude of the task that he had undertaken. Apart from his more comprehensive works, his most important palaeontological contributions are perhaps his observations on the structure of the treelike lycopod, Sigillaria, an extinct plant related to the living club mosses, and his researches (almost the last he undertook) on fossil seeds, of which a full account was published posthumously in 1880.

Other pursuits

His activity was by no means confined to palaeobotany, but extended into all branches of botany, more particularly anatomy and phanerogamic (Spermatophyte, or seed-plant) taxonomy. Among his achievements in these directions the most notable is the memoir Sur la génération et le développement de l'embryon des Phanérogames ("On the geration and development of the spermatophyte embryo"). This is remarkable in that it contains the first account of any value of the development of the pollen; as also a description of the structure of the pollen-grain, the confirmation of Giovanni Battista Amici's discovery in 1823 of the pollen-tube, the confirmation of Robert Brown's views as to the structure of the unimpregnated ovule (with the introduction of the term "sac embryonnaire", or embryo sac); and in that it shows how nearly Brongniart anticipated Amici's subsequent (1846) discovery of the entrance of the pollen-tube into the micropyle, fertilizing the female cell, which then develops into the embryo.

Of his anatomical works, those of the greatest value are probably the "Recherches sur la structure et les fonctions des feuilles" ("research on the structure and function of leaves"), and the Nouvelles recherches sur 1'épiderme ("New research on the epidermis"), in which, among other important observations, the discovery of the cuticle is recorded; and, further, the Recherches sur l'organisation des tiges des Cycadées ("Research on the organization of cycad stems"), giving the results of the first investigation of the anatomy of those plants.

His systematic work is represented by a large number of papers and monographs, many of which relate to the flora of New Caledonia; and by his Énumération des genres de plantes cultivées au Musée d'histoire naturelle de Paris (1843), a catalogue of the plants in cultivation at the Musée d'histoire naturelle; it is a landmark in the history of classification in that it forms the starting-point of the classification system, modified successively by Alexander Braun, August W. Eichler and Adolf Engler, which was not superseded until the development of DNA research.

In addition to his scientific and professorial labours, Brongniart held various important official posts in connection with the department of education, and interested himself greatly in agricultural and horticultural matters. With Jean Victoire Audouin and Jean-Baptiste Dumas, his future brothers-in-law, Brongniart founded the Annales des Sciences Naturelles, a peer-reviewed journal, in 1824. He also founded the Société Botanique de France in 1854, and was its first president.

Genera named by Brongniart, in family order


The list of genera named by Brongniart is from the International Plant Names Index, a collaborative effort among The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, The Harvard University Herbaria, and the Australian National Herbarium.

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