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c h a p t e r n i n e The Anatomy of Plants 9.1 Plants between Anatomy and Natural History Works on plants in the last third of the seventeenth century involved descriptive or natural historical aspects, as well as more interpretive, experimental, and natural philosophical components showing a marked difference from the Renaissance tradition. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the study of plants was overwhelmingly the domain of apothecaries and humanist physicians; their main concern was the identification, naming, and classification of specimens in relation to classical sources, as well as the study of the medicinal properties of plants. Unlike many previous celebrated herbals, the 1623 Pinax by the Basel professor and physician Caspar Bauhin had no illustrations, but with its approximately six thousand plants it was considered the pinnacle of this taxonomic tradition. In the following decades works by van Helmont and even Harvey, together with the rise of mechanistic and microscopic anatomy, opened new horizons of research on plants with regard to issues such as the motion or circulation of sap and the chymical, mechanical, and experimental investigation of processes such as nutrition, growth, and reproduction. Some of Malpighi’s experiments showed the direction of flow of sap in the trunk, whereas those by Rudolph Jakob Camerarius at Tübingen dealt with sexual reproduction . Alongside a changing understanding of plants went changing methods of inquiry and representation. In the hands of investigators such as Hooke, Malpighi, and Grew, the microscope allowed unprecedented access to minute structures from roots to leaves, allowing them to discover and represent novel features in elaborate plates.¹ As in the case of insects, here I follow contemporary standards in understanding plants in a broad sense, including moulds, for example. Section 9.2 examines Malpighi’s Anatome plantarum, a treatise on the structure and “œconomy” of plants that historians of medicine and anatomy would be unwise The Anatomy of Plants 235 to ignore as irrelevant to their studies: while systematically comparing plant and animal parts, Malpighi seized the opportunity to expand his reflections on a number of processes such as respiration, growth, and generation. Following the concealed attack by Giovanni Battista Trionfetti in the 1685 De ortu et vegetatione plantarum, Malpighi returned to the investigation of plants and in his Vita reported several experiments and observations, many of which he had performed himself, whereas others were carried out on his behalf by the Livorno apothecary Diacinto Cestoni and others. This episode is discussed in section 9.3 for the light it sheds on contemporary debates on experimental procedures on generation and the growth of plants, including issues such as spontaneous generation and metamorphosis. Lastly, section 9.4 deals with the works by Grew and Camerarius, focusing on Grew’s iconography and study of the “œconomy” of plants and Camerarius’s experiments on their sexual reproduction. Their works document how the study of snails opened a new horizon for conceptualizing sexual reproduction in nature, a horizon that soon came to fruition in the study of plants. As in chapter 7, here too I have chosen Hooke’s Micrographia as an entry to some themes of this chapter, such as the mechanistic understanding of plant processes, experimentation , and iconography. This choice seems especially appropriate in light of the assistance in microscopy he offered to Grew. Hooke provided a beautiful example of the growing mechanistic understanding in this area with his analysis of the behavior of sensitive plants—such as mimosa pudica—a classic topic discussed by several scholars from Descartes and Mersenne to Camerarius. In August 1661, in the presence of several witnesses, including the president of the Royal Society William Brouncker and others, he examined sensitive plants in the garden of Mr. Chissin in St. James’s Park. Plants of the mimosa species posed a philosophical problem because their leaves moved by folding when touched, thus challenging a key distinction between plants and animals going back to Aristotle. Besides touching the plant, Hooke dropped aqua fortis on it, cut it, rubbed aromatic oil on its leaves, and burnt it with a lens. He noticed that whereas by cutting the plant in its normal state a small amount of fluid was exuded, when the plant had closed no fluid was produced. This led him to propose a mechanical explanation based on the pressure of the fluid moving or circulating in the plant. The action of touching the plant changed the pressure and pushed the fluid back...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780801899805
Related ISBN
9780801899041
MARC Record
OCLC
794700377
Pages
456
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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