The Wild Flowers of Skopelos



        The father of botany

Born c.370 B.C. on the Island of Lesbos, where he studied philosophy,  Theophrastus became a follower of Plato in Athens, where he was a fellow pupil and friend of Aristotle. Following the death of Plato, Aristotle became the teacher and Theophrastus his pupil. On his death, Aristotle bequeathed his library and his garden to Theophrastus, who became the head of the Lyceum. It was in these gardens that he made many of the observations which contributed to his biological works.

Like Plato and Aristotle, Theophrastus was interested in many aspects of knowledge and observation of the world around him.  In his "Enquiry into Plants", he laid down principles of observation and its application to plants:

" In considering the distinctive characters of plants and their nature generally one must take

into account their parts, their qualities, the way on which their life originates, and the course which

it follows in each case." *

He was the first to classify plants, describing trees, shrubs, under-shrubs and herbaceous plants. Theophrastus subdivided under-shrubs into two categories:

" the spineless and the spinous kinds." *

Theophrastus made careful observations of growth, relating this to the local conditions, weather and even to the astronomical events.

"The growth alike of these and of others takes place in some cases with the first rains after the equinox,

for instance, the dandelion.... In other cases after the rising of the rising of the Pleiad.’*

Theophrastus gives advice on the practical uses of plants and the best timber to choose for particular tasks. He differentiated wild plants from cultivated and gives detailed horticultural advice on propagation, pruning, watering and general management.

The systematic approach to botany laid down by Theophrastus; the differentiation of plants  by detailed observation of the whole plant and its parts, and study of the life cycle of plants, continues to have relevance to the study of botany to this day.

* THEOPHRASTUS. ENQUIRY INTO PLANTS. Vol. I & II. Translated by A.F.Hort. Loeb Classics. Harvard University Press.

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