Page:History of botany (Sachs; Garnsey).djvu/24

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were proposed as to the nature of plants, their organisation or mutual relations; the only point of interest was the knowledge of individual forms and of their medicinal virtues.

The descriptions were at first extremely inartistic and unmethodical; but the effort to make them as exact and clear as was possible led from time to time to perceptions of truth, that came unsought and lay far removed from the object originally in view. It was remarked that many of the plants which Dioscorides had described in his Materia Medica do not grow wild in Germany, France, Spain, and England, and that conversely very many plants grow in these countries, which were evidently unknown to the ancient writers; it became apparent at the same time that many plants have points of resemblance to one another, which have nothing to do with their medicinal powers or with their importance to agriculture and the arts. In the effort to promote the knowledge of plants for practical purposes by careful description of individual forms, the impression forced itself on the mind of the observer, that there are various natural groups of plants which have a distinct resemblance to one another in form and in other characteristics. It was seen that there were other natural alliances in the vegetable world, beside the three great divisions of trees, shrubs, and herbs adopted by Aristotle and Theophrastus. The first perception of natural groups is to be found in Bock, and later herbals show that the natural connection between such plants as occur together in the groups of Fungi, Mosses, Ferns, Coniferae, Umbelliferae, Compositae, Labiatae, Papilionaceae was distinctly felt, though it was by no means clearly understood how this connection was actually expressed; the fact of natural affinity presented itself unsought as an incidental and indefinite impression, to which no great value was at first attached. The recognition of these groups required no antecedent philosophic reflection or conscious attempt to classify the objects in the vegetable world; they present themselves to the unprejudiced eye as naturally as do the groups of mammals, birds, reptiles,