Plukenet, Leonard (DNB00)

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PLUKENET, LEONARD (1642–1706), botanist, son of Robert Plukenet, and his wife Elizabeth, was born on 4 Jan. 1642. In early life he was a fellow-student of William Courten [q. v.] and of Robert Uvedale [q. v.], Pulteney suggests at Cambridge, but his name does not appear in the matriculation lists. Jackson (Journ. Bot. 1894, p. 248) believes, however, that it was at Westminster School under Dr. Busby. He soon practised as a physician in London, having apparently taken his M.D. degree abroad, and resided at St. Margaret's Lane, Old Palace Yard, Westminster, where he had a small botanic garden. He also had access to the gardens of other botanists, and owned a farm at Horn Hill, Hertfordshire. He published many works on botany at his own expense, and after 1689 his labours apparently attracted the interest of Queen Mary, who appointed him superintendent of the royal gardens at Hampton Court with the title of ‘Royal Professor of Botany,’ or ‘Queen's Botanist.’

He died at Westminster on 6 July 1706, and was interred on the 12th in the chancel of St. Margaret's Church. According to the registers of St. Margaret's, his wife Letitia bore him thirteen children; Pulteney speaks of another son, Richard, who was a student at Cambridge in 1696 (cf. Journ. Bot. 1894, p. 248).

Plukenet's long series of volumes forms a continuous description of plants of all parts of the world. They contain 2,740 figures with descriptive letterpress. Though chiefly devoted to exotics, several British plants were first figured in his plates. To Plukenet John Ray [q. v.] was indebted for assistance in the arrangement of the second volume of his ‘Historia Plantarum.’ His labours were ill appreciated by his fellow-botanists, and in his later writings Plukenet evinces his sense of neglect by passing severe though not unjust strictures on Sir Hans Sloane and James Petiver [q. v.]

His ‘Phytographia,’ &c., 4 pts. 4to, London, 1691–2, delineates new and rare species of plants. Subsequent works catalogue the contents of his herbarium, which comprised eight thousand plants. Their titles are: ‘Almagestum Botanicum,’ &c., 8vo, London, 1696; ‘Almagesti Botanici Mantissa,’ &c., 4to, London, 1700; ‘Amaltheum Botanicum,’ &c., with an index to the whole series, 4to, London, 1705. A collected edition of all these works, in six volumes, made up out of the surplus copies, was issued in 1720 and reprinted in 1769; an ‘Index Linnæanus,’ identifying his figures with Linné's species, was published by Giseke in 1779.

Plukenet's herbarium forms part of the Sloane collection kept in the Botanical Department of the British Museum (Natural History), where some of Plukenet's manuscript is also preserved.

A portrait engraved by Collins appears in the ‘Phytographia.’

[Pulteney's Sketches, ii. 18–29; Rees's Cyclopædia; Journ. Bot. 1882 pp. 338–42, 1894 pp. 247–8; Trimen and Dyer's Flora of Middlesex, p. 374.]

B. B. W.