2 - Flore française

The microbial group name diatoms was inserted into the botanical lexicon at the beginning of the 19th century through the tip of a French quill. Jean Baptiste Lamarck (Figure 3) is well-known to every student of biology -- probably less for his revolutionary studies of invertebrate animals (1801, 1815-1822) and probably more for his pre-Darwinian ideas about progressive, internally driven evolution modified by an inheritance of acquired characteristics (1809). In contrast, he is relatively unknown at present for his botanical studies, which occupied the first two decades of his scientific life and carried him to the loftiest echelons of French science during the Revolution (1789-1799). In 1778, as storm clouds gathered around the head of Louis XVI and the Ancien Régime, as Linnaeus, Voltaire and Rousseau passed on and A. P. de Candolle was "sprung from a family in Provence" and Bory from one in Aquitaine, and as Lavoisier was discovering the element silicon, after nearly a decade of botanical study, the-34-year-old Lamarck published, as the sole author, a monumental 3-volume Flora of France (Flore françoise). [Note 2] A second edition, largely unaltered, was issued during the Revolution, in 1795. Shortly thereafter, during the ascendancy of Napoleon, Lamarck decided to issue a third edition. But now approaching 60 years old, having turned his scientific focus to zoology and concentrating upon promoting his ideas about evolution among a resistent French scientific corps, which had judged he had "peaked", he placed the work of revising and expanding the Flore into the hands of a young botanist, Augustin Pyrame de Candolle (Figure 4), who had been working as an assistant to Georges Cuvier, the great animal comparative anatomist and paleontologist, and himself at the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

Figure 3 (above). Jean Baptiste de Lamarck (1844-1829). Image: Public Domain.

Figure 4 (left). Augustin Pyrame de Candolle (1778-1841). Image: Galerie des Naturalistes, J. Pizzetta, Ed, Hennuyer, 1893. Image: Public Domain.

Figure 5 (below). The title page from the Third Edition of the Second Volume of Flore Française (1805). Title: French Flora, or brief descriptions of all plants naturally growing in France, presented according to a new analytical method and preceded by a presentation of the elementary principles of botany.

In the 2nd volume of this 3rd edition (1805) of Flore française (Figure 5), under the cryptogams, among the algae -- amidst Nostoc, Ulva, Varec and Ceramium -- the 27-year-old Candolle inserted the new genus Diatoma into the Flore. Appropriate to French botanical methodology of the period, he presented the generic name both in French (Diatome) and in Latin (Diatoma), but his description of the genus referred to the group (of two species) as diatomes: "Les filamens des diatomes sont simples, ..."; "Les diatomes sont très-petites, ...." Candolle provided in the Flore no Greek roots for the new name, no etymological derivation, no explicit explanation of why he chose it.

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