Plukenet, Leonard

, a celebrated English botanist, was born, as he himself has recorded, in 1642, but where he was educated, or in what university he received his degrees, has. not been ascertained. It has been conjectured, from a few circumstances, that it was at Cambridge. His name seems of French extraction, plus que net, and has been Latinized plus quam nitidus. He dates the prefaces to his works from Old Palace-yard, Westminster, where he seems to have had a small garden. It does not appear | that he attained to any considerable eminence in his profession of phjsic, and it is suspected he was only an apothecary, but he was absorbed in the study of plants, and devoted all his leisure to the composition of his “Phytographia.” He spared no pains to procure specimens of rare and new plants, had correspondents in all parts of the world, and access to the gardens of Hampton-court, then Very flourishing, and all others that were curious. PIukenet was one of those to whom Ray was indebted for assistance in the arrangement of the second volume of his history, and that eminent man every where bears the strongest testimony to his merit. Yet he was in want of patronage, and felt that want severely. With Sloane and Petiver, two of the first botanists of his own age, he seems to have been at variance, and censures their writings with too much asperity. “Plukenet,” says sir J. E. Smith, whose opinion in such matters we are always happy to follow, “was, apparently, a man of more solid learning than either of those distinguished writers, and having been less prosperous than either, he was perhaps less disposed to palliate their errors. As far as we have examined, his criticisms, however severe, are not unjust.” No obstacles damped the ardour of Plukenet in his favourite pursuit. He was himself at the charge of his engravings, and printed the whole work at his own expence, with the exception of a small subscription of about fifty-five guineas, which he obtained near the conclusion of it. Towards the close of his life he is said to have been assisted by the queen, and to have obtained the superintendance of the garden at Hampton-court. He was also honoured with the title of royal professor of botany. The time of his decease is not precisely ascertained, but it is probable that he did not long survive his last publication, which appeared in 1705. His works were, 1. “Phytographia, sive stirpium illustrium et minus cognitorum Icones,1691—1696, published in four parts, and containing 328 plates, in 4to. 2. “Almagestum Botanicum, sive Phytographiae Piukenetianae Onornasticon,” &c. 1696, 4to the catalogue is alphabetical, and contains near 6000 species, of which, he tells us, 500 were new. No man, after Caspar Bauhine, had till then examined the ancient authors with so much attention as he did, that he might settle his synonyms with accuracy. He follows no system. 3. “Almagesti Botanici Mantissa,1700, 4to, with twenty-five new plates. Besides many | new plants, this volume contains very numerous additions to the synonyms of the Almagestum. 4. Five years after the Mantissa he published the “Amaltheum Botanicum,” with three plates, 4to. It abounds with new subjects, sent from China and the East Indies, with some from Florida. These works of Plukenet contain upwards of 2740 figures, most of them engraved from dried specimens, and many from small sprigs, destitute of flowers, or any parts of fructification, and consequently not to be ascertained: but several of these, as better specimens came to hand, are figured again in the subsequent plates. As he employed a variety of artists, they are unequally executed; those by Vander Gucht have usually the preference. It is much to be regretted that he had it not in his power to give his figures on a larger scale yet, with all their imperfections, these publications form a large treasure of botanical knowledge. The herbarium of Plukenet consisted of 8000 plants, an astonishing number to be collected by a private and not opulent individual: it came, after his death, into the hands of sir Hans Sloane, and is now in the British museum. His works were republished, with new titlepages, in 1720, and entirely reprinted, with some additions, in 1769; and in 1779 an Index Linnaeanus to his plates were published by Dr. Giseke, of Hamburgh, which contains a few notes, from a ms. left by Plukenet. The original ms. of Plukenet’s works is now in the library of sir J. E. Smith, president of the Linnaean society. Plumier, to be mentioned in the next article, complimented this learned botanist by giving his name to a plant, a native of both Indies. 1


Pulteney’s Sketches. Life by sir J. E. Smith, in Rees’s Cyclopedia.