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René Louiche Desfontaines, 1751–1833


AMONG the names of the many eminent naturalists who have worked in the Jardin des Plantes is that of Rene Louiehe Desfontaines, the botanist, who died on November 16, 1833. A contemporary of Antoine Laurent de Jussieu, after attending the college at Rennes, he went to Paris to study medicine, and there came into contact with Louis -Guillaume Le Monnier (1717-1799), professor of botany in what was then known as the Jardin du Roi. In 1783 Desfontaines was elected a member of the Academy of Sciences and that same year set out on a botanical expedition to North Africa. After spending two years exploring Tunis and Algeria, he returned home with valuable collections in all departments of natural history, and in 1786 was chosen to succeed Le Monnier as professor of botany, retaining that position when the title of the gardens was altered to the Jardin des Plantes. In spite of the Revolution, he continued to prosecute the study of botany with vigour and contributed many memoirs to the newly organised Academy of Sciences. Among these was his paper on the structure of monocotyledons, read in 1796. In 1798 he published the first number of his “Flora Atlantica” and this was succeeded by a catalogue of the plants in the Jardin des Plantes, and a work on the history of trees and shrubs which could be cultivated in France in the open air. He continued his active work until he was more than seventy years of age, and his researches were only brought to an end by the failure of his sight. He married late in life, but had one daughter who contributed much to his comfort in his last years.

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René Louiche Desfontaines, 1751–1833. Nature 132, 741 (1933).

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