was born at Eresos about 372 B.C., the son of a fuller
and died about 288 B.C. He came early to Athens to
sudy under Plato and presumably at that time became
acquainted with Aristotle and apparently they became
very good friends. When Aristotle was forced to leave
Athens about 322, Theophrastus was appointed his
successor. It was at this time that all the
manuscripts and writings of Aristotle were bequeathed
to Theophrastus. Theophrastus became head of the
school, reorganized and enlarged it and continued as
leader for 35 years. He bought an adjoining estate,
enlarged the garden. He is reported to have had more
than 2,000 pupils.
Two hundred and twenty-seven treatises are
attributed to Theophrastus dealing with religion,
politics, ethics, education, rhetoric, mathematics,
astronomy, logic, meterology, natural history and the
The botanical works of Theophrastus are the earliest of their kind
in world literature. They are excellent and he has been termed the
"father of botany." The two books are listed as follows:
Historia de Plantis (History of Plants or
Inquiring into Plants).
De Causis Plantarums (The Causes of
The first is largely descriptive while the second
is more physiological in nature.
Theophrastus had a tremendous amount of knowledge,
accumulated for him by students and staff of the
Lyceum. His knowledge of foreign plants was likewise
outstanding. Alexander the Great, while carrying on
his military expeditions as far as the Indus River in
India, sent him many plants.
Theophrastus was concerned with 500-550 species and
varieties of plants, most of which were cultivated. He
stated that wild plants were largely unknown and
unnamed. He discussed some of these wild plants and
indicated that attempts had been made to acclimatize
some - not always with success. He was handicapped by
insufficient terminology and in consequence he
introduced some new technical terms. He distinguished
between various means of reproduction of plants.
Sarton points out that at the beginning the urge
for knowledge of plants was largely for food and
drugs. However, Theophrastus became interested in
botany as a form of knowledge and in plant life in all
its forms as well as in the reasons for various
phenomena observed by him. He considered changes in
plants not miraculous but natural. The Lyceum has been
considered by some as the first botanic garden.
Presumably it contained some plants studied by
Theophrastus and his pupils. Theophrastus was the
greatest botanic writer until the Renaissance of the
16th Century in Germany. His Greek followers were
Nicandros of Colophon, Cratevas and Dioscorides.
Theophrastus, Inquiry into Plants, trans. by
Holt, London, W. Heinemann, New York, G. P.
Putnam's Sons, 1916.
De Causis Plantarums, trans. Robert E. Denger,
Westbrook Pub. Co., 1927.