S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Schimpers, Prof Andreas Franz Wilhelm (botany)

Born: 12 May 1856, Strasburg, Germany (now Strasbourg, France).
Died: 9 September 1901, Basel, Switzerland.

Andreas F.W. Schimper was the son of the geologist Professor Wilhelm P. Schimper and belonged to a family of eminent scientists. He studied at Strasburg University from 1874 to 1878, obtaining the degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph Dr). After working for some time in Lyon, France, and in the United States, he was appointed associate professor in Bonn, Germany. From December 1882 to August 1883 he undertook an expedition to the West Indies and Venezuela, and during 1889-1890 another to Ceylon, Malaya and Java, where he concentrated on the study of epiphytes, mangroves and strand vegetation. His work during the first expedition led to a monograph on the epiphytes of the Americas (1888), and that during the second expedition to a monograph on the Indo-Malay strand vegetation (1891) and a comprehensive paper on the family Rhizophoraceae (1892).

Schimper's earlier research focussed mainly on cell histology, particularly the chromatophores and starch metabolism. He introduced the term chloroplast, which he distinguished from chromatophore, and studied the development of starch grains. Applying his expertise to the field of food inspection and analysis he wrote Anleitung zur Mikroskopischen Untersuchung der vegetabilischen Nahrungs- und Genussmittel (Introduction to the microscopic investigation of vegetable food and delicatessen, 1886, 1900). Also in 1886 he published his Taschenbuch der medicinischen-pharmaceutischen botanic und pflanzlichen drogenkunde (Pocket-book of medical-pharmaceutical botany and plant-based drugs). From the early eighteen-eighties he began to make important contributions to phytogeography and became a pioneer in plant ecology, revealing the stability of plant territories. His most important publication was Pflanzengeographie auf physiologischer Grundlage (Jena, 1898, 877p). It was translated into English under the title Plant geography on a physiological basis (Oxford, 1903).

In 1898 Schimper was appointed professor of botany at the University of Basel, Switzerland, but before he took up this position he participated in the Deutsche Tiefsee-Expedition (German Deep Sea Expedition), led by the zoologist Professor Carl Chun*. They travelled in the steamer "Valdivia", leaving Hamburg in July 1898. The expedition visited the the Canary Islands, Cameroon, the Cape of Good Hope, the Kerguelen Islands and Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean, Sumatra (Indonesia), the Maldive Islands, Ceylon, the Seychelles, and the Red Sea. At the Cape Schimper travelled with Dr H.W. Rudoplf Marloth* to various places in the Western Cape and to Knysna. Upon his return to Germany in April 1899 he took up his new post in Basel. However, he suffered severe attacks of malaria, contracted in Cameroon and at Dar-es-Salaam, and died in 1901.

The scientific results of the expedition were published by Chun in Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse der Deutschen Tiefsee-Expedition auf dem Dampfer "Valdivia", 1898-1899. Following Schimper's death, Marloth undertook to write an extensive description of the Cape floral regions under the title Das Kapland, which was included in Volume 2 of this work, published in 1908. Two short chapters that had been written by Schimper before his death were included, dealing with hard-leaf woods and the Knysna forest respectively. Plant material collected by Schimper went mainly to herbaria in Bonn and Basle. The species Vaccinium schimperi from Java was named after him.

List of sources:
Debus, A.G. (ed.) World who's who in science. Chicago: Marquis, 1968.

Gunn, M. & Codd, L.E. Botanical exploration of southern Africa. Cape Town: Balkema, 1981.

Karsten, M.C. Rudolf Marloth (1855-1931), zijn leven en werken. Succulenta, 1932, Vol. 14, pp. 137-140, 188-192, 265-268, 303-307.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Compiled by: C. Plug