MBG HomeRare Books from the Missouri Botanical Garden Library Shop  About the Project   Download   Copyright   Comments 
   Browse Titles  Browse Authors  Browse Illustrations  To Be Scanned  Search         Purchase Prints
  Nikolaus Joseph, Freiherr von Jacquin
1727 - 1817

Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin, Austrian botanist, was born at Leiden, in the Netherlands on February 16, 1727, the son of a prosperous cloth manufacturer, Claudius Nikolaus Jacquin, and his wife, Siegeberta von Henningen. The origins of the Jacquin family were in France, and they were Roman Catholic, a fact of some significance in the son’s career. There were no Catholic schools in Leiden in the early 18th century, so his father sent him to a Jesuit college in Antwerp. He next attended Louvain University, and then returned home to study medicine and botany. At the university in Leiden, one of his professors was Adriaan van Royen (1704-1779), an advocate of the Linnaean reform in botanical systematics, and he also became acquainted with two other Linnaean advocates-Jan Fredrik Gronovius (1690-1762) and his son, Laurens Theodoor (1730-1773). The latter is credited with significantly influencing Jacquin toward what would be a lifelong career in botany.

From 1750 to 1752, Jacquin continued his medical studies in Paris, where he met the famous de Jussieu brothers, Antoine (1686-1758) and Bernard (1699-1777). He attended the botanical lectures of the former and took part in the botanical excursions of the latter, thus broadening his interest in that science. In 1752, following the suggestion of a family friend and former Leiden physician, Jacquin left Paris for Vienna where he expected to complete his medical studies. The friend was Gerard van Swieten (1700-1772) who had practiced medicine and lectured at the university in Leiden, but, as a Roman Catholic, had found the academic life there inhospitable. When the Empress Maria Theresa offered him the position of court physician plus a professorship in the medical faculty, he accepted gratefully, and had left Leiden for good in 1745.

In Vienna, Jacquin discovered that van Swieten, his patron, in addition to his medical duties, had had a major role in the development of the gardens at the Schoenbrunn Palace. He became a frequent visitor to the gardens, met the Emperor, Francis I, and was invited to go on a botanical collecting trip to the West Indies. The expedition was van Swieten’s idea, and he selected another Dutch countryman from the Schoenbrunn staff, Richard van der Schot , to go to the Caribbean region. The expedition, which was to last four years, left Italy in early 1755, and arrived in Martinique six months later.

With Martinique as their base of operations, the expedition traveled to numerous Caribbean islands, including St. Vincent, Grenada, Aruba, St. Kitts, and others. They also visited the coastal regions of Venezuela and Colombia, Haiti in 1757- 58; Jamaica in 1758; Cuba in 1759. Jacquin was the first botanist to bring home collections and drawings from such places as St. Eustatius, Curacao, St. Maarten, and Grenada. Altogether, he sent seven collections of plants and animals to Vienna. They are described in his Hortus Schoenbrunnensis (1797-1804).

Jacquin left Cuba in 1759 and arrived in Vienna in July of the same year, and the expedition was considered to have been an unqualified success. Carl Linnaeus, hearing of the expedition, initiated what would become a lifelong correspondence with Jacquin, writing him congratulations in a letter of August 1, 1759. He welcomed Jacquin as "the ambassador of Flora itself, bringing us the treasures from foreign worlds, ..." Sometime later, when Linnaeus had received and read Jacquin’s first publication on West Indian plants, Enumeratio systematica plantarum (1760), he wrote that," I have seldom seen such a small booklet so rich in golden knowledge. I read it during the evening and could not sleep at night because I dreamed of your beautiful plants."

The small work of 1760 was followed by Selectarum stirpium americanorum historia, a large folio published in 1763. The importance of these two works in the development of botanical science was very great. The Enumeratio was one of the first books by an author other than Linnaeus or his immediate pupils in which the binary system of nomenclature was used, and the Selectarum gives extensive descriptions of new taxa from America along with 184 copper engravings from the drawings of live specimens made by Jacquin in the field. The Linnaeus-Jacquin correspondence for the early 1760’s contains numerous references to the publications, and Linnaeus refers to many of Jacquin’s new taxa in the second edition of Species plantarum (1762-63). Jacquin also used Linnaean binomials in his Enumeratio stirpium ... in agro Vindobonensi (1762) which was a list of plants growing in the Vienna region.

In 1763, with his reputation firmly established, Jacquin was able to write to Linnaeus that he had been offered no less than three professorships-at Innsbruck, St. Petersburg, and Schemnitz in Hungary (now Banska Stiavnica in Slovakia). He accepted a professorship of chemistry and metallurgy at the mining academy in Hungary and was granted an annual stipend of 500 gold ducats. In addition, he was given a large house, space for a laboratory, a garden, and an allowance for four horses. He had married, and his wife brought him a substantial dowry and he continued to receive an allowance from the Austrian emperor. As he wrote to Linnaeus, he could live well and devote all his time to science; Linnaeus was impressed and mentioned that he had to make do with an income of 150 ducats per year.

Jacquin lived and worked in Schemnitz for six years and then moved to Vienna to accept a professorship of botany and chemistry at the University, a post he held until his retirement in 1797. During his Vienna years, he published a series of illustrated folios. They included Florae austriaceae, 5 volumes (1773-1778); Icones plantarum rariorum, 3 volumes (1781-1793); Plantarum rariorum caesari schoenbrunnensis, 4 volumes (1797-1804). He also published, in 1785, Anleitung zur Pflanzenkenntniss nach Linne’s Methode, in which he gives his ideas on systematics and explains his preference for the Linnaean system, What is important, he advises, is the practical usefulness of the Linnaean scheme, which emphasizes directness, simplicity, and efficiency. All systems in taxonomy, he believes, are arbitrary-what is most desirable is to establish one which is the superior vehicle for storing and retrieving taxonomic information.

Jacquin’s years in Vienna were extraordinarily fruitful. In addition to his professorship, he was the director of the University botanic garden. For his services and contributions to botany, he was knighted in 1774 and became a baron in 1806. He has been described as the foremost participant in the golden age of Austrian botany-the "Austrian Linnaeus".


  • August Neilreich, "Geschichte der Botanik in Nieder-Oesterreich", Verhandlungen des zoologisch-botanischen Vereins in Wien. vol. 5:30-32. 1855.
  • Frans A. Stafleu, "Jacquin, European Botanist", Selectarum Stirpium Americanarum (facsimile of the 1763 edition), pp. F7-F11. 1970.
  • Frans A. Stafleu, Linnaeus and the Linnaeans. pp. 183-191. 1971.
  • Frans A. Stafleu, "Nikolaus Freiherr von Jacquin und die systematische Botanik seiner Zeit", Anzeiger der phil.-hist. Klasse der Oesterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. no. 117. 1980.

Robert F. Erickson 

Digitized Works:
Fragmenta botanica
Floræ Austriacæauthor
Hortus botanicus vindobonensisauthor
Icones plantarum rariorumauthor
Plantarum rariorum horti caesarei Schoenbrunnensisauthor
Selectarum stirpium Americanarum historia (Kew)author
Selectarum stirpium Americanarum historia (MBG)author
Shop - Home - About - Download - Copyright - Comments

Copyright © 1995-2019 Missouri Botanical Garden. Send questions to William Ulate.