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November 30: The Botanist

November 30, 2015

150px-Nathanael_PringsheimNathanael Prigsheim, a botanist who identified the sexual reproduction process in algae and contributed greatly to the human knowledge of other plant life, was born in Germany on this date in 1823. As a young man, he was a politically active liberal during the 1848 uprisings in his region and was arrested at least once. Prigsheim studied at several universities, but spent most of his research career in his own private laboratory in Berlin, with only a four-year professorship in Jena, where he established a botanical institute. “Pringsheim’s observation of the formation of plant cells provided support for the belief... that cells arise only by division of pre-existing cells,” reports the Encyclopedia Brittanica. “In 1868 Pringsheim and the botanist Julius von Sachs were the first scientists to describe the specialized bodies in the cell cytoplasm called plastids.... By 1875 his attention had turned completely to plant physiology, and four years later he published a paper on the effects of light on chlorophyll, the green coloring matter of plants.” In 1882, Prigsheim established the German Botanical Society, which gained 400 member botanists in a dozen years; he was elected president each year until his death in 1894.

“It was Ferdinand Cohn and Nathanael Prigsheim who revolutionized the study of botany by their discoveries concerning the sexuality of plants and who created the first institutes for botanical physiology in Germany.” —Israel Cohen, Jewish Life in Modern Times