Saturday, 3 January 2009

Botanic Gardens in Portugal, 1845


(In a Letter to Sir William Hooker, from Dr. SCOULER, Professor of Natural History in the Royal Dublin Institution.)

We consider that, even after the labours of Brotero, the complaint of Linnaeus may still be repeated respecting the botanic riches of this kingdom, contrasted with our very imperfect information respecting it. The history of Botanic Science in Portugal is, unfortunately, a very brief one; especially as the country has produced only two botanists of European reputation. The earliest Portuguese work, in any way relating to the vegetable kingdom, is by Garsia de Horto, a Professor of Medicine in the University of Coimbra. He resigned his Chair in 1534, visited India and China, and published at Goa his work on the Species of the East, a work whose merit caused it to be translated into most of the European languages. Thomè Oynes, an apothecary at Leyria, also wrote on the same subject, about the beginning of the sixteenth century; and another and still more valuable work appeared about this time from the pens of Pero Magalhaes de Gondavo, the friend of the poet Camoens, on the history of the Provinces of Brazil, then called Santa Cruz. This rare but most judicious book, contains notices of many of the most valuable vegetable productions of Brazil, and discusses the capabilities of that fine region, and the vast resources it would yet open to Portugal, in a spirit of sound and enlightened judgment far in advance of his age or countrymen.
The earliest catalogue of Portuguese plants was by Gabriel Gaillez, who wrote about 1670, and dedicated it to the celebrated Duke of Schornhurg, who afterwards fell in Ireland. It resembles Threlkeld's on the plants of Ireland, compiled a few years later; only it is very inferior even to that very meagre book. Gaillez' work is merely a list of names, and often the same species is indicated several times. To use the expression of Linnaeus " it would require another OEdipus to divine the plants indicated by Gaillez." A second edition of this work was edited by Vandelli in 1780.
We possess nothing else from the pen of a Portuguese Botanist until the energetic administration of Pombal, which seems to have infused a portion of its life into every kind of pursuit. Both Bro- tero and Correa de Serra were educated during this period, and may truly be pronounced the first and as yet the only eminent botanists which Portugal has produced. Concerning Brotero we need not say anything at present; but we may remark that, at least in our opinion, Correa de Serra ranks higher as a philosopher. His residences at London, Paris, and Washington have rendered his name familiar to the naturalists of Europe and America. Besides his botanical papers, with which the scientific public is acquainted, he is known to his countrymen for other valuable labours. He was an active coadjutor to the Duke of La Foez, in founding the Academy of Sciences, and also published many works on the literature of Portugal, and illustrating its history. Although an Abbé and Ecclesiastic, yet such was the spirit of the times, that he was obliged to reside chiefly in foreign countries.
It were easy to add to the list of Portuguese botanists the names of Loureiro, Padre Leander, Vellozo, and even others less known, but such statements would be of small interest to the public. It is perhaps more necessary but less agreable to mention, that while the eminent men of the last generation have passed away they have left no successors, and probably, at the present day, Portugal is as destitute of original talent in natural history as she was before the reform of her literary institutions, about the middle of the last century. The devastations of the French, followed up by so many political changes and civil wars, may in part account for this; but we suspect the cause lies deeper, and depends on the slender emoluments and very small number of situations open to scientific men. Another circumstance is the want of a reading public, or of anything like a general taste for natural history ; thus rendering the task of scientific authorship a ruinous undertaking: and as the educated classes understand French, the necessity for native books is not felt. Connected with and depending upon this, it is a curious fact that while many individuals may be found, who have a theoretical knowledge of natural history, derived from books, a practical acquaintance with it is very rare. Few are at the pains to herborize or to study the structure and productions of the earth, by excursions to the mountains.
With respect to the present state of Botany we may also mention the following circumstances. There are, or rather we may say were, two Botanic Gardens in Portugal; one at Ajuda near Lisbon, and the other at Coimbra. The situation of the garden of Coimbra is highly beautiful, and indeed it would be difficult to find any but delightful places on the Mondego. The ground is laid out in the French taste, and the quantity of glass which they possess is very small. This garden was commenced by Brotero, while Professor at Coimbra, when it appears to have been in a flourishing state, and it continued a respectable establishment under Brotero's successor Dr. Neves; but since 1834 it has obviously been quite neglected. At present, even including weeds and the lichens and mosses growing on the trees and stones, we do not think it contains a thousand species.
The Royal Garden, Menagerie, and Museum of Ajuda, were placed under the superintendance of Brotero, when he was removed from Coimbra. There is now no menagerie, and the garden is also in a neglected condition, although not to the degree of that of Coimbra. Under the care of Brotero it was said to possess 4000 species; now they cannot exceed 1200. The glass is of no great extent; a matter of, however, less importance in Portugal than England. The Aquarium is very large and well adapted for aquatic productions. Many of the plants have their names attached, which was done by Dr. Welwitsch when he had charge of the garden.
On the other hand, indications are not wanting of some progress in the right direction, as exhibited in a taste for horticulture. Horticultural societies are about to be formed, both in Lisbon and Oporto, and there are some individuals who cultivate different tribes, such as Cacteas, &c. Indeed there is not a country in Europe more admirably adapted for the lover of flowers; for here many of the choicest productions of Africa and Brazil may be raised in the open air. The Date-palm, Dragon-tree, Bananas, and Cacti stand the winters of Portugal, and thus may afford some idea of the multitude of useful and ornamental plants which might be introduced into this fine country.
But the re-establishment, which will afford most hope to the botanist, is the Garden at Lumiar, the property of the Marquis of Fayal (son of the Duke of Palmella), and situated about five miles from Lisbon. Lumiar has been recently purchased by the Marquis and is still under process of repair, but bids fair to possess the richest collection of plants, whether native or introduced to Portugal. Even at present a visit to the grounds is highly interesting, and especially as there are some fine old plants from tropical regions, which are completely naturalized. The mixture of Clerodendron fragrans, Polygala myrtifolia, Bamboos, Bananas, the Goa Cypress, Dracaenas of gigantic size, Araucaria Braziliensis (twenty feet high), Cereus Peruviana (twenty-five feet high, one and a half foot in circumference), with the trees and shrubs of the north and south of Europe, afford to him, who has visited India and Brazil, a strange and grotesque association, filled with many recollections to the travelling botanist. The utility of such undertakings is much greater in Portugal than with us, for there public spirit and good example are more needed, and we trust the Marquis of Fayal will fill in his country the post of the Dukes of Bedford and Devonshire among ourselves.
This establishment is also fortunate in being under the care of Dr. Welwitsch, the only person we met with in Portugal who is equally familiar with the theory and the practice of Botany, and as well acquainted with Alga and Mosses as he is with flowering plants. Dr. Welwitsch is also minutely versed in the Portuguese Flora, and an inspection of his herbarium shows how rich that is, and how many species remain to be added to the work of Brotero. Even in the class of Ferns we were indebted to Dr. Welwitsch for the Cheilanthes pteroides and Pteres palustris, which are not in Brotero's list*. It is to be desired that Dr. Welwitsch should furnish us with a new " Flora Lusitanica," for which he is so well qualified by his knowledge of the country, his literary acquirements, and knowledge of the science.
* In the north of Portugal we found, in one day, the following plants unnoticed by Brotero ; Saxifraga umbrosa and leuccanthemifolius (La Perouse), Potentilla nivea, and the Davallia Canariensis, supposed to be peculiar to Cintra, growing abundantly at Oporto and even further north, at Braga.

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