Indiana University Bloomington

Anatomia Animata: Anatomy and Medicine in William Harvey's Century

Plant Anatomy

The study of plants was undertaken by a number of seventeenth–century physicians and naturalists. Questions about the reproduction of plants, like those about insects, were both important questions in themselves and related to the larger field of medicine. The use of the microscope, which was also prominent in the study of insects and of the human body, meant that plant investigations could achieve new levels of understanding.

The microscope, plants, and insects were also intertwined with the Royal Society. The authors, Malpighi, Grew, and Leeuwenhoek sent their findings and learned of the discoveries of others through it. Grew was eventually employed by the Society.

Marcello Malpighi. Anatome Plantarum ... London: Impensis Johannis Martyn, 1675.

Together with Grew's Anatomy of Plants, Malpighi's work was the major treatise on plant anatomy of its time. Malpighi made a number of notable medical discoveries and was among the first to use the microscope to study plants and animals. He discovered that the layers of tissues in leaves and young shoots are continuous with those of the main stem, and he was first to understand the functions of leaves and to observe stomata in leaves and nodules on legume roots. He also realized that the ovule developed into a seed. Other works by Malpighi appear in other sections of this exhibition. This treatise is illustrated with hundreds of engravings drawn by Malpighi himself; the engraving on display shows a Venus flytrap.

Nehemiah Grew. The Anatomy of Plants. With an Idea of a Philosophical History of Plants, and Several Other Lectures, Read Before the Royal Society. [London]: Printed by W. Rawlins, 1682.

Together with Malpighi's Anatome Plantarum, Grew's work was the major treatise on plant anatomy of the century. Anatome Plantarum is actually a compilation of three of Grew's earlier works on plants. Grew made important contributions and studies of plants with the use of the microscope. He also made presentations on his work to the Royal Society, and he was eventually made curator of its collections.

Anton van Leeuwenhoek. Arcana Naturae Detecta ab Antonio Van Leeuwenhoek. Delft: Apud Henricum a Krooneveld, 1695.

After his early experiments with lenses, Anton van Leeuwenhoek began to use the microscope to study minute structures and forms of life. He discovered the red corpuscles in the blood and the minute structure of spermatozoa. He was able to observe protozoa and, later, bacteria. His researches challenged the idea of spontaneous generation of many of the small organisms and opened up a new era of scientific investigation. Leeuwenhoek became a member of the Royal Society of London and died in 1723 at the age of 91. The third edition of this work is displayed in the microscopy section.

Lilly Library Home     Exhibition Home     Online Exhibitions
Last Updated: 1 August 2009
© 2009 The Trustees of Indiana University