Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius

Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius
C. F. P. von Martius. © Botanische Staatssammlung München.

Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius was born on April 17th, 1794 in Erlangen and spent his youth there. His father was botanically interested and a friend of Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber, a former student of Linnaeus, who influenced C. F. P. von Martius in his early years. As a 16-year-old, he began studying medicine at Erlangen University. In 1812, J. C. D. Schreber’s herbarium was bought by the Bavarian king Maximilian Joseph I. and became the foundation of the Botanische Staatssammlung München (M). The scientists sent to Erlangen to negotiate the sale of this herbarium were Paula von Schrank and Johann Baptist von Spix. They met the 18-year-old Martius and were so impressed with him that they recommended him as “Elève” of the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften München. This is how in 1814, after finishing his degree in medicine with a botanical thesis, C. F. P. von Martius came to Munich, where he was to spend the remainder of his life.

The 1817 wedding of the Austrian Archduchess Maria Leopoldina and Don Pedro d’Alcantara, the crown prince of Portugal and future emperor of Brazil, offered the ambitious Bavarian king a welcome opportunity to send an expedition to Brazil by ordering C. F. P. von Martius and J. B. von Spix to “accompany the bride”. In one of the most successful scientific expeditions of all time, C. F. P. von Martius and J. B. von Spix spent the next four years traveling from Rio de Janeiro over São Paulo to Belém at the mouth of the Amazon, from where they went up the river by canoe. Details of this trip are discussed elsewhere. Overall, they traveled 10,000 km and sent back 3,541 collections of birds, insects, and other animals, and about 30,000 herbarium collections. They also collected minerals and ethnographical artifacts, which became the foundations of the Mineralogische Staatssammlung München and the ethnographical collection of the Museum Fünf Kontinente. C. F. P. von Martius’s collections from his journey, containing approx. 25,000–30,000 specimens of ca. 7,300 species from Brazil, plus c. 800 additional ones on the way to Brazil, are housed at the Botanische Staatssammlung München.

Upon his return to München in 1821, C. F. P. von Martius began to write up his results, publishing in short sequence “Nova genera et species plantarum, quas in itinere per Brasiliam …collegit” (1824–1832, 3 volumes), “Icones selectae plantarum cryptogamicarum” (1827) and his opus magnus, the “Historia naturalis palmarum” (1823–1850, 3 folio volumes with 135 plates). Martius also published essays on aspects of Brazilian economy, medicine, and culture.

Starting in 1840, he organized the “Flora brasiliensis”, a collaborative effort of 65 authors, to which he contributed and that he edited until his death (in 1868). Editing was then taken over by A. W. Eichler in München and later by I. Urban in Berlin, and the Flora was finished in 1906. The “Flora Brasiliensis” is the only completed Flora of a Latin American country and remains the major reference work for taxonomists working on the Brazilian Flora. It treats 22,767 species, of which 5,869 were newly described.

Already during his lifetime, C. F. P. von Martius became a famous botanist and much-honoured authority. He had numerous contacts with colleagues worldwide. Although he never left Europe again, he received countless herbarium specimens from all continents. This private herbarium was not bought by the Bavarian state but sold after his death to Bruxelles, where it became the core of the newly founded Herbarium of the Meise Botanic Garden. C. F. P. von Martius deceased on December 13th, 1868 in München.

For an overview of his collection, see Bionomia.


Anonymous 1994. Brasilianische Reise 1817–1820: Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius zum 200. Geburtstag herausgegeben von Jörg Helbig, Hirmer Verlag München.

Förther, H.1994. Die Geschichte des Martius-Herbariums: seine Brasilienkollektion und Empfehlungen zur Typuswahl. Sendtnera 2: 5–24.

Merxmüller, H. 1969. Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius. Öffentlicher Vortrag zum 100. Todestag des bayerischen Naturforschers. Bayer. Akad. Wiss. Math.-Naturwiss. Kl., Sitzungsber. 1968 [Sonderdr. 5]: 79–96.