History and Current Status of Systematic Research with Araceae

Copyright © 2000 by Thomas B. Croat
Missouri Botanical Garden
P. O. Box 299
St. Louis, MO 63166

This is the second edition of an article that first appeared in Aroideana, Volume 21, 1998. This document is also available as a PDF file here. Adobe Acrobat Reader™, a free software, is required to view this PDF file.

Earliest Specialists with Araceae


Although a number of botanists, in addition to Linnaeus, worked with Araceae prior to the early 19th Century, Heinrich Wilhelm Schott was the earliest to specialize almost exclusively with Araceae. He began his studies in the late 1820s and continued until his death. Schott was born January 7, 1794, in Brünn (Brno), Moravia (now the Czech Republic). His father was the gardener for the botanical garden of the University of Vienna and Schott had early contact with well known botanists, including J. N. and F. J. Jacquin. It was the latter who recommended the young Schott for a position on a trip to Brazil. While in Brazil from mid-1817 through 1821, Schott established and managed an introduction garden, made field trips, and prepared many notes concerning the plants and animals he saw. In 1845 he became Director of the Imperial Gardens at Schöbrunn palace in Vienna, succeeding N. J. Jacquin who had amassed a large collection of tropical aroids (Nicolson, 1987b). Schott remained at Schöbrunn until his death on March 5, 1865.

Schott's role in the Araceae would be difficult to surpass. He described most of the larger genera, including over one-third of those genera currently in use. Schott's work began with a series of short papers on Araceae (Schott, 1820, 1827, 1829a-g, 1830a-e) which he published as a series entitled "Für Liebhaber der Botanik" in a trade magazine entitled "Wiener Zeitschrift für Kunst, Literatur und Mode" [see also Anonymous, 1865]. Later he published a longer paper (Schott, 1832) in which he treated almost 40 genera, recognizing taxa at sectional and subfamilial levels. This paper was the first to deal at any serious level with aroid systematics. Following this paper, there was a 21-year hiatus in which he published only a few, short, relatively unimportant papers (Schott, 1851, 1852). However, rather than being inactive, Schott had been preparing his system of classification, commissioning drawings and paintings, and otherwise refining his classification system. Between 1853 and 1857 Schott published the first of his summary works, Aroideae (Schott, 1853-1857) which consisted of 60 plates. It was followed by his Synopsis Aroidearum (Schott, 1856) and Genera Aroidearum (Schott, 1858a), and finally by the Prodromus Systematis Aroidearum (Schott, 1860). He also published a series of lithographs in four fascicles (Schott, 1857-1858). During this very active period of his career, Schott also published a long series of very short, relatively less important papers (Schott, 1853a-c, 1854a-e, 1855a-g, 1857a-z,aa-nn, 1858b-i, 1859a-f, 1861, 1862a-d, 1863, 1864a-c, 1865a, 1865b). Most of these articles were published in the Oersterichisches Botanisches Wochenblatt, a technical serial that appeared at a rate of sometimes more than one per week. In the year 1857, 43 Schott articles on Araceae were published!

The Prodromus brought his system of classification to a conclusion. Although Schott's herbarium collections (totaling 1379 specimens) were destroyed by fire shortly after the end of World War II, his incredibly detailed drawings of Araceae [commissioned by Schott], the Icones Aroidearum, remained and are now housed at the Vienna Natural History Museum. This set of 3400 line drawings (mostly herbarium specimens) and paintings of living collections were only partially published during Schott's lifetime. Only a few of the illustrations appeared in some of his works (Schott, 1853-1857; 1879a) but a complete microfiche edition of these illustrations has now been published (Schott, 1884) largely through the efforts of H. Riedl and D. H. Nicolson. One fascicle of plates containing Lasieae is lacking even today. In all, Schott described and named 587 species new to science. Among generic names still in use, he published 37 with an additional genus for which he made the transfer and still another for which he was the author of the basionym. No other aroid taxonomist has come close to Schott's record at the generic level; Engler described eight still accepted genera and the only other competitors, Carl Lineaus and N. E. Brown, each have six currently recognized genera.

Contemporaries of Schott

Schott had few contemporaries during his life who worked with Araceae, if only for a time. Foremost among these was Karl Sigismund Kunth, whose first publication (Kunth, 1818) dealing with observations on the genera of Araceae, even predated the work of Schott. Near the close of his career, Kunth published three short papers on Araceae (Kunth, 1841a, 1841b, 1842), and one large work, his Enumeratio Plantarum (1941a). The latter work alone described 90 new taxa. In all, he published as new or re-combined, 134 species of Araceae, more than any other aroid worker did in his time. Other of Schott's contemporaries who dealt with Araceae include Karl Ludwig Blume, a German botanist employed by the Dutch, who published significant papers dealing with Asian, principally Malesian aroids (Blume, 1827, 1834, 1836-1837). Otto Kuntze produced an encyclopedic treatment of the Araceae in conjunction with his much broader work dealing with all families (Kuntze, 1891). A similar encyclopedic account was produced by C. Mueller (Mueller, 1858). Charles Gaudichaud-Beaupré (1826) published accounts of the Araceae collected on the voyage of M. Louis de Freycinet. D. N. F. Dietrich (1852) in his Synopsis Plantarum produced the last revision of Linnaeus's Species Plantarum. K. F. P. von Martius wrote a paper dealing with a number of morphological aspects of Araceae (Martius, 1831).


Perhaps more significant from the standpoint of Araceae was Karl Koch, a Berlin botanist whose first publication on Araceae (Koch, 1852, 1856) appears to have shocked Schott (who had obviously been slowly and meticulously accumulating information on Araceae without publishing it) into publication. Koch seemed to have a primary interest in Araceae but apparently did not have the depth of understanding possessed by Schott. Koch published mostly short articles (1852), sometimes including new species descriptions in gardening magazines such as Allgemeine Gartenzeitung (1857a-k) and Wochenschrift für Gärtnerei und Pflanzenkunde (1859, 1861, 1868; Koch & Veitch, 1863). Other new species were described in the seed lists of the Berlin Botanical Garden (Koch, 1853, 1854, 1855). Many of Koch's descriptions were based on cultivated plant material, often of unknown origin. From the standpoint of the taxonomy of Araceae, it is tragic that all of his herbarium material was lost by war action; thus, in many cases it is now not possible to determine what he dealt with. Moreover, since Koch was one of the earliest aroid taxonomists many of his plant names are still valid. In all, Karl Koch described or re-combined 156 taxa.


Schott was followed by the even more prodigious worker, Adolf Engler, who was born in 1844 [see biography by Diels (1931)]. Engler was 21 years old at the time of Schott's death and produced his first major publications in 1876 (Engler, 1876a-b), 11 years after Schott's death, while working at the Munich Botanical Garden. His first works entitled "Zur Morphologie der Araceen" (Engler, 1876a) and "Vergleichende Untersuchungen über die morphologischen Verhältnisse der Araceae" (Engler, 1876b) and several others (Engler, 1877, 1881b, 1883a, 1883c, 1884; Ray & Renner, 1990) dealt with development and emphasized one of Engler's major strengths, a good understanding of the anatomy, morphology and developmental processes in the Araceae. These fields were critical to the development of his system of classification (Engler, 1889a, 1889b).

Among Engler's earlier works was his treatment of the Araceae for Martius's Flora Brasiliensis (Engler, 1878a [other works, see below]). In this work Engler made the first modifications of the taxonomic system previously proposed by Schott. His treatment of the Araceae in A. & C. de Candolle's "Monographie Phanerogamarum" (Engler, 1879) followed shortly thereafter, and before the turn of the century, he had published a complete revision of Anthurium (Engler, 1898b [see also errata in Engler, 1898c]), Philodendron (Engler, 1899a), and Dieffenbachia (Engler, 1899b). He also published a number of papers (mostly in a series of papers entitled "Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Araceae") describing miscellaneous genera and species, including those from America (Engler, 1978b, 1881a, 1885), from Africa (Engler, 1892, 1899c, 1905d, 1917; Engler & Krause, 1914, 1917); and from Asia (Engler, 1887b, 1889a, 1898a, 1901b, 1907; Engler & Krause, 1912, 1916a, 1916b, 1921, 1922). Some papers deal with Araceae worldwide (Engler, 1883b, 1883c, 1905b) or deal with more than one area, such as Africa and Asia (Engler, 1880, 1898a, 1898b), or Asia and America (Engler & Krause, 1916a, 1916b). Other papers describe the new genera Protarum (Engler, 1901a), and Ulearum (Engler, 1905c). Engler prepared descriptions (Engler, 1883a) of Araceae in a discussion of plants collected by O. Beccari in Malesia and Papua New Guinea. Engler also published a major work on the phytogeography of the Araceae (Engler, 1909).

Aside from the major floristic work done for Brazil (Engler, 1878a) Engler conducted few floristic works. Exceptions are treatments that he did for other workers including Pittier (1898) for Costa Rica (Engler, 1900) and for J. Schmidt's Flora of Koh Chang (Engler, 1902). He also prepared descriptions of Araceae collected by O. Beccari in Malesia and Papua New Guinea (Engler, 1883a).

Although Engler's work was much more diverse than Schott's and involved many families, it can be said that Engler was, at heart, an aroid taxonomist. As Director of the Berlin School of Botany he directed and advised many other botanists and was responsible for the production of such works as Das Pflanzenreich and Die natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien, the latter prepared with Karl Anton Eugen Prantl. The Araceae treatment for this latter work was done by Engler (1887) himself. Engler apparently had much more material available than Schott had seen but he seems to have paid little attention to living material. Before his death in 1930 Engler prepared new revisions for all of the Araceae, down to the species level (Engler, 1905d, 1908, 1911, 1912, 1915, 1920a, 1920c; Engler & Krause, 1908, 1920). Many of these are still in use today and many are still the most recent taxonomic revisions. In all, he described more than 1100 taxa at or below the specific level. By the end of Engler's career the number of known species of Araceae had risen to 1800 from the 900 known at the time of Schott (Mayo et al., in press).


Though playing a minor role compared to Engler, his contemporary, N. E. Brown also made important contributions to the study of Araceae. His long tenure at the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew left the herbarium literally spattered with his penciled notes on taxonomic problems with specimens. Included among these hand-written notes are tracings of Karl Koch's herbarium in Berlin (now lost). The interpretations and careful notes of N. E. Brown showed that he had a depth of understanding about many serious taxonomic problems that still face taxonomists today and his notes are still immensely useful. Brown also participated in the production of Araceae treatments for floristic works such as the Flora of Tropical Africa (Brown, 1901), described new genera (Brown, 1882a) and numerous new species (Brown, 1880, 1886, 1903, 1912, 1913). In all, Brown published a total of six genera still in use and 135 new taxa.


Kurt Krause, who began working with Engler on January 1, 1905, was responsible for a few other small families in Das Pflanzenreich but soon became interested in the Araceae. He was assigned the task of revising Engler's 1899 treatment of Philodendron for Das Pflanzenreich (Krause, 1913) but aside from describing some new species (Krause, 1910, 1911a, 1911b, 1912, 1914a, 1914b, 1921, 1922, 1924a, 1925, 1927), he made few changes to the treatment. Together with Engler, he was responsible for the writing of the Das Pflanzenreich treatments of the Monsteroideae (Engler & Krause, 1908), Philodendroideae-Philodendrineae (Krause, 1913), and Colocasioideae (Engler & Krause, 1920); however, Krause completed the Calloideae alone (Krause, 1908). Active for some years after Engler's retirement, Krause published additional species after Engler's death (Krause, 1930, 1932a, 1932b, 1940, 1941, 1942; Krause & van Alderwerelt, 1924, 1927). In all Krause was responsible for describing 124 taxa and another 75 species in conjunction with Engler.


Luis Sodiro, working at the turn of the century, described more than 281 taxa of Ecuadorian Araceae, mostly Anthurium, but also included one Heteropsis, six Rhodospatha and 15 Stenospermation (Sodiro, 1900, 1901a, 1901b, 1903, 1905a, 1905b, 1905c, 1906, 1907, 1908a, 1908b). Sodiro was the first botanist working with Araceae who could be considered a true field botanist and he spent most of his botanical career in the tropics of Ecuador. Born in Italy, Sodiro joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and served in Ecuador until the time of his death. Working from the monastery at Cotocallao, now in the suburbs of modern Quito, Sodiro explored most of the area around Quito, especially the nearby slopes of Volcán Pichincha. His descriptions of Araceae were the first ever to show excellent detail, thereby making it apparent that the descriptions were prepared from live material or from copious field notes. Unfortunately, Sodiro had no concept of types and did not even number his collections. Another major impediment to studying Sodiro's material is that many of his first set of collections remain deposited in the herbarium of the Biblioteca Aurelio Pólit (QPLS) where the specimens are not available to be borrowed for study. For this reason many of his species names remain poorly known.

Sodiro's publications are also troublesome because he frequently published the same species several times, sometimes making only slight changes in the manuscript from earlier versions. Dan Nicolson (1984a) has made a definitive study of Sodiro's publications and one must refer to it when dealing with Sodiro's collections. Despite these difficulties, the contributions made by Luis Sodiro were the greatest that ever have been made by any resident on the South American continent. Had he had time to extend his studies to other genera, especially Philodendron, it is impossible to imagine what his contribution might have been.


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This page was created by Scott E. Hyndman for the IAS on December 9, 2000.