Morison's 'Historiae': Volume 1

Morison's 'Historiae': Volume 1

The first volume of Morison’s Historia is known only from Morison’s intentions and a manuscript list of 1,393 names (including some duplication), prepared by Jacob Bobart the Younger. In the manuscript list there are no plant descriptions associated with names. Most of the names used are Latin polynomials, although in some cases, only local names are used, especially for woody plants from the Indian subcontinent.

Names may be associated with one or more references to the source of the name. These may be individuals, such as the nurseryman William Darby of Hoxton, specific gardens (e.g., Chelsea Physic Garden or the Duchess of Beaufort’s garden at Badminton) or publications. For example, the unknown Chinese plant, ‘Castanea Chusan. Folio fere serrato, subtus glauco’, collected by the Scottish physician James Cunningham (fl. 1698-1709), makes reference to Petiver (1703: 1423), where there is a description of the plant: ‘The twigs are blackish with many small warts, the leaves grow inordinately (on short pedicels) most of them more or less thorny, dented and some smooth, underneath they are glaucous and somewhat soft’. Little can be gleaned from this description that would aid a modern identification. Even the specimen in the Morison herbarium does little to help as it is of poor quality, lacking either fruits or flowers – a species that could not adequately be accommodated within the fruit-based Sciagraphia without additional information.

In many cases, modern identifications can be placed on specimens with a high degree of confidence, even in the absence of herbarium specimens. For example, the first entry in the manuscript list is: ‘Cedrus magna sive Libani, conifera, Joh. Bauch. Tom. 1. 277. Cedrus conifera folijs Laricis, Casp: Bauh. Pin. 490. Larix Orientalis fructu rotundiore obtuse. Tournefort’. The three names, which Bobart treats as synonymous, carry references to Johann Bauhin’s Historia plantarum universalis (1651), Gaspard Bauhin’s Theatri botanici (1671) and Joseph Pitton de Tournefort’s Institutiones rei herbariae (1700). All of these names have been equated to the cedar of Lebanon, although what is precisely meant by this common name has varied over time.

The arrangement of names in the list roughly follows the 1720 arrangement of the Sciagraphia, although some of the groups are not defined by fruit or seed characters, especially in the Suffrutices.

I. Arbores [trees]
Coniferae semper virentes [evergreen, cone-bearing trees]: mostly conifers;
Coniferae foliis deciduis [cone-bearing trees that lose their leaves]: e.g., larch, birch;
Glandiferae [trees with acorn-like fruits]: e.g., oak;
Nuciferae [trees with nut-like fruits]: e.g., walnut;
Pruniferae [trees with cherry-like fruits]: e.g., cherry;
Pomiferae [trees with apple-like fruits]: e.g., pear;
Bacciferae [trees with fleshy fruits]: e.g., yew;
Siliquosae [trees with long, thin fruits]: e.g., Judas tree;
Fructu membranaceo [trees with membranous fruits]: e.g., maple, ash;
Lanigerae non Juliferae [trees with woolly, not silky, fruits]: e.g., plane;
Juliferae et Lanigerae [trees with woolly and silky fruits]: e.g., willow;
Sui generis Arbor [unique trees]: e.g., date palm.

II. Frutices [shrubs]
Nuciferi [shrubs with nut-like fruits]: e.g., bladdernut;
Pruniferi [shrubs with cherry-like fruits]: e.g., dogwood;
Bacciferi, foliis deciduis [shrubs that lose their leaves and have fleshy fruits]: e.g., rose;
Bacciferi, semper virentes [evergreen shrubs with fleshy fruits]: e.g., box;
Leguminosi [shrubs with pea-like fruits]: e.g., gorse;
Binis loculamentis [shrubs with two-chambered fruits]: e.g., lilac;
Capsulis tetragonis [shrubs with four-angled fruits]: e.g., mock orange;
Capsulis pentagonis [shrubs with five-angled fruits]: e.g., rock rose;
Multicapsulares [shrubs with many-parted fruits]: e.g., heather;
Lanigeri [shrubs with woolly fruits]: e.g., oleander.

III. Suffrutices [subshrub]
Scandentes capreolis [subshrubs with climbing stems]: e.g., grape;
Scandentes viticulis [subshrubs with climbing shoots]: e.g., honeysuckle;
Scandentes radiculis [subshrubs with climbing roots]: e.g., ivy.
Among the surviving proof sheets of the Historia there are two plates of oak species (‘Arbores Glandifer’) which may have been produced to illustrate Volume 1 of the Historia.


Petiver, J 1703. A description of some coralls, and other curious submarines lately sent to James Petiver, Apothecary and Fellow of the Royal Society, from the Philippine Isles by the Reverend George Joseph Camel, as also an Account of some plants from Chusan an island on the coast of China, collected by Mr James Cuninghame, Chyrurgeon & F.R.S. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 23: 1419-1429.