Morison's 'Sciagraphia'

Morison's 'Sciagraphia'

Morison’s bombastic tone in the Hortus Blesensis (1669) and Plantarum umbelliferarum distributio nova (1672) is perhaps not reflected in his classification system being known as the Sciagraphia, or ‘first draft’. The highest-level categories in the Sciagraphia have the following arrangement:

I. Arbores. These are trees such as pine, walnut and ash;
II. Frutices. These are shrubs such as dogwood, myrtle and lilac;
III. Suffrutices. These are subshrubs such as grape, honeysuckle and ivy;
IV. Herbae. These are herbs, that is everything not in Divisions I-III above.

The first division of Morison’s scheme therefore follows that of Theophrastus, rather than his own system based on fruits and flowers. Within Divisions, Sections are usually identified based on the form of the fruit.

Morison planned for his method to be revealed in three volumes of his Historia. Part 1 was to include the woody plants, that is Divisions I, II and III, whilst Parts 2 and 3 would focus on the Herbs in Division IV. Morison started work on Part 2, since in his view this was the most complex part of the scheme. He was concerned that, should he die before the work was completed, he did not wish this part of his scheme to be finished by an ‘incompetent person’ (Morison, 1680: Preface).

Among the few botanists who adopted Morison’s Sciagraphia there were the German physicians and botanists Paul Amman (1634-1691) in Leipzig, Christian Knaut (1656-1716) in Halle, and Paul Hermann (1646-1695) in Leiden. Most botanists ignored it, or subjected it to four main criticisms. Firstly, Morison’s failure to acknowledge earlier botanists, especially Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603); there is a copy of Cesalpino’s De Plantis Libri XVI (1583) annotated by Morison in the Sherardian Library of Plant Taxonomy (MS Sherard 27). Secondly, the failure to publish the Sciagraphia in its entirety until four decades after Morison’s death. Thirdly, the inconsistent use of fruit and seed characters to group species in the Sciagraphia and, finally, the language Morison chose to use when he criticised the research of the Bauhin brothers, who had worked in Switzerland two generations earlier.


Morison R 1680. Plantarum Historiae Universalis Oxoniensis pars secunda seu Herbarum distributio nova, per tabulas cognationis & affinitatis ex Libro Naturae observata & detecta. Oxonii, e
Theathro Sheldoniano. Digital version of the letterpress.