Chestnut oak, in André Michaux, <i>Histoire des Chênes</i>, 1801 (Linda Hall Library)

Chestnut oak, in André Michaux, Histoire des Chênes, 1801 (Linda Hall Library)

Andre Michaux

OCTOBER 11, 2018

Scientist of the Day - Andre Michaux

André Michaux, a French botanist, died Oct. 11, 1802, at the age of 56.  Michaux was sent to the United States in 1785 to study trees that could be useful to the French government. He established a garden in Charleston, South Carolina, which he used as a base for a series of plant-gathering expeditions. Michaux was particularly interested in oak trees, since the French Navy was running out of native oaks for its ships, and after his return to France in 1797, Michaux published a lovely book on American oaks, called Histoire des chênes de l'Amérique septentrionale (1801), which we have in the History of Science Collection.

Whether this was useful for the French navy, we have no idea. But it is certainly an attractive publication, with engravings by the famous Redouté brothers, Henri-Joseph and Pierre-Joseph.  We see here a Chestnut Oak, a Northern Red Oak, and an Overcup Oak from that book.  Specimens of all three of these oaks can be found growing in the Linda Hall Library Arboretum.

Michaux's son, François André, went to the U.S. with his father and later published his own book on North American trees, using many of the original Redouté illustrations, and that work was subsequently translated into English.  We have an 1865 edition in our collections, and it is also available – all three volumes –  online.  As you can see from our fifth image, of a white oak, the translation has the added attraction of colored plates.

As soon as his book was in press, André Michaux embarked on the Baudin expedition to Australia, which sailed in 1800.  Michaux had a disagreement with Baudin, disembarked in Madagascar, and died of a fever. One of his American discoveries, the Swamp Chestnut oak, was named in his honor Quercus michauxii. We have a specimen of that on our grounds as well.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to