Aimé Bonpland, a French explorer and botanist, was born on either Aug. 22, Aug. 23, or Aug. 29, 1773; we opt here for the Aug. 29 birthday. While studying botany in Paris, Bonpland met Alexander von Humboldt, whom he then accompanied on their famous expedition to equatorial America, 1799-1804. Upon their return, Humboldt and Bonpland co-wrote the monumental narrative of the expedition, Le voyage aux régions equinoxiales du Nouveau Continent, fait en 1799-1804 (30 vols., 1805-34), but it was Humboldt who was lionized everywhere in Europe as the conqueror of the Orinoco River and Mount Chimborazo, and Bonpland rather disappeared into the shadows. He became superintendent of the gardens of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, at her estate at Malmaison, and he published a description of some of the rare plants cultivated there (1813). But then, in 1816, he went to Argentina, and he never returned to France, spending the last forty-two years of his long life in South America. He visited Paraguay in 1821 to set up yerba mate plantation, but he was arrested as a spy, and spent the next ten years in confinement. Upon release, he returned to Argentina and lived out his days as a botanist, living to the ripe age of 85. We do not have any original works by Bonpland in the library, but we do have a splendid facsimile set of all 30 volumes of the Humboldt/Bonpland Voyage.

There are several paintings that show Bonpland and Humboldt together—Bonpland is in the background of the first image and seated in the second—and one daguerreotype of Bonpland in his later years (third image). Several organisms have been named after Bonpland, including a splendid squid, Grimalditeuthis bonplandi (fourth image).

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