Prospero Alpini

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Prospero Alpini (also known as Prosper Alpinus, Prospero Alpinio and Prosper Alpin) (November 23, 1553 - February 6, 1617), was an Italian physician and botanist.

Born at Marostica, in the republic of Venice, in his youth he served for a time in the Milanese army, but in 1574 he went to study medicine at Padua. After taking his doctor's degree in 1578, he settled as a physician in Campo San Pietro, a small town in the Paduan territory. But his tastes were botanical, and to extend his knowledge of exotic plants he travelled to Egypt in 1580 as physician to George Emo or Hemi, the Venetian consul in Cairo.

In Egypt he spent three years, and from a practice in the management of Date Palms, which he observed in that country, he seems to have deduced the doctrine of the sexual difference of plants, which was adopted as the foundation of the Linnaean taxonomy system. He says that "the female date-trees or palms do not bear fruit unless the branches of the male and female plants are mixed together; or, as is generally done, unless the dust found in the male sheath or male flowers is sprinkled over the female flowers".

On his return, he resided for some time at Genoa as physician to Andrea Doria, and in 1593 he was appointed professor of botany at Padua, where he died on 6 February 1617. He was succeeded in the botanical chair by his son Alpino Alpini (d. 1637).

His best-known work is De Plantis Aegypti liber (Venice, 1592). His De Medicina Egyptiorum (Venice, 1591) is said to contain the first account of the coffee plant published in Europe. The same work introduced the banana and baobab to Europeans.

The genus Alpinia, belonging to the order Zingiberaceae (Ginger Family), was named after him by Linnaeus.


Image gallery

Luffa aegyptiaca Mill.
from Historiae aegypti naturalis


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