Thomas Jefferson Papers

José Corrêa da Serra’s Plan for a Botanical Garden, [by 4 August 1820]

José Corrêa da Serra’s Plan for a Botanical Garden

[by 4 Aug. 1820]

Plan of a Botanic garden for a public school

on the most useful, and Less1 expensive plan.

Almost all the Botanic gardens seem rather destined to increase the catalogue of the species and genera of vegetables, than to furnish to students useful notions of the vegetable kingdom. They are filled with plants which though they may in future times turn useful, do not afford to the student any other information, but a bare name, and a few caracters to distinguish it from its neighbours very often as unmeaning as that plant itself. Such expensive gardens of mere curiosity, may be Left to the vanity of Nabobs or to the magnificence of Sovereigns. I am persuaded a greater profit with much Less expense could be obtained in a garden of a public school if the following plan was adopted.

1. In order that the knowledge of vegetables be a science, a clear idea must be given of vegetable anatomy and physiology. This only can furnish a solid and philosophical basis to Botany and agriculture. The Laws of the vitality of plants, their growth, decay, irritability, and excitability, power of external actions on them, must be taught and demonstrated, before teaching classification and nomenclature, which cannot be true if not grounded on this basis

2. A method must be taught of distinguishing plants, and getting acquainted with their species and genera. This method cannot be but artificial; that of Linné is good enough and easy. This part of botany may be justly called the art of botany, and though many persons, even professors take it for science, is at the bottom nothing more than an empty nomenclature and acquaintance with external forms of vegetables.

3.2 The true science which is coeval with the French revolution does not consist only in distinguishing plants by their external forms but in grouping them by all the assemblage of organisation, in the different orders of affinity in which nature has distributed them. It is incredible what consequences this new study has had3 in so short a time, on all the arts that depend from4 the knowledge of vegetables

4. The Last and most useful part, is the knowledge of the use of vegetables, for food of man and beast, for medicine, for dying,5 for building, for clothing, for ornament &a

5. There is also a sort of botanical erudition, about plants which have figured in history, for superstition, for civil usages, or that are mentioned by the great classical writers.

The plan proposed consists simply in this

That no plant be admitted in the garden, but such as are necessary to furnish samples for vegetable anatomy and physiological phenomena, or of the most important natural groupes, or which have economical or medical uses, or concur to the true intelligence of history and the great classical writers.

In this manner no plant would exist in the garden, about which the professor besides the name and the caracters, would not have also some valuable information to impart. It is evident, that at the end of a course of botany given on such plan by a competent professor, the students would have acquired more real knowledge, than if they had seen the external form, and Learned the names of ten times the number of plants requisite for such a course

Fifteen hundred plants at the utmost would be the necessary stock of a garden on this plan, and four acres of ground i estimate would be fully sufficient, even allowing to the plants that it would be useful to introduce in Virginia a much larger Lot than to the others, in order to obtain seeds to distribute through the country

I would add to these four acres, two more for a grove of trees, none of them of Virginia, but either from other states of the Union, or from other countries of temperate climates, that could grow here. This grove would require Little care and expense, and Leave the four acres unincumbered from trees, to the better culture of the other plants

MS (ViU: TJP); in Corrêa da Serra’s hand; undated, but evidently composed prior to his final departure from Monticello in August 1820 (see TJ to William Short, 4 Aug. 1820); endorsed by TJ: “Botanical garden for the University Mr Corea’s observations.” Tr (ViU: Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge Correspondence); prepared after TJ’s death in an unidentified hand; at head of text in Martha Jefferson Randolph’s hand: “by Mr Correa de Serra”; addressed: “For Mrs Randolph, Care of Joseph C. Coolidge Esqe, Boston”; stamped; postmarked University of Virginia, 3 Nov. Enclosed in TJ to John P. Emmet, 27 Apr. 1826.

linné: Carolus Linnaeus (Carl von Linné).

1Tr: “least.”

2Number not in Tr.

3Word interlined in place of “produced.”

4Tr: “upon.”

5MS: “diyng.” Tr: “dying.”

Index Entries

  • agriculture; study of search
  • botany; collegiate education in search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; and University of Virginia search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; Plan for a Botanical Garden search
  • dyeing search
  • fodder; mentioned search
  • food; vegetables search
  • French Revolution; mentioned search
  • gardens; J. Corrêa da Serra on search
  • Linnaeus, Carolus (Carl von Linné); and botany search
  • medicine; plants used as search
  • plants; and dyeing search
  • plants; medicinal properties of search
  • plants; uses of search
  • schools and colleges; and botanical gardens search
  • seeds; distribution of search
  • trees; and botanical gardens search
  • United States; distribution of seeds throughout search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; botanical garden for search