Remarks on a Plant of Arabia Petraea


Alire Raffeneau-Delile (1778–1850) was a botanist who had a distinguished career in his native France and in the United States. His talents and education as a naturalist were recognized early. He was appointed at the age of 20 to the team of scientists and scholars who accompanied Napoleon on his invasion and occupation of Egypt in 1798–1801. He was the author-editor of a major section of the monumental Description de l’Égypte, to which he contributed articles on the domestic and wild plants of Egypt. He also made a mold of the Rosetta Stone, which was used in deciphering the hieroglyphic writing of the ancient Egyptians. In 1803, Napoleon appointed him vice-consul for trade with France in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he served for several years and combined performance of his official duties with botanical research. He made the acquaintance of President Thomas Jefferson, and he acquired a medical degree with a dissertation written in Latin. Before returning to France, he made arrangements for the publication of Flore d’Égypte, which was published in 1813. He spent the remainder of his life teaching and practicing medicine, first in Paris and then, from 1819 until the end of his life, as professor of medicine and director of the botanical gardens in Montpellier. The work presented here, Fragments d’une flore de l’Arabie Pétrée (Remarks on a plant of Arabia Petraea), is a short, 26-page monograph on the desert shrub Salvadora persica, known in English as the “toothbrush tree” or “mustard bush,” and widely known in the Muslim world as arak, of which the hygienic properties have been recognized since antiquity. The plant grows in Arabia and portions of Africa. Delile (as he is commonly known) described the plant from specimens acquired from the French traveler Léon de Laborde (died 1869) and illustrated in his Voyage de l’Arabie Pétrée (Voyage to Arabia Petraea), published in Paris in 1830. Using these specimens and an illustration of the plant in Laborde’s book, Delile describes its botanical features as well as its use as an instrument of oral hygiene. The work also contains a list of 85 other plants, with their classifications and records of research.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Giard, Paris


Title in Original Language

Fragments d'une flore de l'Arabie pétrée

Type of Item

Physical Description

25 pages with folded plates ; 32 centimeters


  1. Jean-Antoine Rioux and Régis Pouget, “Le botaniste Alire Raffeneau-Delile, cyclothyme de genie,” in Academie des Science et Lettres de Montpellier, Session of November 18, 2013.

Last updated: September 22, 2015