Flora Arabica: The Botanical Exploration of Arabia. Records of the Botanical Survey of India, Volume VIII, Number 5


Flora Arabica is a botanical catalog of the plants of the Arabia. The work is in six volumes covering the whole of the Arabian Peninsula: the extra-tropical west, the tropical west, the tropical east, and the extra-tropical east including the Persian Gulf region. The catalog is by Father Ethelbert Blatter, and is largely based on the herbaria of the British Museum, which itself contained the records of other collections. The author asserts that Flora Arabica contains “all the plant material ever collected in Arabia.” The work is noteworthy for the inclusion of the native names for plants in Arabic and Persian, including regional dialect variants. Blatter’s Flora Arabica held pride of place among reference books on Arabian plants until the late 20th century. Ethelbert Blatter (1877‒1934) was a Swiss Jesuit priest and pioneering botanist in India. He left his native land to study in Germany and the Netherlands, and later for theological studies in England. In 1903, he moved to Mumbai (Bombay), India, to teach at Saint Xavier College and engage in the botanical research and publishing that occupied him for the remainder of his life. Although his main contributions were in British India, his books on the plants of Aden and Arabia are also important contributions to botanical literature. Flora Arabica comprises volume VIII of the Records of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI or the Survey). The BSI was established in 1890 for the purpose of identifying the plants of India and their economic value. European interest in the flora of India dates to the earliest days of exploration and colonial expansion. Beginning in the 16th century, the Portuguese, Dutch, and British collected and studied native plants. As the lands under control of the British East India Company grew in extent, so too did the study of plant life in the north and northwest of the Indian subcontinent. Economic and imperial expansion extended the surveys beyond the borders of British India to Myanmar (Burma) and the Arabian Peninsula.

Last updated: April 21, 2017