Botanical Description of Chiranthodendron


Little is known of José Dionisio Larreátegui other than that he was active in Mexico circa 1795, the date he published his work on the Mexican hand plant for which he is remembered. The late 1700s was a time of intense scientific activity in Mexico, then part of the Spanish Empire. In 1787, King Carlos III authorized a major botanical expedition, the establishment of a botanical garden, and a scientific course of study at the university in Mexico City. Larreátegui, a medical student at the Real y Pontífica Universidad de México, completed the new botany course at the university in 1794. In 1795, he was asked to deliver an address to the course at the opening of the new academic year. He chose as his topic the Linnean system of naming and describing plants, with a description of the Mexican hand plant as an example. His talk was then published under the title Descripciones de Plantas. Larreátegui’s monograph marked the first time that the hand plant was described and given the name Chiranthodendron pentadactylon. The plant is actually a tree, known at the time from a single long-lived specimen in Toluca in the Valley of Mexico, which was revered by the local Indians and used in medicines for pain and inflammation. Larreátegui’s monograph, along with dried specimens of the leaves, flowers, and seedpods of the tree, found their way to France and into the hands of Daniel Lescallier, a French naval and colonial administrator. Lescallier recognized the importance of the plant and published this translation of Larreátegui’s monograph in 1805, giving the author’s name as Joseph-Denis Larréategui.

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De L'imprimerie impériale, Paris

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Description botanique du Chiranthodendron

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28 pages, 2 leaves of plates : color illustrations ; 27 centimeters

Last updated: September 18, 2015