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Nature close to home

Nature close to home

The great geographical discoveries made Europeans aware that the world was much more diverse than they had expected. But they not only reviewed their views of distant lands, they also looked with a fresh eye at the natural world in their immediate surroundings. In university towns, as well as in the smaller centres of science and learning, teachers and students set out into nearby forests, seashores or mountains to describe and reclassify the plants and animals. Local wildlife was no longer uninterestingly mundane, for it was now understood as contributing to the extraordinary diversity of the natural world. We can observe these tendencies in the cities of Prussia, including Elbląg. Many books in the book collection of the Elbląg gymnasium testify to the increasing interest in native plants and animals. These explorations became a source of self-knowledge, pride and sense of uniqueness for the local communities.
Illustrations:
Johann Philipp Breyne, Historia naturalis cocci radicum tinctorii, Danzig: Cornelis von Beughem, 1731.
The dissertation on the Polish cochineal by the Gdansk entomologist Johann Philipp Breyne (1680-1764). Breyne studied and described the life cycle of the insect, which was of great economic importance in the 16th and 17th centuries because crimson dye was obtained from their larvae. The larvae, which look like small purple balls, lived on the roots of herbs (especially the perennial knawel) and were sometimes considered part of the plant, although their metamorphosis into adult insects could be observed. Breyne, through his studies of the physiology of the Polish Cochineal, succeeded in explaining this little mystery.
Georg Andreas Helwing, Flora quasimodogenita sive enumeratio aliquot plantarum indigenarum in Prussia, vol. 2 (supplement), Danzig: Thomas Johann Schreiber, 1726.

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