Cavanilles

If you move in botanic circles, then you are probably either a sunflower or likely to have come acrosss the name Cavanilles at least a dozen times per pollination.

Antonio José Cavanilles Palop (16 January 1745 – 5 May 1804) named at least 100 genera, about 54 of which were still used in 2004, including, you will be delighted to know, Calycera, Cobaea, Galphimia and Oleandra

Although born in Valencia, Cavanilles was part of the 18th century brain drain, living in Paris from 1777 to 1781, where he laboured both as a priest and as a botanist, both planting seeds and tending his flock. It was in Paris, under the influence of André Thouin and Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu that his brilliantly diverse mind moved in the direction of botany.

Before that he had taken teaching jobs in Murcia and Oviedo, unable to find a suitable University post.

After Paris he became the director of the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid and Professor of botany from 1801 to 1804, when he died.

He was one of the first Spanish scientists to use the classification method invented by Sweden’s Carl Linnaeus.

In 1791 he began a commission to compile a ‘Natural History of Spain’, dealing exclusively with Valencia. As well as creating the first serious report on Valencian botany, he used the opportunity to criticise Valencian landowners and their unChristian attitude towards their workers, and especially their role in increasing the problem of malaria by planting rice in artificial marshland, thus encouraging mosquitos.

Thanks to Cavanilles, whose opinions found wide echo all over Europe, it was agreed that rice cultivation should not take place within 15 kilometres of urban populations. His actions, while reducing the area of cultivation considerably, are also believed to have reduced the death rate by 75%.

Today schools, streets and various scientific institutions bear his name, and a statue of the man can be found in Valencia’ Alameda.

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