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“In Imperio Rutheno”: Johann Amman’s Stirpium Rariorum … (1739) and the Foundation of Russia’s Botanical Empire

Rachel Koroloff, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This paper traces the handful of botanical expeditions that crossed the Russian Empire in the early eighteenth century, and that formed the basis of one of the first published floras of the Russian Empire, Johann Amman’s Stirpium Rariorum in Imperio Rutheno … (Petropoli, 1739). This work, listing and describing “the rare plants of the Russian Empire,” helped to create an international image of Russian botany derived wholly from its western Siberian, East Asian, and southern steppe borderlands. The botanical interest in Russia’s “Asia” reflected Russia’s wider geopolitical ambitions at the time. In the early eighteenth century Russia sought to enter the international botanical community with offerings of a distinctly Russian flora that was characterized in part by the access it seemed to offer to the Ottoman, Persian, and Qing empires.

These wider geopolitical strategies play out in Johann Amman’s first flora of the Russian empire, a claim best illustrated by tracing the expeditions and their results that helped to fill out Amman’s garden in St. Petersburg. Key to Amman’s work, for example, were the specimens and observations made by Johann Christian Buxbaum, whose Plantarum minus cognitarum (1728–40), one of the St. Petersburg Academy’s first botanical monographs, was the direct result of a Russian diplomatic mission to Constantinople in the early 1720s. Buxbaum’s work was combined with selections from the then-unpublished correspondence of Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt, who at the same time was traveling extensively throughout western and southern Siberia; Johann Heinzelmann, who made collections along the Don and Volga Rivers during his tenure with Orenburg Expedition; and Johann Georg Gmelin, who from 1733 had been the primary naturalist attached to the Second Kamchatka Expedition.

Under Amman’s guiding editorial hand, therefore, the collected researches of these individuals introduced to European audiences the plants of the arid southern regions of southern Siberia and the steppe, as the first flora of the Russian Empire. In closing the introduction, Amman wonders: “How much, therefore, is still unknown, east of the more remote regions, especially on the coast of Kamchatka, which is Asia’s last northern corner?” Asia’s last northern corner, it would seem, was poised on the cusp of becoming Russia’s next botanical conquest.

Rachel Koroloff is finishing a doctoral dissertation at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, on Russia’s network of botanical and medical gardens in the second half of the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries. She considers Russia’s earliest garden spaces, Moscow’s Apothecary Garden and the Botanical Garden of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, in combination with the itineraries of each of their respective collecting expeditions, to illuminate the confluence of Russian, Western European, and Eastern traditions of plant knowledge and cultivation in Russia’s early botanical community. Rachel received a BA in History and Biology from the University of Oregon in 2003. After a year spent living in Irkutsk and traveling through much of Siberia and Mongolia, Rachel obtained an MA in the History of Science at Oregon State University 2006. She will be in residence at Dumbarton Oaks as a junior fellow for the academic year 2013–14.

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