Christian Hendrik Persoon

Biographical note

Christiaan Hendrik Persoon (1761–1836) is generally regarded as the father of systematic mycology. Persoon was born at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, to Christian Daniel Persoon and Elizabeth Wilhelmina Groenwald, a Dutch farmer’s daughter, who died a few weeks after his birth. Christiaan and his sisters became charges of the Orphan Official Institute in Cape Town. Persoon was sent to Europe to be educated in 1775; his father died a year later, and Persoon never returned to the Cape of Good Hope. He studied theology at Halle beginning around 1783, was studying medicine at Leiden in 1786, and then moved on to Göttingen for botanical research, ultimately earning a doctorate from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Erlangen in 1799. In 1803 he settled into a reclusive life in Paris, where he corresponded with botanists around the world from his sixth-floor room. Amazingly, Persoon never held an official appointment; after a poverty-stricken life devoted to fungi, he did manage to negotiate a government pension in exchange for his herbarium. In 1830 Persoon’s herbarium was taken to Brussels, and following the Belgian uprising of that year, it was taken from there to Leiden. In 1834 Persoon proposed to donate his library and his newly acquired collections to the King of the Netherlands. This offer was accepted, and when Persoon died at Paris in 1836, his library, manuscripts and dried plants were added to his collections already present in Leiden. In 1959, the Rijksherbarium in Leiden named its mycological journal Persoonia in his honor.