i. The Greco-Islamic tradition.

ii. The Western tradition.

iii. Persian Studies in the Western tradition.


i. The Greco-Islamic Tradition

In the Islamic period, generally speaking, botany was an ancillary branch of medicine or, more precisely, pharmacology. Interest in studying the medicinal virtues of plants developed in the eastern countries of the Islamic world and only after the basic works of some ancient Greek physicians, principally Hippocrates (460?-377? b.c.), Galen (a.d. 2nd cent.), and the Greek physician-botanist Dioscorides (a.d. 1st cent.), were translated (directly or via Syriac) into Arabic in the 3rd/9th century at the Bayt al-Ḥekma (House of wisdom/philosophy) founded in Baghdad in 215/830 by the ʿAbbasid caliph al-Maʾmūn and patronized by his successors, especially al-Motawakkel (232-47/847-­61). While Hippocratic and Galenic medical theory and practice were readily adopted by the physicians of the Islamic era—a system that has persisted down to our time in traditional and folk medicine throughout the Near and Middle East, it was the Ketāb al-ḥašāʾeš (Book of the herbs), a translation of Dioscorides’ famed treatise on materia medica by Eṣṭefan b. Basīl and his master the celebrated physician-translator Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq (b. 192/808 at Ḥīra), that constituted the original source of knowledge and inspiration for med­ical and pharmacological writers (Arabs, Jews, Per­sians, etc.) in the lands of Islam in the Middle Ages and afterwards. Dioscorides described approximately 600 plants, mainly of the Mediterranean area, providing for every item equivalent names in some other languages, its provenience, a short morphological description, and then a statement of its medicinal properties and uses.

Dioscorides was held in great esteem by all the physicians and scholars in the Islamic period, and the following statement by the great Iranian polymath Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī of Ḵᵛārazm (362-440/973-1048) in his Ketāb al-ṣaydana (introd., Ar. text, pp. 10-11) reflects the admiration for the scientific work of ancient Greeks in general and for Dioscorides in particular: “Every nation is distinguished by precedence in a certain science or practical art. The Greeks before Christianity were known for their eminent interest in research, for promoting sciences to their highest level, and for bringing them to near perfection. Had their Dīsqūrīdes been in our regions [i.e., Iran, Central Asia], he would have devoted his effort to exploring what there is in our mountains and semideserts, the weeds/herbs of these would all have certainly become medicines, and what is collected from there would have turned out to possess curative virtues according to his experiments. But the West succeeded in producing him and people like him, and benefited us with their meritorious endeavors scientifically and practically. As to the East, except for India, there is no nation keen on any science (yahtazzo le ʿelm).”

Though Bīrūnī’s philhellenic appreciation might be generally true with regard to pharmacology and medicinal botany in Islamic lands, progress in these disci­plines was bound to develop due to the almost unlimited medicinal potential of the vegetable kingdom. Indeed, Bīrūnī himself did not totally exclude that development (op. cit., p. 9): “The art which is superior [to the mere knowledge of simple drugs] is the knowledge of the qowā (Galenic “forces”) of these and their properties. If there was any limit to what was gained by long experience and by applying qīās (analogical reasoning) to it, Dīsqūrīdes certainly was worthiest to circumscribe it and Jālīnūs (Galen) most entitled to limit it; and among the moderns Yaḥyā b. Māsawayh, Māsarjowayh, Mo­ḥammad b. Zakarīyāʾ [Rāzī], and Abū Zayd Arrajānī could do it, albeit the latter were compilers/collectors (jammāʿūn) and incapable of the assiduous deep study (ejtehād) by those [Greek] pioneers (awāʾel).”

The expected development of knowledge about plants and botanical drugs is already visible in the Ferdaws al-ḥekma, the oldest known medical compendium (konnāš) in the Islamic period, composed in Arabic in 236/850 for al-Motawakkel by ʿAlī b. Sahl Rabban Ṭabarī, a physician of Iranian stock but of Christian background. In his sketchy inventory of the Galenic qowā of simples, nutriments, and the like he mentions about twenty new plants or substances of vegetable origin unknown to the Greek masters under their Persian, persianized, and Arabic or arabicized names, e.g., āmalaj (emblic), ambarbārīs (barberry), halīlaj (chebule), jadvār (zedoary), jaz-angobīn (manna from Tamarix mannifera), jowz(-e) būyā (nutmeg), kāfūr (camphor), ṣandal (sandalwood), sabestān (sebes­ten), sokkar (cane sugar), ṭabāšīr (bamboo sugar), ṭaranjobīn (manna from Hedysarum alhagi), zanjabīl (ginger). (For a partial list of the simples introduced into Galenic pharmacopoeia by the scholars of the Islamic period, see Leclerc, II, pp. 232-33).

Ṭabarī mentions as his sources Ḥonayn b. Esḥāq and the Persian Christian Yūḥannā b. Māsūya in addition to Hippocrates, Aristotle, Dioscorides and Galen. Yūḥannā (d. 243/857), one of the “moderns” underrated by Bīrūnī, was one of the teachers of Ḥonayn and, according to M. Levey (p. 160), the last great physician of the famous old Jondīšāpūr medical school founded by Ḵosrow I (Anōšīravān; r. 531-79), with the scientific tradition of which were also associated such early physicians of the Islamic era as the Persian Jew Māsarjūya/Māsarjowayh (fl. late 2nd-early 3rd/8th-­9th cents.), and the Christian ʿĪsā b. Māsa (d. 275/888). The pharmacological works of Ebn Māsūya, Māsarjū­ya, Ebn Māsa, and later Arrajānī (who served the Buyid ʿAżod-al-Dawla, r. 338-72/949-82) being lost, we cannot evaluate their originality in medicinal botany, but the quotations from them by later authors bear witness to the importance of their contributions (one may compare, e.g., the statements of the first three about rice with those of Dioscorides and Galen as quoted by Ebn al-Bayṭār, pt. 1, pp. 18-19, s.v. aroz(z)). However, Yūḥanna’s short treatise on simple aromatics (see the bibliography), probably the oldest work of its kind in the Islamic world, has survived. Most of the twenty-nine items dealt with are of vegetable origin, e.g., hāl bawwā/būyā (cardamon), harnava/harnowa (agalloch fruit), qaranfol (cloves), qerfa (cinnamon), sonbol (Indian spikenard), and zaʿfarān (saffron). Some of these aromatics, e.g., the hāl būyā and the harnava, were new additions to the Greco-Islamic stock.

Rāzī (250-313/864-925), another of the “moderns” whose medicinal botany was disparaged by Bīrūnī, was the first great Iranian Muslim scientist to handle the already tremendous pharmacological corpus and terminology inherited from his Western and Eastern prede­cessors. His therapeutic encyclopedia (Ketāb al-ḥāwī fi’l-ṭebb, his medical compendium Ketāb al-manṣūrī, his short treatise Ketāb manāfeʿ al-aḡḏīa wa dafʿ mażārrehā (on the advantages of food and the defense against its harmful effects), etc., are a repository of botanical-­pharmacological knowledge which he passed on to posterity first in the East and then (through Latin translations) to the West. About 630 medicinal plants and botanical drugs are mentioned in the 20th and 21st parts of the Ketāb at-ḥāwī (Solṭānī, p. 241), but a thorough scrutiny of all his medical works would cer­tainly reveal a greater number. His materia medica is cited only twelve times by Abū Manṣūr Heravī (see below), but 400 times by Ebn al-Bayṭār, the highest number of quotations after those from Dioscorides and Galen (Levey, pp. 106, 116).

Next to Rāzī is ʿAlī b. ʿAbbās Majūsī Arrajānī better known to the medieval West as Haly Abbas, a Persian physician with a Zoroastrian background (hence his nickname al-Majūsī “the Magian”). At the beginning of his great medical encyclopedia, Kāmel al-ṣenāʿat al-ṭebbīya (I, p. 2), he is introduced as the pupil of Abū Māher Mūsā b. Yūsof b. Sayyār al-Majūsī, and in the colophon (p. 434) he is said to be known as physician to ʿAżod-al-Dawla. To justify this work, despite the availability of the works of Hippocrates, Galen, Oribasius, Paulus Aegineta, and of the “mod­erns” (moḥdaṯūn) Ahrūn, Yūḥanna b. Sarābīūn, Masīḥ b. Ḥakam, and Rāzī, he points out the defects or inadequacies in their works (pp. 3-5). As far as pharma­cology is concerned, the drawback which he found in the works of the Greek masters and their Islamic imitators was that many simple drugs mentioned by them were not known or found in the eastern countries of Islam. He then describes his own therapeutic innovation as follows (p. 6); “As to drugs, I have mentioned only what is used by the physicians in the Fourth Clime, ʿErāq and Fārs, and what has been sanctioned by their experimentatioṇ . . . since a lot of the drugs used by ancient Greeks were discarded by the people of ʿErāq and Fārs . . .” Notwithstanding this purposeful elimination Majūsī mentions about 335 plants and substances of plant origin, adding a short description of their Galenic “forces” (I, pp. 183-91, II, pp. 100-29). How­ever, the great merit of Majūsī in this regard is to have introduced a kind of practical, albeit unsophisticated, classification in the presentation of the vegetable materia medica. This he grouped as follows: 1. vegeta­bles (boqūl), e.g., bāḏaranbūya (Melissa officinalis L.), bāḏarūj (Ocimum sp.?), esfānāḵ (spinach); 2. weeds, grasses (ḥašāʾeš), e.g., bāḏāvard (Volutarella divaricata Benth.), barenjāsef (Artemisia vulgaris L.), baršāwošān (maidenhair), jāwašīr ([resin of] Opopanax chironium Koch.), šāhtarj (fumitory); 3. plants used for their seeds (bozūr), e.g., anjora (nettle), fanjankošt (Vitex agnus castus L.), nānaḵᵛāh (Carum copticum Benth.), šūnīz (nigella); 4. plants used for their grains (ḥobūb), e.g., dawṯar/dūṯar (Triticum ovatum L.), kākanj (ground cherry), māš (mungo bean); 5. vegetables used for their fruits (ṯemār), e.g., bāḏenjān (eggplant), beṭṭīḵhendī (watermelon), kankar (bostānī) (artichoke); 6. large trees or shrubs (šajar), including garden or cultivated (bostānī) varieties, with usable fruits, e.g., fostoq (pistachio), jawz (walnut), nārjīl (coconut), otrojj (cit­ron); 7. wild trees or shrubs with usable fruits, e.g., balāḏor (Anacardium orientale L.), balīlaj (belleric), kazmāzaj (tamarisk gall), sabestān (sebesten), šāhballūṭ (chestnut); 8. plants with usable flowers/blossoms (anwār), e.g., bahrāmaj (Salix aegyptiaca L.), nasrīn/nesrīn (dog rose, musk rose), nīlūfar (water lily); 9. plants with usable leaves, e.g., āzā(d)-deraḵt (aze­darach), sarv (cypress), zarrīn-deraḵt (? lit. “golden tree”); 10. plants with usable root barks, e.g., bahman (Centaurea behen L.), dīvdār (deodar cedar), darūnaj/dorūnaj (doronicum), sūrenjān (colchicum), sūsan asmanjūnī (Florentine iris), zarāwand (birthwort); 11. plants with usable roots (bulbs, rhizomes, tubers; oṣūl), e.g., baṣal (onion), korrāṯ (leek), saljam (turnip); 12. plants from which oils (adhān); are obtained, e.g., balasān (balm), šīraj (sesame [oil]), zanbaq (Jasminum sambac Aitch.); 13. plants yielding various resins, latexes, extracts, etc., e.g., afyūn (opium), anzarūt (sarcocolla), bārzad (galbanum), fīlzahraj ([juice of] Lycium afrum L.), kahrobāʾ (yellow amber), nīl/nīlaj (indigo), sakbīnaj (sagapenum). Obviously, these impre­cise groups sometimes overlap, as in the case of rommān (pomegranate), both the blossoms (jollanār, from Persian gol-e nār) and fruits of which were used medicinally. Most of the names of these simples are arabicized Persian (or persianized) terms.

A contemporary of Majūsī, the Persian Abū Manṣūr Mowaffaq Heravī (fl. ca. 370-80/980-90), author of Ketāb al-abnīa ʿan ḥaqāʾeq al-adwīa, the earliest known work in Persian on materia medica and nutriments, dealt with approximately 450 plants and materials of plant origin (without reckoning 16 equivalents and references). He declares (pp. 1, 4) that he has perused the pharmacological works of his Greco-Islamic prede­cessors as well as those of some Indian physicians. Consequently his treatise includes a lot of botanical drugs of Indian provenience under their Persian, per­sianized, or arabicized names, e.g., aṭmaṭ/atmat (“seeds [sic] of the Indian lotus,” i.e., Nelumbo nucifera Gaert.), bahman, balādor, berenj/baranj-e kābolī (chebule seeds), beṭṭiḵ(-e) hendī, fūfal (areca nut), hīl-e būyā (car­damon), jawz jandom (Pers. gowz-e gandom, manna lichen), jawz(-e) māṯel (thorn apple), kabāba/kobāba (cubeb), ḵīār(-e) šanbar (pods of the purging cassia, Cassia fistula L.), ḵowlenjān/ḵūalenjān (galanga), māhīzahra (lit. “fish poison,” i.e., roots or berries of Ana­mirta paniculata Colebr.), nārjīl, nār-mošk (root bark of Mesua ferrea L.), rībās (rhubarb), salīḵa (bark of Ceylonese cinnamon), ṭālīsfar (twigs of yew), zard-čūba (Pers., lit. “yellow wood”) or ʿorūq ṣofr (Ar., lit. “yellow roots”; turmeric). Levey (p. 105) thinks that, since in Heravī’s time many physicians were Persians spreading his work to the Near East, he was “largely responsible for having brought Indian pharmacology to the serious attention of writers in Arabic.”

Another Iranian figure in the transmission of botanico-pharmacological knowledge is Ebn Sīnā (370-­428/980-1037; see avicenna). In the 2nd book of his Qānūn fi’l-ṭebb (I, pp. 243-470; Lat. tr., Liber Canonis, Basel, 1556, pp. 179-322), he has treated more than 800 simples, nutriments, and the like (Levey, p. 147), of which (excluding references and equivalent names) some 541 are plants, materials of plant origin, and vegetable nutriments. As a rule Ebn Sīnā does not care about the morphological description of plants, but he does provide precisions when differences in botanical varieties are pharmacologically rele­vant. In this respect be was not an original writer: his materia, on the whole, is “secondhand” (Levey, p. 109); however, he was a good systematizer of the materials which he had chosen to deal with. In view of his outstanding position in contemporary medicine, his pharmacological statements were often quoted by later authors. For instance, the Spanish Arab Abū Jaʿfar Aḥmad Ḡāfeqī (d. 1164), whose Ketāb al-adwīa al-mofrada (“Book of simples,” only partly published) was the principal source of the Jāmeʿ of Ebn al-Bayṭār (d. 646/1248), frequently quoted him (Levey, p. 109), and Ebn al-Bayṭār himself, 300 times (p. 116).

Ebn Sīnā’s contemporary and fellow countryman, Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī, though not a practicing physician, combined his keen interest in pharmacy (ṣaydala/ṣaydana) with his vast philological knowledge to compile a work unique in its kind in the pharmacological literature of the Islamic period. His Ketāb al-­ṣaydana fi’l-ṭebb, a mainly philological book on simple drugs, is primarily a pharmacological treatise in which he has culled extracts from a great many ancient and modern authors, some of whom are known to us only by name or whose pharmacological works are now lost. His materia medica, consisting of both previously known simples and new additions, includes about 770 plants, materials of plant origin, and the like (excluding many synonyms and references). This number is all the more impressive when we note that the published text (see the bibliography) lacks the entries under the two letters and r. Another important feature of this work is the unprecedented abundance of equivalents for plant names, not only in classical languages (Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Turkish) but, more important­ly, also in the languages or dialects of Balḵ, Bukhara, Gorgān, Ḵᵛārazm, Sīstān, Sogdiana, Termeḏ, Ṭoḵāre­stān, Zābol, etc., current in the author’s time, as well as some Indian languages (Hindi, Sindhi, etc.). Bīrūnī’s interest in botanical synonyms and in identifying the vernacular names of plants with those used in the better known languages reflects the need to cope with the confusion which had already set in with the Syriac and Arabic translations of Greek authors and which had steadily grown with the influx of new botanical drugs and their local names from very different lands. Of course, he was neither the first nor the last to have felt that urgent need: Contributions to botanical synonymy include Ebn Joljol’s Tafsīr asmāʾ al-adwīa al-mofrada men ketāb Dīsqūrīdūs (Explanation of the names of the simples in the book of Dioscorides; comp. 982-83; now partly lost, see Sezgin, GAS III, p. 309), Ḡāfeqī’s Ketāb al-adwīa al-mofrada, the Šarḥ asmāʾ al-ʿoqqār (Explanation of the names of simples) of Ebn Maymūn (Maimonides, 1135-1204), and Ebn al-Bayṭār’s Jāmeʿ. (For detailed accounts of such works by physicians/pharmacologists of the Islamic period, see Meyerhof’s introduction to Maimonides’ Šarḥ, and Levey, chaps. 3, 6, and 9.) Bīrūnī himself mentions some now lost dictionaries of synonyms of drugs in his homeland in his days (ca. 440/1050): a multilingual glossary called Dah nām, which was supposed to provide ten names in ten different languages for each simple but which he found corrupted by the copyists and therefore useless (op. cit., Ar. text, p. 14); a glossary called Poššāq šemāhē (Syr., Explanation of names) or Čahār nām, mainly used by the Christians, which provided four equivalents in four languages for each simple: Greek (Rūmī), Syriac, Arabic, and Persian (Bīrūnī says he has incorporated the greater part of its contents into his Ṣaydana; op. cit., pp. 14-15); and glossaries called leksīqūnāt (lexica), also used by the Christians, each of which usually explained the odd, difficult terms in a given scientific work (he says that the glossaries for Ptolemy’s astronomical tables, Diosco­rides’ Ketāb al-ḥašāʾeš, and Oribasius’s Konnāš were available to him (op. cit., p. 15). Bīrūnī’s great merit in the Ṣaydana is to have gathered a lot of data from the eastern part of the Islamic world (the authors just mentioned were all native of Spain and their works are particularly valuable for old Spanish, western local Arabic, and Berber botanical equivalents), as well as a wealth of interesting explanations, etymologies, and even valuable quotations from Arab poets referring to such and such a plant.

The next outstanding title in the history of Persian botanical-pharmacological contributions is the Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn of Moḥammad Moʾmen Tonokābonī (Ḥakīm Moʾmen), physician to the shah Solaymān Ṣafawī (r. 1077-1105/1667-94), a cyclopedia of pharmacology and pharmacy in Persian compiled in 1080/1669-­70. The bulk of this work (pp. 29-881) consists of the description of Greco-Islamic materia medica (mostly botanical drugs), for the compilation of which the author has drawn on more than twenty-five Greco-­Islamic and six Indian sources (see his authorities, pp. 4­-5, 29), to which he had added the results of his own experimentation and investigation. The alphabetical materia medica section contains about 5,750 headings, including some 1,520 main entries, 940 of which deal with plants, botanical drugs, and nutriments of vegetable origin (cf. the figures in the Jāmeʿ of Ebn al-Bayṭār; 1,500 main entries plus about 1,000 synonyms and equivalents; see Leclerc, II, p. 230). In respect of botanical synonymy, the importance of the Toḥfa lies in the great number of equivalent names and synonyms (about 4,230) from many languages: Greek, Arabic (including the dialects of Ḥejāz, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, the Maḡreb, Andalusia, etc.), Hebrew, Syriac, Nabatean, etc.; Iranian languages or dialects (Persian, dialects of Khorasan, Isfahan, etc., and especially the Caspian dialects—ca. 126 items—, with which the author was particularly acquainted, see Tafażżolī); Turkish (ca. 190); and Indian (ca. 532). The addition of Turkish equivalents may be due to a rekindled interest of Safavid rulers in their ancestral mother tongue and origin, and the rather high number of Indian lexical and pharmacological materials probably indicates a renewal of interest in Indian medicine and drugs, as well as closer political and social ties with the neighboring India. An important feature of the Toḥfa is that each main entry usually begins with a morphological description, shorter or longer as the case may require; for instance, if the plant in question is subject to confusion, or if it has varieties, the descriptions are more detailed (examples s.vv. abūḵalsā [glasswort], āḏān al-faʾr [marjoram, etc.], anjodān [asafetida], asārūn [asarum], etc). Sometimes the author mentions personal experiment or expertise in identifying a plant; for instance, s.v, bādranjbūya (Melissa officinalis L.), when discounting its identity with the bālangū, which had been alleged by some authors, he states (p. 136) that he grew the seeds of the bālangū himself and saw that it was a kind of basil (rayḥān) with large green leaves, smelling like the sweet basil (šāh-­sefaram). The following two quotations may give an idea about the botanical descriptions and synonymy in the Toḥfa: “Jawz māṯel [thorn apple]: in Persian tātūra [from Indian]; arabicized from Persian gowz-e māṯel. Both wild and cultivated varieties exist. The plant is as large as that of the aubergine, but with smaller leaves. The flowers, white, look like those of . . . the convol­vulus, but are longer. The fruits are as large as walnuts, thorny like those of the castor-oil plant, and contain grains like sumac grains. The part used are the grains, which are tasty” (there follow the medicinal properties; pp. 258-59). Synonyms include jawz māṯem, jawz māṯā, and others (p. 262); dhātūra, its Indian name (p. 399); and morqed (Ar., lit. “soporific”), a name also applied to the opium (p. 807). “Ṯīl [couch-grass]: in Turkish called īlān-ūdī [lit. “snake grass”], in Tonokābonī kerk-e čar-e vāš [lit. “grass nibbled by hens”]. It is a repent grass growing near water and in humid soil at any time of the year. Its stems are long, with many nodes. Its minute leaves grow at each node. The blossoms, pinkish, are interlaced with the leaves. It tastes sweet [there follow the medicinal virtues]” (p. 233). Syn­onyms include aḡrosṭes (i.e., agrostis), its Greek name (p. 89); Persian bīd-gīāh (lit. “willow grass,” p. 205); and Arabic najm and najīl (p. 842). The Toḥfa seems to have superseded a previously popular pharmacological compendium in Persian, the Eḵtīārāt-e badīʿī, com­posed in 770/1368-69 by ʿAlī b. Ḥosayn Anṣārī (better known as Ḥājj Zayn-e ʿAṭṭār “the Apothecary”), whom he often cites to point out mistakes and misinformation.

The contributions of Persian scholars to traditional medicinal botany culminated in the work of Moḥammad-Ḥosayn ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, author of the Maḵzan al-adwīa (On simples, comp. 1183/1769-70) and the Majmaʿ al-jawāmeʿ wa ḏaḵāʾer al-tarākīb, commonly known as Qarābādīn-e kabīr (The great formulary), on the art of pharmacy and on compound drugs. Together these two form a vast encyclopedia of pharmacology in Persian. The Maḵzan is basically an amplified and systematized adaptation of the Toḥfat al-­moʾmenīn, to which ʿAqīlī has added information from a few sources probably unknown or unavailable to Tono­kābonī (e.g., Ebn Sīnā’s al-Adwīa al-qalbīya “Cardiac drugs”), and a few works posterior to the Toḥfa (see his authorities, p. 3). ʿAqīlī’s own observations, particular­ly rich in the case of Indian materia medica, are also included, cf., e.g., his detailed botanical treatment of Indian material such as balādor, bīš (aconite), and dīvdār (op. cit., s.vv). ʿAqīlī is probably the first pharmacological writer in the Islamic world to have utilized, at least in some cases, the New Latin (which he calls farangī) scientific botanical terms for the identification of plants, probably inspired by the botanico-­pharmacological activity of British scientists in India, e.g.: “Dolb [plane tree] . . . is called čenār in Persian and balaṭānos [Platanus] in farangī” (p. 422). “Lesān al-ḥamal [plantain]: . . . It occurs in two species, large and small. The large one is called balantāg mayūr [misprin­ted bīšāk maysūr; Plantago major L.] in farangī and the small one balantāg mīnūr [misprinted bīšāk mīnūr; Plantago minor L.]” (p. 788). “Šahesfaram [(sweet) basil] is calleḍ . . . osīmom [misprinted osmīm; Ocimum spp.] in farangī. The species having large leaves is called osīmom māgnūm [Ocimum magnum], and the one with tiny leaves, osīmom pārvom [misprinted as osmīm bārūm; Ocimum parvum] in farangī (p. 539).

In this period also some non-pharmacological works have dealt with some aspects of plants. The most celebrated is the Ketāb al-nabāt (The book of plants) of Abū Ḥanīfa Dīnavarī, a famed Iranian philologist and historian of the 3rd/9th century. This mainly philological work has two parts, both of which have come down to us in defective manuscripts: The first treats exten­sively the Arabic terminology of subjects more or less related to plant life and products, a separate chapter being devoted to each. The other contains a treatment of plants and the relevant Arabic botanical terminology and synonyms. The extant portion of the first part includes thirteen chapters, dealing with, e.g., mush­rooms and truffles, gums, plants used in tanning and for making ropes and cords, plants yielding dyestuffs, and vegetable aromatics. The extant portion of the al­phabetical part covers only the first eleven letters of the Arabic alphabet (from alef to zāʾ) and contains 482 entries, in which about 440 plants and botanicals are dealt with (the remaining entries consist of synonyms, references to the topical part, and short notes). Further, a collection has been made by M. Hamidullah of the entries under the other letters of the alphabet as quoted in the works of later authors. This collection, presented under 637 entries, contains more or less fragmentary statements about 507 plants and the like (excluding about 130 synonyms and references). Thus we get a total of about 947 botanical main entries. Dīnavarī is essentially interested in the plants and plant products of the Arab lands (arż al-ʿArab) and in their vast terminology. He does, however, also provide some information about “exotic” plants and Persian or other Iranian equiva­lents for many Arabic plant names. The follow­ing short quotations will give an idea about the alphabetical botanical part of his work: “Oqḥowān [Matricaria parthenium L.]. The nomen unitatis is oqḥowāna, the plur. is al-aqāḥīy or al-aqāḥī.” Then after citing five poetical evidences for the use of either variant of the plural, he quotes from the gram­marian Farrāʾ two spelling variants when the article al- ­is added: al-oqḥowān and al-qoḥwān; then he goes on, “I asked a Bedouin about the oqḥowān. He said: "It is your bābūnaj, which the people of the Jabal call banīrak [i.e., Pers. panīrak]." ʿAbū Naṣr [Aḥmad b. Ḥātem Bāhelī] has said: "It is also (called] bābūnak." According to Abū ʿAmr [b. al-ʿAlāʾ], the oqḥowān is one of the "males" [ḏokūr, i.e., inedible plants], and it grows both in hard and soft soils. . . . [The Bedouin] Abū Zīād told [me]: "The oqḥowān is a herbaceous plant (ʿošba); both its leaves and pure white flowers are fragrant all the time . . . Its leaves are twisted, not flat, like those of the šīḥ [Artemisia judaica L.]” (pp. 29-30). “Aṣābeʿ al-­qaynāt [Melissa calamintha L.?]: It is the aromatic plant called faranja-mošk in Persian. It is abundant in the remotest parts of Arab lands. It grows wild, [but] it is not grazed by any [animal]. I was informed of all this by a Bedouin inhabiting that region” (p. 41). “Eṯrār [bar­berry]: One of the Bedouins informed me that it is a plant which they call anbarbārīs, i.e., that which is called zarīk in Persian” (p. 42),

Another motive for non-pharmacological interest in plants was agriculture and gardening. A relatively small number of agricultural works in Arabic in the Islamic period are recorded in bibliographies (Watson men­tions six; see his bibliography, pp. 215-23). Only a few of these works have been published so far, the best known being al-Felāḥa al-nabaṭīya (Nabatean agriculture), attributed to Ebn Waḥšīya (3rd/9th cent.?), al-Felāḥa al-rūmīya (Byzantine agriculture), translated from the Greek of “Qoṣtos al-Rūmī” (pro­bably Cassianus Bassus, fl. a.d. 6th cent.), and the Ketāb al-felāḥa (Book of agriculture) of Ebn ʿAwwām of Seville (fl. 12th cent.). Agricultural works in Persian are not more numerous: Monzawī, Nosḵahā I, pp. 392-459, records six manuscripts of any interest in historical perspective, including the Varz/Barz-nāma (Book of agriculture), reportedly a Persian version of al-Felāḥa al-rūmīya. Only two of these works have been published: The one dealing specifically with Iran (the Herat region) is the Eršād al-­zerāʿa (Guide to agriculture), composed in 921/1515-16 by Qāsem Abūnaṣrī Heravī. Abūnaṣrī deals with 79 plants (cereals, vegetables, fruit trees, ornamental trees, flowers, medicinal plants, etc.). The importance of this work from a botanical viewpoint lies in the fact that the author did not confine himself to botanical species but dealt with the varieties or cultivars of many plants as known in the area of his native Herat. The number of the cultivars he names and defines for some plants is impressive, e.g., over 100 varieties of grapes, approximately 58 varieties of ḵarboza (a kind of melon), about 33 varieties of apricot, 19 varieties of wheat and apple, 14 varieties of kadū (pumpkin, squash) and barley, 11 varieties of millet, and 6 varieties of watermelon.

A few authors turned their attention to the “marvelous” plants of the world and especially to agricultural and medicinal “marvels” (ʿajāʾeb) of a number of known plants. Probably the best known of these authors is Zakarīāʾ Qazvīnī (ca. 600-82/ca. 1203-83), who in his ʿAjāʾeb al-maḵlūqāt occasionally reported the existence of some fabulous plants (e.g., the yabrūḥ, mandrake), as well as some real ones with marvelous virtues (e.g., the jawz māṯel, datura, an inedible, fatally poisonous plant). Concerning the yabrūḥ he reports the following on the authority of “the author of Toḥfat al-­ḡarāʾeb” [?]: “There grows in the mountains of Farḡāna a plant in the form of a human being; part of it looks like a man and part of it like a woman. A lot of this plant is found with mountebanks, who extol it, saying that eating it increases the sexual power. It is called yabrūḥ and abounds in Ḵorāsān” (pp. 169-70). Concerning the jawz māṯel, on the same authority (p. 167): “In the mountains of Ṭabarestān there is a plant called jawz māṯel. If somebody cuts [a piece of] it while laughing and eats it laughter will overwhelm him; if he does so while crying weeping will overcome him; while dancing, likewise. In whatever state somebody cuts and eats it, that state will overcome him.” Qazvīnī has a special chapter on a number of ordinary plants (pp. 246-301), which he has divided into šajar (i.e., plants with a hard tall stem) and najm (i.e., those without such a stem)—­probably in imitation of the same bipartite division in the Koran (55:6). He mentions 62 šajar and 121 najm. For the former, apart from an occasional concise description, he usually quotes agricultural hints from “the author of al-Felāḥa” (most probably al-Felāḥa al-­nabaṭīya), and medicinal virtues from Ebn Sīnā’s Qānūn. For the latter, he usually confines himself to quoting wondrous-sounding properties from the Qānūn. Examples of agricultural hints that will work wonders as claimed by “the author of al-Felāḥa” are: If a red rose bush is planted under an apple tree the apples will become red (p. 250); soaking a walnut for five days in the urine of a sexually immature boy, then sowing it and sprinkling ashes on it will yield a tree that will produce walnuts with thin shells easy to crack by hand (p. 252).



Qāsem b. Yūsof Abūnaṣrī Heravī, Eršād al-zerāʿa, ed. M. Mošīrī, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

M.-Ḥ. ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, Maḵzan al-adwīa, Calcutta, 1844.

Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī, Ketāb al-­ṣaydana, ed. and tr. Mohammed Said and Rana Ehsan Elahie, Karachi, 1973.

E. G. Browne, Arabian Medicine, Cambridge, 1921.

Abū Ḥanīfa Dīnavarī, Ketāb al-nabāt, ed. B. Lewin, The Book of Plants, parts of the alphabetical section, Uppsala, 1953; part of the monograph section, Wiesbaden, 1974; Le dictionnaire botanique d’Abū Ḥanīfa . . . (Kitāb an-nabāt, de [s] à [y]), reconstituté d’après les citations des ouvrages postérieurs par Muhammad Hamidul­lah, Cairo, 1973.

Ebn al-Bayṭār, al-Jāmeʿ le mofradāt al-adwīa wa’l-aḡḏīa, 4 pts. in 2 vols., Būlāq, 1291/1874.

Ebn Sīnā, Ketāb al-qānūn fi’l-ṭebb, 3 vols., Būlāq, 1294/1877; Lat. tr., Liber Canonis, by Gerardus Carmonensis, ed. Andreas Alpagus Bellunensis, Basel, 1556.

C. Elgood, A Medical History of Persia and the Eastern Caliphate . . . , 2nd ed., Amsterdam, 1979.

Abū Manṣūr Mowaffaq Heravī, Ketāb al-abnīa ʿan ḥaqāʾeq al-adwīa . . . , ed. A. Bahmanyār and Ḥ. Mah­Â¡būbī Ardakānī, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967-68.

L. Leclerc, Histoire de la médecine arabe, 2 vols., Paris, 1876. M. Levey, Early Arabic Pharmacology, Leiden, 1973.

Maimonides (Ebn Maymūn), Šarḥ asmāʾ al-ʿoqqār, ed. and tr. M. Meyerhof, Cairo, 1940.

ʿAlī b. ʿAbbās Majūsī (Arrajānī), Kāmel al-ṣenāʿa al-ṭebbīya, 2 vols., Cairo, 1294/1877.

Abū Yaḥyā Zakarīāʾ Qazvīnī, ʿAjāʾeb al-maḵlūqāt wa ḡarāʾeb al-mawjūdāt, ed. F. Wüstenfeld, Göttingen, 1848-49.

M. L. Sid­diqi, Studies in Arabic and Persian Medical Literature, Calcutta, 1959.

Abu’l-Qāsem Solṭānī, “Lozūm-e ḥefāẓat-e gīāhān-e dārūʾī-e Īrān,” in the supp. to Moḥīṭ-šenāsī 3, Mehr, 1354 Š./Sept.-Oct., 1975, pp. 241-47.

ʿAlī b. Sahl Rabban Ṭabarī, Ferdaws al-ḥekma, ed. M. L. Siddiqi, Berlin, 1928.

A. Tafażżolī, “Vāžahā-ye gūyešī dar Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn,” in Entešārāt-e Edāre-ye Farhang-e ʿĀmma 2, 1341 Š./1962-63, pp. 95-149.

Moḥammad Moʾmen Ḥosaynī Tonokābonī (Ḥakīm Moʾmen), Toḥfa-ye Ḥakīm Moʾmen [Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn], Tehran, n.d. [1360 Š./1981?].

A. M. Watson, Agricultural Inno­vation in the Early Islamic World, Cambridge, 1983.

Yūḥannā b. Māsūya (Māsawayh), Ketāb jawāher al-ṭīb al-mofrada, ed. P. Sbath, “Traité sur les sub­stances simples aromatiques,” Bulletin de l’Institut d’Égypte 19, 1937, pp. 5-27.

Hūšang Aʿlam)


ii. The Western Tradition

Modern scientific study of botany in Iran and Afghan­istan began in the 19th century. Earlier there had been surveys of medicinal plants and their effects, often based partly on ancient Greek sources; for example, medicines, sickness, treatments, plants, and animals were defined and described in terms of the four basic principles recognized in antiquity: dry, moist, warm, and cold.

Modern botany—including description of all plant species, their evolutionary relations within an established taxonomic system, distribution and biogeograph­ical relations, ecological behavior, and ecophysiological demands—became possible only after comprehensive collections of plant specimens had been developed.

In the 1840s W. Griffith collected a large number of unknown plant types in various parts of Afghanistan (1847; 1848). About forty years later, in the spring and summer of 1879, J. E. T. Aitchison accompanied British troops under the command of General Sir Frederick Roberts as they advanced from the Korram valley into various parts of the mountains south of Kabul (Aitchison, 1880, pp. 1-3). In 1884-85 he was attached as botanist to the Afghan Delimitation Commission. On both trips he made extensive collections, totaling about 25,000 specimens, from a number of different districts (1880; 1881; 1887); they are now kept at the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London.

These and several other, smaller collections have been used subsequently as the basis for revisions in the classification of families or genera, and they still constitute important type material for taxonomic investigations. In this respect they provide a historical dimension to systematic botany.

In the first half of the twentieth century J. Bornmüller published a large number of papers on the flora of Iran, describing many new species and providing systematic and taxonomic studies of a number of plant groups. He made several trips to Iran, and his reports are parti­cularly useful in that they permit the retracing of his itineraries (1911, 1937, 1938, 1940, 1942); he also drew on all the plant material available to him from other collections.

In the past forty years, as many remote regions have become accessible, collecting activity has increased, and much larger collections have resulted. In this respect, Iranian scientists have made major contributions (see iii below). The total number of specimens so far known from Afghanistan is about 130,000, approximately 25 samples per 100 km2. The estimated total for Iran is 200,000 specimens, a “collecting density” of about 13 samples per km2. Botanical investigation of countries like Iran and Afghanistan is normally very uneven, however, for two reasons. First, collecting is usually concentrated along good roads and in easily accessible areas. Indeed, some maps of the geographical distribution of given plant species seem to mirror the corresponding road maps. Second, it usually takes place in the normal flowering season, late spring or summer. Furthermore, some areas support a very high number of species, others (particularly desert areas) a much lower number. The “collecting density” is thus of only very limited utility.

Basic to all botanical work are systematic catalogues of regional plants. In the mid-19th century E. Boissier described a large number of new plant species from the East (1842-59). He subsequently issued the first flora of the area extending from Greece to eastern Afghanistan, Flora Orientalis (1867-88), a monumental work in Latin consisting of five volumes plus a supplement. For its time it was an outstanding work, with clear descriptions of all plants then known, which were, however, only a small fraction of those known today. Nor did the author use the dichotomous system of reference now consid­ered indispensable.

For the Iranian botanical region as a whole the most important modern flora is in the process of publication by K. H. Rechinger. Since 1964, 161 parts have been issued, covering about 90 percent of known plant families and about 80 percent of known species; in October, 1987, no. 162 was in press and nos. 163-65 in preparation. Generally each part contains the description of one plant family, though large families some­times require more than one part.

Floras for countries adjacent to Iran are also important sources of information for the taxonomist, plant geographer, and botanist, both for their contents and as means of discovering pertinent earlier literature. Partic­ularly valuable for comparative study are works by E. Nasir and S. I. Ali (175 fascicles published so far), each fascicle of which is devoted to one plant family in West Pakistan; P. H. Davis, covering the whole flora of Turkey, with one supplementary volume planned; V. V. Vvedensky (1941-62, on Uzbekistan; 1968-, on Central Asia in general, 3 vols. published so far); F. W. Nikitina on the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic; B. K. Shishkin on Turkmenistan; P. N. Ovchinnikov on the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic (3 vols. published so far); and V. I. Grubov on Central Asia (6 vols. published so far). Aside from a study of the Wakhan corridor (Podlech and Anders), individual regions within Iran and Afghanistan have not yet been investigated systematically.

In addition to basic catalogues of materials, sound, detailed taxonomic treatments are prerequisite for research in any branch of botany. In recent decades several scientists have published systematic classifications of specific plant groups, mainly using specimens kept in museums in Vienna, Göteborg, Edinburgh, Munich, Berlin, Geneva, Paris, Helsinki, London (Kew Gardens), Leningrad, and Washington, D.C. Some plant genera are very difficult to treat taxonomically because of recent evolutionary changes. Often they include just those common plants that constitute typical semidesert and steppe vegetation. The genera Artemisia, Astragalus, Oxytropis, Acanthophyllum, Acantholimon, and Arenaria, for example, are very rich in species and give rise to taxonomic problems that have not yet been resolved (see Freitag, 1971a, 1971b; Gilli; Hedge and Wendelbo; Podlech; Podlech and Anders; Rechinger).

Large plants with colorful flowers attractive to horticulturists have been a focus of interest since early medieval times. Wendelbo has published a fascinating booklet, with many color plates, on the bulb plants of Iran (1977), of which the tulip is the most celebrated. It is said to have been taken to Constantinople from Persia, and, according to historical records, its introduction in the West should be credited to Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, Emperor Ferdinand I’s ambassador to the court of Sultan Solaymān I. Busbecq carried tulip bulbs with him when he returned to Vienna in 1554. It was the Dutch, however, who exalted the flower to heights of “tulipomania” in the 17th century, triggering such intense commercial speculation that a single bulb of a special variety is known to have brought a price equivalent to more than $3,000 in 1634. Within a few decades gladioli, hyacinths, and other bulb plants, often originating in the Iranian highlands, were also being sold in Europe at extremely high prices.

The botany of the lower plants in Iran and Afghanistan—mosses, lichens, fungi, and algae—is very little known. W. Frey has made intensive studies of the mosses and, with H. Kürschner, has summarized the earlier bryological literature. The limited bibliography on lichens and fungi has been surveyed by S.-W. Breckle (1981a, pp. 89, 103f.).

Some general bibliographies on Iran and Afghanistan include botanical references (e.g. Field; Wilber). Among more specialized bibliographies the most recent is by M. Bierkamp, Frey, and Kürschner (updating Frey and Mayer), covering only geobotanical literature for the whole of southwestern Asia. Botanical ref­erences on Afghanistan have been compiled (Breckle, Frey, and Hedge), and Breckle has also given a general account of research on the flora and vegetation of Afghanistan (1981a). The Swiss documentation center Bibliotheca Afghanica located at Liestal (Switzerland) is also very helpful. Useful accounts of the natural vegetation of Afghanistan have been given by O. H. Volk (1954, p. 422) and in more detail by H. Freitag (1971a, 1971b). Frey and W. Probst have recently published a synopsis of the vegetation of Iran (1986). M. Zohary’s major work on geobotany is valuable for all of southwestern Asia. The periodical literature also in­cludes a number of more specialized studies, limited to particular topics, small areas, or specific sets of local conditions. Plant associations in several distinct areas have been investigated by Freitag and his colleagues, as well as by Gilli, Mossadegh, Sabeti, and others (for references, see Bierkamp et al.). Freitag (1986) has surveyed the vegetation in the sandy areas of Iran, and Breckle (1983) has done the same for the deserts and semideserts of both Iran and Afghanistan. The general pattern of plant distribution has been covered by Hedge and Wendelbo.

Little is known of the ecological conditions and ecophysiological behavior of plants in the various vegetation types. Some initial investigations have been made in connection with the microclimate in deserts and mountain areas, mineral nutrition of plants and their growth responses, and tolerance for drought, heat, cold, and salt. All these factors have played important roles in botanical research on other areas. The ecological con­ditions and microclimate in the high Hindu Kush were measured by Breckle (1973), who also published data on ion and salinity conditions in halophytes from saline areas (1981b, 1986; see also Carle and Frey).

In 1976 two new botanical journals began publication in Iran. Acta Ecologica Iranica, issued by the National University of Iran in Tehran, is devoted essentially to ecological matters; Iranian Journal of Botany, published by the Āryāmehr Botanic Garden in Tehran, is devoted to plant taxonomy, anatomy, and geobotany. These two journals are important outlets for rapidly develop­ing botanical research by Iranian scientists. The valu­able contributions that local researchers can make to botanical knowledge are discussed by Davis and Hedge (1975, p. 331). Although their article is written primarily from a Turkish point of view, many of the topics covered are equally valid for Iran and Afghanistan.

The establishment of nature preserves and national parks in Iran and Afghanistan began only recently, when basic botanical knowledge had developed to the point at which it became possible at least to suggest the most typical and valuable areas for protection. In Iran the Department of the Environment established fifty-four such areas, totaling more than 4 percent of the entire surface area of the country. The Tūrān Biosphere Reserve, which was the largest (1,842,000 ha), and Kavīr National Park have already been the subjects of special botanical investigations, which demonstrate both the value of protecting these areas and the amount of useful work they make possible (Firouz, 1976; Firouz et al.). At present, however, it is not known how effectively protection is being maintained. In Afghanistan a few national parks were planned by United Nations officials (Larsson; Petocz), but it is not known whether the plans are being carried out.

Another field of botanical research is the use of plants for medicinal purposes. The drugs available in the bāzārs of the two countries are plentiful and varied, but not all are of local origin. Many drugs, especially those derived from tropical plants, come from the Indian subcontinent. Surveys on medicinal plants and their uses, as well as on the principles of compounding drugs, have been published by O. H. Volk (1955); J.-M. Pelt, J. C. Hayon, and M. C. Younus; and L. Fischer.

There is still a great need for more work in various branches of botanical science in Iran and Afghanistan, both in applied fields and in a growing number of new areas of basic research.



J. E. T. Aitchison, “On the Flora of the Kurram Valley, etc., Afghanistan,” Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Botany 1/18, 1880, pp. 1-113; 2/19, 1881, pp. 139-200.

Idem, “The Botany of the Afghan Delimitation Commission,” Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, 2nd ser., Botany 3, 1887, pp. 1-139.

M. Bierkamp, W. Frey, and H. Kürschner, Bibliography of the Geo­botanical Literature an South West Asia, Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, Ser. A 25, Wiesbaden, 1986, pp. 1-103.

E. Boissier, Diagnoses Plantarum Orientalium Novarum, 2 series in 19 parts, Geneva, 1842-59. Idem, Flora Orientalis, 5 vols. and suppl., Geneva, 1867-88.

J. Bornmüller, Iter Persico-Turcicum 1892-1893. Beiträge zur Flora von Persien, Babylonien, Assyrien and Arabien, Botanisches Zen­tralblatt, Beiheft 28 (II), 1911, pp. 89-171; 57(B), 1937, pp. 247-94, 58(B), 1938, pp. 252-302; 60(B), 1940, pp. 181-228; 61(B), 1942, pp. 72-123.

S.-W. Breckle, “Mikroklimatische Messungen und ökologische Beobachtungen in der alpinen Stufe des afghanischen Hindukusch,” Botanische Jahrbücher 93, 1973, pp. 25-55.

Idem, “Zum Stand der Erfor­schung von Flora und Vegetation Afghanistans,” in C. Rathjens, ed., Neue Forschungen in Afghanistan, Schriften des Deutschen Orient-Instituts, Opladen, 1981a, pp. 87-104.

Idem, “The Time-Scale of Salt-­Accumulation in a Desertic Hydrotope in North-­Central Iran,” in Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, Ser. A 8. Wiesbaden, 1981b, pp. 51-­60.

Idem, “Temperate Deserts and Semideserts of Afghanistan and Iran,” Ecosystems of the World 5, 1983, pp. 271-319.

Idem, “Studies on Halophytes from Iran and Afghanistan. II: Ecology of Halophytes Along Salt-Gradients,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 89B, 1986, pp. 203-15.

Breckle, W. Frey, and I. C. Hedge, “Botanical Literature of Afghanistan,” Notes of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh 29, 1969, pp. 357-71.

Idem, “Botanical Literature of Afghanistan. Supplement I,” Notes of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh 33, 1975, pp. 503-21.

R. Carle and W. Frey, Die Vegetation des Maharlu-Beckens bei Shiraz (Iran) unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Vegetation im Bereich der Süss ­und Salzwasserquellen am Seeufer, Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, Ser. A 2, Wiesbaden, 1977.

P. H. Davis, ed., Flora of Turkey and the East Aegean Islands, 9 vols., Edinburgh, 1965­-85.

Davis and I. C. Hedge, “The Flora of Turkey: Past, Present and Future,” Candollea 30, 1975, pp. 331-51.

H. Field, Bibliography of Southwestern Asia, 5 vols., Coral Gables, 1953-59.

E. Firouz, Environment Iran, Tehran, 1974. Idem, “Environ­mental and Nature Conservation in Iran,” Environ­mental Conservation 3, 1976, pp. 33-42.

Firouz, J. D. Hassinger, and D. A. Ferguson, “The Wildlife Parks and Protected Regions of Iran,” Biological Conser­vation 3, 1970, pp. 37-45.

L. Fischer, “Volksmedizin in Afghanistan,” Afghanistan Journal 1, 1974, pp. 51-­64.

H. Freitag, “Die natürliche Vegetation Afghanistans. Beiträge zur Flora und Vegetation Afghanistans I,” Vegetatio 22, 1971a, pp. 285-344.

Idem, “Studies in the Natural Vegetation of Afghanistan,” in P. H. Davis et al., eds., Plant Life of South-West Asia, Edinburgh, 1971b, pp. 89-106.

W. Frey, “Bryophyte Flora and Vegetation of Southwest Asia,” Proceed­ings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 89(B), 1986, pp. 217-27.

W. Frey and H. Kürschner, “The Bryological Literature of South West Asia,” Journal of the Hattori Botanical Laboratory 50, 1981, pp. 217-­29.

W. Frey and H.-J. Mayer, “Botanische Literatur über den Iran,” Botanische Jahrbücher 91, 1971, pp. 348-82.

W. Frey and W. Probst, “A Synopsis of the Vegetation of Iran,” in Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients A 24, Wiesbaden, 1986, pp. 9-43.

A. Gilli, “Beiträge zur Flora Afghanistans V,” Feddes Repertorium 72, 1966, pp. 49-68.

Idem, “Afghanische Pflanzengesellschaften,” Vegetatio 16, 1969, pp. 307-75; 23, 1971, pp. 199-234.

W. Griffith, Journals of Travels in Assam, Burma, Bootan, Afghan­istan etc., Calcutta, 1847.

Idem, Itinerary Notes on Plants Collected in the Khayah and Bootan Mountains 1837-38, in Afghanistan 1839-41, Calcutta, 1848.

V. I. Grubov, ed., Plantae Asiae Centralis, Moscow and Leningrad, 1963-.

I. C. Hedge and P. Wendelbo, “Patterns of Distribution and Endemism in Iran,” Notes of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh 36, 1978, pp. 441-64.

H. W. Lack, “Chronological Se­quence of Publications by K. H. Rechinger Since 1971,” Proceedings of the Royal Society, Edinburgh 89B, 1986, pp. 3-5.

E. Nasir and S. I. Ali, eds., Flora of West Pakistan, Karachi and Rawalpindi, 1970-. F. W. Nikitina, ed., Flora Kirgizskoĭ SSR, 11 vols., Frunze, 1950-67 (in Russian).

P. N. Ovchinnikov, ed., Flora Tadzhikskoĭ SSR, Moscow and Leningrad, 1957- (in Russian).

J.-M. Pelt, J. C. Hayon, and M. C. Younus, “Plantes médicinales et drogues de l’Afghanistan,” Bulletin de la Société de pharmacie de Nancy 66, 1965, pp. 16-61.

R. G. Petocz and I. Y. Larsson, “Ecological Reconnaissance of Western Nuristan with Recommendations for Management,” FAO Field Document 9, 1977.

D. Podlech, “Revision von Astragalus L. sect. Caprini DC. (Leguminosae),” Mitteilungen der Botanischen Staatssammlungen, München 25, 1988, pp. 1-924.

D. Podlech and O. Anders, “Florula des Wakhan (Nordost-Afghanistan),” Mitteilungen der Botanischen Staats­sammlungen, München 13, 1977, pp. 361-502.

K. H. Rechinger, Flora Iranica. Flora des iranischen Hoch­landes and der umrahmenden Gebirge. Persien, Afghanistan, Teile von West-Pakistan, Nord-Iraq, Azerbei­djan, Turkmenistan, Graz, 1964-.

H. Riedl, “K. H. Rechinger, Verzeichnis seiner botanischen Veröffentlichungen,” Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums, Wien 75, 1971, pp. 5-16.

B. K. Shishkin, Flora Turk­menia, 7 vols., Ashkhabad, 1932-60.

O. H. Volk, “Klima und Pflanzenverbreitung in Afghanistan,” Vegetatio 5/6, 1954, pp. 422-33.

Idem, “Afghanische Drogen,” Planta Medica 3, 1955, pp. 171-78.

V. V. Vvedenskiĭ, Flora Uzbekistana, 6 vols., Tash­kent, 1941-62 (in Russian).

Idem, Opredelitel’ rasteniĭ Sredneĭ Azii. Conspectus Florae Asiae Mediae, Tash­kent, 1968- (in Russian).

P. Wendelbo, Tulips and Irises of Iran and Their Relatives, Tehran, 1977.

D. N. Wilber, Annotated Bibliography of Afghanistan, New Haven, 1956.

M. Zohary, Geobotanical Foundations of the Middle East, 2 vols., Stuttgart and Amsterdam, 1973.

S.-W. Breckle)


iii. Persian Studies in the Western Tradition

Serious interest in modern botany, first as an auxiliary branch of agronomy and then as an independent discipline, developed slowly in the post-Constitutional period in Iran mainly thanks to the sustained en­thusiasm and efforts of Aḥmad-Ḥosayn ʿAdl (1277­-1341 Š./1898-1962), the first Iranian agricultural en­gineer to have graduated from a Western institution (Grignon Agricultural School, France). After his return to Iran in 1302 Š./1923, ʿAdl was instrumental in promoting sound agricultural studies and training in this country. He implemented his modern views and plans in various capacities, for instance, as director of the Madrasa-ye ʿĀlī-e Felāḥat o Ṣanāyeʿ-e Rūstāʾī (Higher School of Agriculture and Rural Crafts), which was established in 1306 Š./1927 in Karaj (west of Tehran) on his initiative and which was later expanded into the Dāneškada-ye Kešāvarzī-e Karaj (Karaj Fac­ulty of Agriculture), and as a high official of the Edāra-­ye Koll-e Felāḥat (General Department of Agriculture, later expanded into the Wezārat-e Kešāvarzī/Ministry of Agriculture in 1320 Š./1941). He also taught botany at that school.

It was during ʿAdl’s tenure that the Austrian botanist and agronomist Erwin Gauba (1891-1964), who was to play an inestimable part in the furtherance of botanical studies and exploration in Iran, was engaged in 1312 Š./1933 by the former Edāra-ye Koll-e Felāḥat as director of the Madrasa-ye ʿĀlī-e Felāḥat and as professor of botany there. During his nine years of service in Iran, Gauba, who enjoyed the scientific cooperation of the famous botanist Joseph Bornmüller, devoted himself to collecting and studying plant specimens in Iran, usually in company with his Iranian assistant Esfandīār Esfandīārī (1312-14 Š./1933-35) and his students. With the materials gathered in the Karaj area Gauba established the first herbarium in Iran (see herbariums). Concurrently he also founded the first botanical garden on the vast compound of the school (see botanical gardens in the Supplement). Another great achievement of Gauba’s was that he succeeded in developing in a considerable number of his students an enduring interest in exploring their country’s flora. Some of his students later made outstanding con­tributions in the field, among them ʿAyn-Allāh Behbūdī (1293-1353 Š./1914-75), an untiring plant collector (see the list of his findings in The Iranian Journal of Botany 3/1, 1985, pp. 1-8, which includes seven new species and two new varieties named in his honor) and author of ʿAlafhā-ye harza/Weeds and Weed Control of Iran (Tehran, 15th impression, 1341 Š./1962); Esmāʿīl Mīrdāmādī (curator of Karaj herbarium, 1948­-58; several publications, including Gīāh-šenāsī-e jangal “Forest botany,” Tehran, 1337 Š./1958); and Ḥabīb-Allāh Ṯābetī (Habibollah Sabeti), (his numerous publications include Deraḵtān-e jangalī-e Īrān/Determinology [sic] of the Iranian Forest Trees, Tehran, 1326 Š./1948, Barrasīhā-ye mīkrošīmīāʾī-e čand gīāh-e kāʾūčūʾī-e Īrān/Recherche microchimique de quelques plantes à latex de l’Iran, Tehran, 1320 Š./1941; Senowbar dar Īrān/Le peuplier de l’Iran, Tehran, 1334 Š./1956; (with L. Emberger) Forêts denses intertropicales et forêts caspiennes humides, [Tehran2], 1963; Barrasī-e aqālīm-e ḥayātī-e Īrān/Études bioclimatiques de l’Iran, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969; and Jangalhā, deraḵtān o deraḵṭčahā-ye Īrān/Forests, Trees and Shrubs of Iran, Tehran, 1976). Mention should also be made of Karīm Sāʿī (d. 1331 Š./1953) who, after completing his agricultural training at the Institut National Agronomique in France, contributed much to a better knowledge of forest trees and shrubs as well as to sound forest management in Iran (see his Jangal-šenāsī “Forestry,” Tehran, I, 1327 Š./1948, II, 1329 Š./1950).

Contemporaneously with early botanico-agricultural activities at the school in Karaj, courses in botany were introduced into the syllabi of the few new, European-style, secondary schools in Iran (mostly in Tehran), of the Dār-al-Moʿallemīn-e ʿĀlī-e Tehrān (Tehran Teacher Training College; later Dāneš-sarā-ye ʿĀlī-e Tehrān), founded in 1307 Š./1928, and later, with the foundation of Tehran University in 1313 Š./1935, into the syllabus of the Dāneškada-ye ʿOlūm (Faculty of Science). Raoul Sérigelli, one of the French teachers engaged by the Iranian government to teach modern

sciences in some secondary schools in Tehran and at the University, taught botany and plant physiology to college students in the years 1314-16 Š./1935-37, thereby interesting many students in the pursuit of natural sciences. Prominent among secondary-school botany teachers and textbook writers was Ḥosayn Gol(e)golāb

(1274-1363 Š./1895-1985), who was later appointed professor of botany at the Dāneškada-ye Pezeškī (Faculty of medicine), etc., and produced textbooks on

botany for college students (his publications include Gīāh-šenāsī “Botany” for junior high schools, Tehran, 1313 Š./1934, and Gīā (Rāhnamā-ye gīāhī) “Flora (Guide to Plants),” Tehran, 1340 Š./1961).

Interest in general botany and particularly in the investigation of the Iranian flora was greatly fostered by Aḥmad Pārsā (b. 1286 Š./1907), the first Iranian scholar to have been trained in modern scientific botany (doctoral thesis: Poitiers, 1934: Contribution à l’étude structurale de quelques dicotylédones xérophiles de l’Iran), who was appointed professor of botany at Tehran University in 1313 Š./1934. Pārsā and some of his students collected plant specimens (in Arāk, Tafreš, Kermān, Azerbaijan, etc.), with which in 1324 Š./1945 he established a herbarium as part of a national museum of natural science (this collection was transferred in 1333 Š./1954 to the Faculty of Science; see herbariums). These materials were helpful to him in the compilation of his Gīāhān-e šamāl-e Īrān (2 vols., Tehran, 1317-18 Š./1938-39) and his Flore de l’Iran (in French, 5 volumes plus 7 supplements, Tehran, 1945-­59), the first independent comprehensive work on the Iranian flora (the publication of an English revised version of this work by the author and his old colleague Zemolabedin Maleki/Zayn-al-ʿĀbedīn Malekī is in slow progress: Flora of Iran, Tehran, I, 1978, II, 1986). As a member of the science committee of the former Farhangestān-e Īrān (Iranian Academy; 1314-19 Š./1935-40), Pārsā was also involved in the creation or adoption of a standard Persian botanical terminology (about 110 basic botanical terms were approved during that period; see Vāžahā-ye now ke tā pāyān-e sāl-e 1319 dar Farhangestān-e Īrān paḏīrofta šoda ast [The neolo­gisms which were accepted in the Iranian Academy by the end of the year 1319], Tehran, 1320 Š./1941).

What is now called the Central Herbarium of Tehran University and housed in the Faculty of Science (with over 35,000 specimens) was founded in 1338 Š./1959 by Ṣādeq Mobayyen (Sadegh Mobayen, b. 1296 Š./1917?) with the close cooperation of Aḥmad Qahramān (Ghahreman). Beginning in 1940, Mobayyen, who succeeded Pārsā in his chair, also gathered plant specimens, primarily in Azerbaijan, the central desert (Dašt-e Kavīr), Jāz Mūrīān, and the island of Hormoz. The publications or Mobayyen (who retired in 1358 Š./1980) include Révision taxonomique du genre Acantholimon (doctoral thesis, Montpellier, 1964; Tehran, 1343 Š./1964), Guide pour la carte de la végétation naturelle de l’Iran/Rahnamā-ye naqša-ye rūyešī-e Īrān, with V. Tregubov (Tehran, 1348 Š./1969), and Rostanīhā-ye Īrān. Flor-e gīāhān-e āvandī/Flora of Iran. Vascular Plants (Tehran, vols. I-III, 1358-64 Š./1979-­85), the first comprehensive Iranian flora in Persian, partly based on the materials of the Herbarium, which he supervised until 1354 Š./1975. Qahramān (b. 1307 Š./1928; doctoral thesis, Montpellier, 1966: Étude morphologique et anatomique des Ephédras de l’Iran), successor to Mobayyen, has made several excursions to remote areas of Iran to collect botanical and photographic materials for his continuing Flore de l’Iran en couleur naturelle/Flor-e rangīn-e Īrān in French and Persian, planned in 80 portfolio volumes; vols. I-IX, Tehran, 1978-87).

Botanists and agronomists connected with other Iranian institutions have also helped further botanical studies. Those active in the Moʾassasa-ye Barrasī-e Āfāt o Bīmārīhā-ye Gīāhī/Plant Pests and Diseases Research Institute, Wezārat-e Kešāvarzī o Manābeʿ-e Ṭabīʿī/Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, include the following: Esfandīār Esfandīārī (b. 1288 Š./1909), one of the founders of the herbarium of this Institute (see herbariums), a botanist and mycologist who has extensively studied the mycoflora of Iran and contributed to the indexing of the materials in this herbarium; Mūsā Īrānšahr (Moussa Iranshahr, b. 1302 Š./1923; doctoral thesis, Vienna, 1977: Die Gattung Cuscuta L. im Iran), author of many contributions (some published in The Iranian Journal of Botany), has made extensive plant collections in Iran, has revised the family Morinaceae and the genus Anthemis for K. H. Rechinger’s Flora iranica, and has been cooperat­ing with this and other herbariums in the identification of their specimens; Maḥmūd Mūsawī (Mahmoud Moussavi) has published Contribution to the Knowledge of Medicago Species in Iran/Komak-ī dar šenāsāʾī-e gūna-ye yonja dar Īrān (Tehran, 1356 Š./1977) and (with F. Termeh/Terma) Contribution à l’étude de la végé­tation automnale du Dasht-e Lut (in French; Tehran, 1355 Š./1976), and has indexed the Herbarium’s speci­mens of the genus Trifolium (1358 Š./1979); Farīda Matīn (Farideh Matine), who has indexed those of the families Alliaceae and Amaryllidaceae (1353 Š./1974) and Iridaceae (1356 Š./1977).

Botanists and researchers at the Botanical Department of the Moʾassasa-ye Taḥqīqāt-e Jangalhā o Marāteʿ/Research Institute of Forests and Rangelands (connected with the same Ministry) have also been busy collecting materials for their herbarium, identifying them and occasionally publishing their findings in The Iranian Journal of Botany, which is published by the Botanical Department. They include Parvīz Bābāḵānlū (Babakhanlou, the present director of the Department), Moṣṭafā Asadī Walī-Allāh Moẓaffarīān (Valiollah Mozaffarian, author of The Family of Umbelliferae in Iran. Keys and Distribution/Gīāhān-e ḵānavāda-ye čatrīān dar Īrān. Kelīd-e šenāsāʾī o parākaneš, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983).

Because of the persistence of popular (Galenic) medicine and pharmacology in Iran, many traditional medicinal plants and plant products as well as locally compounded drugs of plant origin are still available in old-fashioned herbalist’s shops (ʿaṭṭārīs) and (with modernized presentation) in drugstores (for a partial inventory of the herb drugs available at a Tehran herbalist’s, see Salah Ahmad et al., pp. 1-5). The properties and uses of these medicinal plants, which are mostly of indigenous provenience, were empirically described by the Galenic physicians-botanists of the past (see i, above) usually under their Arabic, Greek, or Syriac names, etc. The Dutch scholar J. L. Schlimmer, profes­sor at the Dār-al-Fonūn in Tehran, was the first to feel the need to identify indigenous herb drugs and their names with their scientific Latin equivalents (his Ter­minologie was lithographed in Tehran in 1874). His example was followed, but much later, by the Iranian botanists Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Bahrāmī (Farhang-e gīāhī/Dictionnaire polyglotte des plantes I, Tehran, 1329 Š./1950?), Esmāʿīl Zāhedī (Vāža-nāma-ye gīāhī . . . /Botanical Dictionary . . ., Tehran, 1337 Š./1959), A. Pārsā (Flore de l’Iran VIII, including an index of Latin names with their vernacular Iranian equivalents where available, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960, pp. 1-212), and Ḥ. Ṯābetī (Deraḵtān-e jangalī-e Īrān, see above). Yet much investigation and rechecking is needed to compose a comprehensive, scientifically and linguistically accurate inventory of plant names in Iran with the indication of the eventual local medicinal and other uses of the plants concerned. Indeed, a number of modern Iranian scholars (botanists or pharmacologists) have scientifically studied and described some medicinal or commercially important plants and plant products of Iran. The earliest researchers include the following: Mahdī Nāmdār (Mehdi Namdar; doctoral thesis, Lyon, 1929: Contribution à l’étude du safran de Perse), Ṣādeq Moqaddam (Sadegh Moghadam, doctoral thesis, Paris, 1930: Les mannes de Perse), Amīr-Hūšang Neẓāmī (Amir-Houchang Nezamie; doctoral thesis, Dijon, 1939: Recherches sur les opiums d’Iran), and Saʿīd Eʿteṣāmī (Saïd Etessami; doctoral thesis, Paris, 1949: Contribution à la matière médicale de l’Iran). In more recent times, the botanist-pharmacologist ʿAlī Zargarī (thesis, Montpellier, 1960: Contribution à l’étude de la flore désertique de l’Iraṇ . . . ) has not only been coopera­ting with different botanical institutions in collecting and identifying plant specimens, but has also compiled a scientific treatise on medicinal plants in general (Gīāhān-­e dārūʾī/Medicinal Plants, 2nd ed., 3 vols., Tehran, 1345­-52 Š./1966-73; 4th ed., I, 1366 Š./1987), which also includes a number of native plants.

Despite the meritorious efforts of foreign and native investigators of the Iranian flora, and notwithstanding the remarkable plant collections already existing inside and outside Iran, owing to the vast size (1,648,000 km2) and varied climatic conditions of the country, which have resulted in a wide range of flora, much more remains to be done for investigating the flora of remote or barely accessible parts of the country, particularly the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, and parts of the western provinces.



A. Abolhamd (ʿA. Abu’l-Ḥamd) and N. Pākdāman, Bibliographie française de civilisation iranienne I, Tehran, 1972, pp. 346-53, etc.

W. F. Frey and H.-J. Mayer, “Botanische Literatur über den Iran,” Botanische Jahrbücher 91, 1971, pp. 348-­82.

W. F. Frey and W. Probst, “A Synopsis of the Vegetation of Iran,” Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients A 24, Wiesbaden, 1986, pp. 9-43.

A. Qahramān, Kod-e ʿomūmī-e ḵānavādahā o jenshā-ye flor-e Īrān/Code général. Les familles et les genres de la flore de l’Iran, Tehran, 1360 Š./1982, Pers. text, pp. 1-15.

A. Parsa and Z. Maleki, Flora of Iran I, Tehran, 1978, pp. 81-89.

M. Salah Ahmed (Moḥammad Ṣalāḥ-al-Dīn Aḥmad), Gisho Honda, and Wataru Miki, Herb Drugs and Herbalists in the Middle East, Tokyo, 1979.

The Iranian Journal of Botany/Žūrnāl-e gīāh-šenāsī-e Īrān 1/1, 1976­-.

Search terms:

 مطالعات گیاهشناسی motaleat e giyahshenasi    

(Hūšang Aʿlam, S.-W. Breckle, Hūšang Aʿlam and Aḥmad Qahramān)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 4, pp. 390-401