Try to explain the metamorphosis of the plants

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Attempt to explain the metamorphosis of plants is the title of the botanical script written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1790. With his writing, Goethe is considered a co-founder of comparative morphology. 27 years later, Goethe published the text a second time as an article in the series on Morphology with the heading: The Metamorphosis of Plants .

The tulip, the last stem leaf and the first petal have grown together
Japanese ornamental cherry, one carpel is normal, the second is not leaved

Content of Scripture

Goethe writes in his introduction: “The secret relationship between the various parts of the plant, such as the leaves of the calyx, the crown, the stamens, which develop one after the other and as it were from one another, has long been recognized by researchers in general, and has also been specially treated and one has the effect by which one and the same organ can be seen changed in manifold ways, called the metamorphosis of plants. ”Goethe distinguishes three types of metamorphosis: the regular , the irregular or retrograde and the accidental metamorphosis from the outside, especially through insects is effected.

The metamorphosis of plants


• Introduction
• From the seed leaves
• Formation of the stem leaves from node to node
• Transition to the inflorescence
• Formation of the chalice
• Formation of the crown
• Formation of the dust tools
• nectaries
• Some more from the dusting tools
• Formation of the stylus
• From the fruits
• From the immediate coats of the seed
• Review and transition
• Of the eyes and their development
• Formation of compound inflorescences and fruit clusters
• Streaky rose
• Streaky carnation
• Linnaeus' theory of anticipation
• Repetition

The structure of the writing follows the development of the plant from the seedling to the greening to the flowering plant, followed by fruit and seeds. Goethe compares cotyledons, stem leaves, bracts, sepals, corolla leaves, stamens and styluses with each other in the sense of a series of metamorphoses and starts again with the fruits, seeds and eyes. This is followed by two examples of the irregular, receding metamorphosis: the streaked rose and the streaked carnation. Finally, Goethe discusses Linnaeus' representation of the metamorphosis. Linnaeus assumed that the various circles of the flower organs are formed by a metamorphosis of the circularly arranged layers of tissue of the stem and not by a transformation of the leaf. In the last section Goethe summarizes his considerations as follows: “Just as we have tried to explain the various organs of the sprouting and flowering plant all from a single one, namely the leaf, which usually develops at every node; so we also dared to deduce those fruits, which tend to close their seeds tightly in themselves, from the leaf shape. ”The writing deals primarily with the metamorphosis of the leaf , the metamorphosis of the stem is touched upon in the formation of the assembled inflorescences and fruit stands Goethe does not deal with the roots and their metamorphoses.

Meaning of the script, in terms of content

Morphology has made great strides since Goethe. Nowadays writing is primarily of historical interest in terms of its content, here are a few examples. Goethe puts stamen and stylus on the same level of education, he observes a metamorphosis from stamen to stylus. As we know today, the stamen can be compared with the carpel - including the stylus. The discovery of the generation change by Wilhelm Hofmeister was a reason for Julius Sachs to reject the equality of stamen and stem leaf. Goethe regarded the stamen as a transformed stem leaf. In addition to the basic vegetative organs root, shoot axis and leaf, Sachs also differentiates between the generative basic organs sporangia and gametangia , these cannot be derived from the leaf. Another major advance was the distinction between homologous and analogous structures.

Meaning of the script, methodical

The comparative morphology has proven itself as a method. Goethe's writing helped shape morphology. It has been edited several times by morphologists: Adolph Hansen (1907); Wilhelm Troll (1926) and Agnes Arber (1946). A major work by Wilhelm Troll is called Comparative Morphology of Higher Plants.

Goethe's influence goes beyond the actual morphology. The geneticists Eliot Meyerowitz and Enrico Coen explicitly refer to Goethe in their work. Goethe emphasized the importance of irregular metamorphosis for understanding regular metamorphosis. Based on this or in the further development of this idea, these researchers specifically caused deformities in plants in order to gain a better understanding of the intact organism. In their work, using Goethe's methodology, they demonstrate, for example, the leaf nature of stamen and carpel.

Scripture is of central importance for Goetheanism . Goethe's methodology, the questions, the comparison require an inner understanding of the changes in form. The inner mobility of imagining is stimulated. Understanding is an important methodological component of a Goetheanist view.

See also

Metamorphosis (botany)


  1. Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Attempt to explain the metamorphosis of plants. Ettinger bookstore, Gotha 1790. ( digitized and full text in the German text archive )
  2. ^ Andreas Bresinsky; Strasburger, Eduard. Strasburger textbook of botany. 36th edition, 2008, ISBN 978-3-8274-1455-7
  3. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Dorothea Kuhn: Morphological notebooks . 2nd ed. H. Böhlaus successor, Weimar 1994, ISBN 3-7400-0928-4 .
  4. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Metamorphosis of Plants . In: Goethes Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe, Volume XIII, Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften I, CH Beck, Munich 1998, p. 64
  5. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Metamorphosis of Plants . In: Goethes Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe, Volume XIII, Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften I, CH Beck, Munich 1998, p. 101
  6. Wilhelm Hofmeister: Comparative studies of the germination, development and fruit formation of higher cryptogams (mosses, ferns, Equisetaceans, Rhizocarpe and Lycopodiacea) and the seed formation of the confectionery . Leipzig 1851
  7. Julius Sachs: lectures on plant physiology. Leipzig 1882
  8. Adolph Hansen: Goethe's Metamorphosis of Plants. History of a botanical hypothesis. Alfred Töpelmann, Giessen 1907
  9. ^ Wilhelm Troll: Goethe's Morphological Writings . Eugen Diederichs Verlag, Jena 1926
  10. Agnes Arber: Goethe's Botany . In: Chronica Botanica, Vol. 10, 2. 1946
  11. Wilhelm Troll: Comparative morphology of the higher plants. Three volumes. Otto Koeltz, Koenigstein-Taunus, 1937–1943, reprint 1967.
  12. ^ Meyerowitz EM, Smyth DR, Bowman JL: Abnormal flowers and pattern formation in floral development. Development; 106, pp. 209-217, 1989
  13. ^ Enrico Coen: Goethe and the ABC model of flower development . In: Acad. Sci. Paris, Life Sciences 324 1-8. 2000
  14. Peer Schilperoord-Jarke: Goethe's Metamorphosis of Plants and Modern Plant Genetics . In: Peter Heusser (ed.): Goethe's contribution to the renewal of the natural sciences. Pp. 131-170. Haupt Verlag, Bern 2000, ISBN 3-258-06083-5
  15. Peer Schilperoord: Metamorphoses in the Plant Kingdom . Verlag Freise Geistesleben, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-7725-2391-5

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