Johannes Eugenius Bülow Warming (1841-1924)

Professor of botany 1886-1911, MSc botany 1868, DSc 1871, reader of botany at various institutions 1872-82, professor of botany at Stockholms Högskola 1882-85, rector of the university 1907-08.  

After three years as an assistant for the naturalist P.W. Lund in Brazil from 1863 to 1866, Eugen Warming graduated in 1868 and successfully submitted his doctoral dissertation in 1871. Until the 1870s most of Warming’s botanical work was systematic, morphological and ontogenetic studies of flowers. By that time, however, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was widely discussed in Denmark and Warming’s research commenced to include phylogeny. He was among the pioneers in advocating Darwinian ideas among Danish naturalists. He applied evolutionary principles in his classification of plants and used the concept of struggle for existence in his studies of plants and their adaptation to the environment. Even though Warming based his work on evolutionary theory, he never became a whole-hearted Darwinian. He was sceptical of the mechanism of natural selection and, like many other botanists, the adaptations he observed in nature gradually convinced him that Lamarckian ideas of direct adaptation and inheritance of acquired characters were the primary vehicles of evolution. These views fitted well with his strong religious feelings. In the first decades of the twentieth century, he developed a teleological and theistic evolutionism that perceived evolution as the unfolding of divine paths leading towards perfection of the biological forms. Warming gained international fame for his pioneering study of plant ecology Plantesamfund: Grundtræk af den økologiske Plantegeografi in 1895 (English edition: Oecology of Plants: Introduction to the study of plant-communities (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909). In this work he introduced the concepts of plant communities and life forms which became key terms in plant ecology which developed as a distinct and attractive discipline during the first decade of the twentieth century. After the publication of his principal work Warming dedicated much of his time to popular lectures, articles, pamphlets and books on evolution. In publications such as Nedstamningslæren [The Theory of Descent] (Copenhagen: Udvalget for Folkeoplysningens Fremme & Gads Forlag, 1915) Warming outlined his evolutionary natural theology based on Lamarckism. His works was well received among many Danish Christians.

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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