John Lindley: the reluctant palaeobotanist
John Lindley (1799–1865) is best known among palaeobotanists for having written, together with William Hutton, the three volumes of The Fossil Flora of Great Britain (1831–1837; published by James Ridgeway, London). He only published three other works on fossil plants, two short appendices on European Tertiary material and a list of fossil plants from the Culm of Devon. The Fossil Flora served to catalogue many of the fossil plants recognized by the 1830s from Britain, ranging in age from Carboniferous to Pleistocene. Together with contributions from Henslow, Murray and Williamson, Lindley and Hutton described, illustrated and, in some cases, emended almost 300 species, with many of their type and figured specimens having survived. By giving the first illustrated account of the microscopic structure of a fossil cuticle together with discussions about the origin of coal, prehistoric climates, experimental taphonomy and plant evolution The Fossil Flora was much more than a catalogue of fossil plants. Although orchidology, his work at University College London and numerous other activities came to fill his time after finishing The Fossil Flora, John Lindley must surely rank amongst his palaeobotanical contemporaries for having pioneered aspects of the science that remain topics of active research into the third millennium.
Figures & Tables
Often regarded as the ‘Cinderella’ of palaeontological studies, palaeobotany has a history that contains some fascinating insights into scientific endeavour, especially by palaeontologists who were perusing a personal interest rather than a career. The problems of maintaining research facilities in universities, especially in the modern era, are described and reveal a noticeable absence of a national UK strategy to preserve centres of excellence in an avowedly specialist area. Accounts of some of the pioneers demonstrate the importance of collaboration between taxonomists and illustrators. The importance of palaeobotany in the rise of geoconservation is outlined, as well as the significant and influential role of women in the discipline. Although this volume has a predominantly UK focus, two very interesting studies outline the history of palaeobotanical work in Argentina and China.