François Crépin

François Crépin

François was born in 1831 in Rochefort (Southern Belgium). Although his father would have liked to make an official out of him, Crépin never surrended to that will. He rather dedicated his time to field collections and observations under the understanding protection of his mother. He never graduated from any university and learned several languages and botany by himself. In 1860 he published the first edition of his masterpiece, the Manuel de la Flore de Belgique. It was to be a huge success and for decades a vade mecum for all the Belgian botanists. In the third edition, Crépin added a map with the phytogeographical regions for the first time.

Crépin was one the founders of the famous Société Royale de Botanique de Belgique (1862), a place where the young botanical elites used to mingle. The chairman of the new society was Barthélémy Dumortier (1797-1878), both well-known botanist and conservative politician. In those days, Dumortier showed the path to follow to some of the soon-to-be most proeminent Belgian botanists. Among them was Crépin. That is how he got involved in the study one of the most difficult groups of flowering plants: the genus Rosa L. (from 1866 on). Crépin even planned to write the ultimate monography about that genus. Despite a huge network of collectors worlwide and a unique herbarium originating in every continent, Crépin failed. He sort of surrendered after a clash with a young French botanist who wanted to help him of the "species problem" in the Nineties. Actually, the much awaited "Monographie des Roses" would never be a reality.

Back in 1872, Crépin was officially hired by Ed. Dupont (1841-1911) to run the Botanical section of the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle in Brussels. Dupont wanted him to write a masterpiece over the Belgian fossil flora and to classify the tremendous palaebotanical collection of Father Coemans the Museum had recently acquired. When Dupont became director of both aforementionned Museum and Brussels’ Botanic Garden (a state botanic garden since 1870), he asked Crépin to become his own secretary at the botanic garden (1875). In the same time, Crépin was supposed to go on with his botanical research at the Museum. Dupont resigned from the botanic garden in 1876 a situation that gave Crépin the opportunity to become director of the State Botanic Garden.

From that moment to 1901 he retired that year Crépin tried to develop the botanic garden into a modern scientific institution. In that process, he faced political malevolence, lack of money, Dupont’s plots, but nevertheless managed to make the herbarium grow bigger and to improve living collections. In 1895-1896 he had an agreement with the Independent Congo State (that happened to be King’s Leopold the Second of Belgium personal colony). This was a turning point for the BG for, from then on, some of its botanists would dedicate themselve to the study of African collected material. Quite rapidly, the Herbier du Congo of the State botanic garden (it was only lent to the institution, though) became famous and Emil De Wildeman, Théophile Durand and daughter Hélène’s studies about African plants became real cornerstones of colonial botany.

Although quite depressive at the end of his life, perhaps because of his failure in the Rosa project and despite some kind of a late poor managing period, Crépin had made it in his attempt to strenghten the collections of his botanic garden. For instance, he had invited several Belgian scientific societies to nest for free in the institution, a strategy that allowed the botanic garden to benefit from their book collections. That was a definite plus considering the poor state support the it was suffering from. Another successful strategy was to use the Bulletin de la Société Royale de Botanique de Belgique Crépin was Secretary of, to edit the steady flow of articles written by the botanists of the institution. Indeed it was not until 1902 that the State Botanic Garden got enough money from the Home Office to edit his very own Bulletin du Jardin Botanique de l’Etat.

All in all, François Crépin is know remembered as the director who got the botanic garden involved in African botany, the father of the first extensive Belgian flora, and as the man who dreamed of a monography of the genus Rosa. Both his Belgian herbarium and the unique Herbier des Roses are now at the National Botanic Garden of Belgium.

The genus Crepinella (Araliaceae) is named after him.

by Dr. Denis Diagre

Example Publications

  • Manuel de la flore de Belgique ou description des familles et des genres accompagnée de tableaux analytiques destinés à faire parvenir aisément aux noms des espèces suivis du catalogue raisonné des plantes qui croissent spontanément en Belgique, et de celles qui y sont généralement cultivées. 1860, Bruxelles, Librairie Agricole d'Emile Tarlier.
  • Primitiae monographiae Rosarum. 1869­1882, Gand.
  • Back to the gallery of botanists

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