'Plantesamfund' or 'Oecology of Plants'

Plantesamfund - Grundtræk af den økologiske Plantegeografi, published in Danish in 1895 by Eugen Warming, and in English in 1909 as Oecology of Plants: An Introduction to the Study of Plant Communities, by Warming and Martin Vahl, was the first book to be published having the word ecology in its title. The book has had a lasting impact on the field of ecology, particularly in its German translation soon after its initial publication, and in its expanded and revised English translation.[1]

The book was based on Warming's lectures on plant geography at the University of Copenhagen. It gives an introduction to all major biomes of the world. Its aim was to explain how nature solved similar problems (drought, flooding, cold, salt, herbivory) in similar way, despite using very different raw material (species of different descent) in different regions of the world.

Translated ions[]

The book was translated to German in 1896 as

This ion, which was approved by Warming, rapidly ran out of print. A second, unauthorized, ion was issued in 1902 by Paul Graebner, who put his own name after Warming's on the book's frontispiece, despite no changes to the contents.[2] This ion was expanded in third and fourth ions:

A Polish translation of ’Plantesamfund’ (from Knoblauch's German translation) appeared in 1900:

Two independent Russian (Moscow and St. Petersburg) ions appeared in 1901 and 1903

An extended and translated ion in English first appeared in 1909:

It is unknown why an English translation only appeared fourteen years after the Danish original. In Warming's private correspondence, he mentions to have received a letter from "a professor from Belleville, Illinois, who wishes to translate Plantesamfund" (May 1898, letter to his son Jens[3]).

The impact of Plantesamfund[]

It was Eugenius Warming's Lehrbuch der ökologischen Pflanzengeographie that must be considered as the starting point of self-conscious ecology. This book was the first to use physiological relations between plants and their environment, and in addition biotic interactions to explain the moulding of the assemblages that plant geographers had described and classified, and it would set up a research agenda for decades to come.[4]

Despite the language barrier, Warming's influence on the development of ecology is remarkable, not the least in Britain and the USA. The British ecologist Arthur Tansley was extremely influenced by reading ’Plantesamfund’ (or rather the 1896 German ion). Reading the book made him jump from anatomy to ecology.[2]

The German translation was widely read in England and America and played an important part in stimulating fieldwork in both, countries. It certainly did in my own case: I well remember working through it with enthusiasm in 1898 and going out into the field to see how far one could match the plant communities Warming had described for Denmark in the English countryside; and I also made the book the basis of a course of University Extension lectures at Toynbee Hall in 1899.[5]

Similarly, Warming's book impregnated North American naturalists like Henry Chandler Cowles and Frederic Clements.[6][7] Cowles appear to have been completely taken:

Charles J. Chamberlain, who attended Coulter’s lectures as a student and later joined the University of Chicago faculty, recalled in a memoir that ‘none of us could read Danish except a Danish student, who would translate a couple of chapters, and the next day Coulter would give a wonderful lecture on Ecology ... Cowles, with his superior knowledge of taxonomy and geology, understood more than the rest of us, and became so interested that he studied Danish and, long before any translation appeared, could read the book in the original ... The treatment of such sand dunes as Warming knew, started Henry on his study of the comparatively immense moving dunes south of the University.[8]

Schimper's Pflanzengeographie auf physiologisher Grundlage[]

The German ecologist A.F.W. Schimper published Pflanzengeographie auf physiologisher Grundlage in 1898 (in English 1903 as Plant-geography upon a physiological basis translated by W.R. Fischer, Oxford: Clarendon press, 839 pp.). Some authors have contended that part of the book was a case of plagiarism with heavy unacknowledged borrowing from Plantesamfund.

"This work not only covered much of the same ground as Warming did in 1895 and 1896 but in fact also leaned heavily on Warming’s research. Schimper (1898) quoted extensively from more than fifteen of Warming’s works and even reproduced Warming’s figures. Yet nowhere did Schimper acknowledge his profound debt to Warming, neither in the list of picture crs, nor in the acknowledgements section of the Vorwort, nor in his list of major sources, and not even in a footnote! ... Although replete with Warming’s data, it contains few ideas and did not advance ecology beyond what Warming had done earlier.” [2]

Schimper's book is organized in three parts, (1) The factors, (2) Formations and mutualisms, and (3) Zones and regions. The third part is by far the largest (more than 3/4). It contains subsections on the Tropics, the Temperate zone, The Arctic, the Alpine regions and the Aquatic environments. This section is organized in a rather traditional way (leaning on de Candolle and others), but is full of Schimper's original observations from his travels throughout the World. The first part is organized in chapters about water, temperature, light, air, soil and animals, i.e. following the overall organization of Plantesamfund. The second part has chapters on plant communities under particular environmental control and about lianas, epiphytes and parasites. Schimper lists the literature used after each chapter and, for the chapters in the first two parts, Warming’s Lehrbuch der ökologischen Pflanzengeographie (Plantesamfund in the 1896 German translation) is included in every case. Yet, despite leaning heavily on this work with regard to both structure, content and illustrations of parts one and two, Schimper does not include Warming in his acknowledgements in the foreword (43 named individuals are thanked) nor does he include Plantesamfund in the short list of highly recommended readings at the end of the foreword (de Candolle’s Géographie botanique raisonnée (1855), Grisebach’s Die Vegetation der Erde (1872), Drude’s Handbuch der Pflanzengeographie (1890) and Atlas der Pflanzenverbreitung (1887) and Engler’s Versuch einen Entwicklungsgeschickte der Pflanzenwelt (1879-1882)). Taken together it clearly gives the impression that Schimper has been suspiciously economic with acknowledgements of his great intellectual debts to Warming.


Contents of ’Plantesamfund’ and 'Oecology of Plants' compared
Plantesamfund Oecology of Plants
Indledning Introduction
Kap. 1 Floristisk og økologisk Plantegeografi Ch. I. Floristic and Ecological Plant Geography
Kap. 2. Livsform (Vegetationsform) Ch. II. Growth Form

The text on growth forms was written anew by Warming for 'Oecology of Plants'

Kap. 3 Plantesamfundene Ch. III. Plant Communities
Kap. 4. Oversigt over Indholdet af det Følgende Ch. IV. Plan of This Book
Første Afsnit. Økologiske Faktorer og deres Virkninger Section I. Oecological Factors and Their Action
Kap. 1 Luftens Sammensætning
Kap. 2. Lyset Ch. V. Light
Kap. 3. Varme Ch. VI. Heat
Kap. 4. Luftfugtighed og Nedbør Ch. VII. Atmospheric Humidity and Precipitations
Kap. 5. Luftbevægelserne Ch. VIII. Movements of the Air
Kap. 6. Næringsbundens Beskaffenhed Ch. IX. Nature of the Nutrient Substratum
Kap. 7. Jordbundens Bygning Ch. X. Structure of the Soil
Kap. 8. Luften i Jordbunden Ch. XI. Air in the Soil
Kap. 9. Vandet i Jordbunden Ch. XII. Water in the Soil
Kap. 10. Jordbundens Varme Ch. XIII. Temperature of Soil
Kap. 11. Jordbundens Mægtighed; Overgrund og Undergrund Ch. XIV. Depth of the Soil. The upper layers of the soil and subsoil
Kap. 12. Næringen i Jordbunden Ch. XV. Nutriment in Soil
Kap. 13. Arter af Jordbund Ch. XVI. Kinds of Soil
Kap. 14. Ere Jordbundens kemiske eller fysiske Egenskaber de vigtigste? Ch. XVII. Are the Chemical or the Physical Characters of Soil the more Important?
Kap. 15. Virkningen af et livløst Dække over Plantevæxten Ch. XVIII. The Effect of a Non-Living Covering over Vegetation
Kap. 16. Virkningerne af et levende Plantedække paa Jordbunden Ch. XIX. Effect of a Living Vegetable Covering on Soil
Kap. 17. Dyrs og Planters Virksomhed i Jordbunden Ch. XX. The Activities of Plants and Animals in Soil
Kap. 18. Nogle orografiske o. a. Faktorer Ch. XXI. Exposure. Orographic and other Factors
Andet Afsnit. Samliv og Samfund Section II. Communal Life of Organisms
Kap. 1. Samliv mellem de levende Væsener Ch. XXII. Reciprocal Relations among Organisms
Kap. 2. Menneskets Indgriben Ch. XXIII. Interference by Man
Kap. 3. Samlivet med Dyrene Ch. XXIV. Symbiosis of Plants with Animals
Kap. 4. Samliv mellem Planterne indbyrdes Ch. XXV. Symbiosis of Plants with One Another. Mutualism
Kap. 5. Kommensalisme; Samfund Ch. XXVI. Commensalism. Plant-communities
Kap. 6. Samfundsklasser-
Section III. Adaptations of Aquatic and Terrestrial Plants. Oecological Classification
Ch. XXVII. Aquatic and Terrestrial Plants
Ch. XXVIII. Adaptations of Water-plants (Hydrophytes)
Ch. XXIX. Adaptations of Land-plants
Ch. XXX. Regulation of Transpiration in Land-plants
Ch. XXXI. Absorption of Water by Land-plants
Ch. XXXII. Storage of Water by Land-plants. Water Reservoirs
Ch. XXXIII. Other Structural Characters and Growth-forms of Land-plants, and Especially of Xerophytes
Ch. XXXIV. Oecological Classification
Ch. XXXV. Physiognomy of Vegetation. Formations. Associations. Varieties of Associations
Tredje Afsnit. Hydrofyt-Samfundene Hydrophytes. Formations of Aquatic Plants
Kap.1. Økologiske Faktorer Ch. XXXVI. Oecological Factors
Kap. 2. Morfologisk og anden Tilpasning
Ch. XXXVII. Formations of Aquatic Plants
Kap. 3. Svævet (Plankton) Ch. XXXVIII. Plankton-formation
Kap. 4. Den glaciale Vegetation (Isens og Sneens) Ch. XXXIX. Cryoplankton. Vegetation on Ice and Snow
Kap. 5. Saprofile Flagellaters Samfund
Ch. XL. Hydrocharid-formation or Pleuston
Kap. 7. Bund-Vegetationerne
Kap. 8. Nereïdernes (de stenelskende Hydrofyters) Samfund Ch. XLI. Lithophilous Benthos
Kap. 9. Samfund af Vandplanter paa løs Bund Ch. XLII. Benthos of Loose Soil
Kap. 10. Enalidernes (Havgræssenes) Samfundsklasse
Kap. 11. Limnæernes Samfundsklasse
Kap. 12. Myxofyce-Samfund
Helophytes. Marsh-plants
Ch. XLIII. Adaptation. Formations
Kap. 14. Rørsumpene Ch. XLIV. Reed-swamp or Reed-formation

New conceptual terms[]

In ‘Plantesamfund’, Warming coined the words hydrophyte, mesophyte, xerophyte and halophyte.


  1. ^ Cowles, HC (Aug 1909). "Review: Ecology of Plants". Botanical Gazette. The University of Chicago Press. 48 (2): 149–152. doi:10.1086/329976.
  2. ^ a b c Goodland, R. J. (1975). "The Tropical Origin of Ecology: Eugen Warming's Jubilee". Oikos. 26 (2): 240–245. doi:10.2307/3543715. JSTOR 3543715.
  3. ^ Prytz, S. (1984) Warming – botaniker og rejsende. Lynge, Bogan. 197 pp.
  4. ^ Jax, Kurt. "History of Ecology". Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. doi:10.1038/npg.els.0003084.
  5. ^ Tansley, A. G. (1947). "The Early History of Modern Plant Ecology in Britain". Journal of Ecology. 35 (1/2): 130–137. doi:10.2307/2256503. JSTOR 2256503.
  6. ^ A Letter from Henry A. Gleason, written 1952, printed in Brittonia 39: 2 (1987), pp. 205-209.
  7. ^ Coleman, W. (1986). "Evolution into ecology? The strategy of Warming's ecological plant geography". Journal of the History of Biology. 19 (2): 181–196. doi:10.1007/BF00138875. PMID 11611989.
  8. ^ Cassidy, V.M. (2007) Henry Chandler Cowles – pioneer ecologist. Kedzie Sigel Press, Chicago. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2007-06-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)