Collecting localities



Biographical data


Commerson, Philibert


(Source: Flora Malesiana ser. 1, 1: Cyclopaedia of collectors)

(Source: Flora Malesiana ser. 1, 5: Cyclopaedia of collectors, Supplement I)

(Source: Flora Malesiana ser. 1, 8: Cyclopaedia of collectors, Supplement II)


Born: 1727, Châtillon-les Dombes, Ain, France. Died: March 13, 1773, Mauritius.



Studied medicine at Montpellier, where he took his Dr’s degree, and for the subsequent 4 years devoted himself to the study of natural history and botany, and began to collect a herbarium. In 1756 he established a botanical garden at Châtillon. In 1764 he went to Paris and soon after was selected as Naturalist to accompany the expedition of Bougainville (1766-69). He was assisted by one of the sailors who halfway the voyage was detected to be a woman, Jeanne Barré (or Baret), his former housekeeper. On the voyage home he stayed behind in Mauritius, visited Madagascar in 1770, and Réunion (Bourbon) in 1771, returning in the latter year to Mauritius, where he stayed till his death.

The genus Commersonia Forst. and other plant species were named in his honour.


Collecting localities:

Voyage in ‘La Boudeuse’ and ‘L’Étoile’, 1766-69.1 Nov. 15, 1766, sailing from Nantes to La Plata, Montevideo, the Malouines, Rio de Janeiro (meeting l’Étoile), Straits of Magellan, Tahiti, the Navigators, New Hebrides, etc., the Louisiades (E of New Guinea); Bismarck Archipelago: along the E. coast of New Ireland, touching at Port Praslin (July 7-23,1768) ; Moluccas: Boeroe (Kajeli, Sept. 2-6); via Boeton Strait (only just ashore on Boeton on Sept. 15) and Saleijer Strait to Java: Batavia (Sept. 28-Oct. 15); sailing back via Isle de France, where Commerson stayed behind, while the expedition was back in France on March 16, 1769.



30.000 specimens of plants which he destined for various institutions. After his death in Herb. Paris [P], but not numbered and arranged as he had intended. From there, unnumbered duplicates were distributed to various herbaria; ± 3000 nos in Herb. Deless. [G]; also in Herb. Leiden[L],2 Montpellier [MPU], Herb. Brit. Mus.[BM] (acq. with Herb. Banks, Herb. Brown, and lichens with Herb. Limminghe); in Berl. [B] (also with Herb. Knuth); in Stockholm [S] with Herb. Bergius; Herb. Linn. Soc. Lond. [LINN]: 1500 specimens. Also dupl. in Herb. Webb (= Florence [FI]), and many with Herb. Vahl in Copenhagen [C].

A large number of his plants were described, all scattered in literature. Occasionally plants collected by Sonnerat in the Philippines were credited to Commerson who never visited the islands.3 Java plants credited to Sonnerat, were probably collected by Commerson.

He sent living plants from Mauritius to the ‘Jardin des Plantes’, Paris.



(1) MSS at Paris and Berlin.

Some unpublished letters were edited by O. Teissier in Bull. Soc. Sci. arts et belles-letters Toulon, 1859, p. 265-275.

L.A. de Bougainville: ‘Voyage autour du monde par la frégate du Roi La Boudeuse et la flûte l’Étoile en 1766, 1767, 1768 et 1769’ (Paris 1771); several translations were issued, a Dutch (Dordrecht 1772), an English (London 1772) and a German one (Leipzig 1772).

The ‘Supplement au voyage de Bougainville’ (Neuchâtel 1773) has no relation with the voyage dealt with above, nor the publication of D. Diderot with the same title (Paris 1935; based on a manuscript at Leningrad).

An appendix to Commerson’s diary of his journey with Bougainville consists of a list of plants collected in the island of Buru.

(2) cf. A. Decandolle Phytographie, 1880, p. 373 and 404.

(3) cf. C.B. Robinson in Philip. Journ. Sci. C. Bot. 4, 1909, p. 683.


biographical data:

P.A. Cap: ‘Étude biographique Sur Commerson’ (Paris 1861); Baillon, Dict. de Botanique 2, 1886; Gard. Chron. 3rd ser., 12, 1892, p. 89-90, 125-126, 207-208; URBAN, Symb. Antill., 3, 1902-03, p. 32-33; F. Moewes: ‘Commerson der Naturforscher der Expedition Bougainvilles’ (Naturwiss. Wochenschr. 2, 1903, p. 340-342, 349-355, 389-392, 400-403); Ann. Soc. Bot. Lyon 31, 1906, p. 35-36; S.P. Oliver: ‘The life of Philibert Commerson, D.M., naturaliste du roi: an old-world story of French travel and science in the days of Linnaeus’(ed. by G.F. Scott Elliot 1909, w. ill. & portr.); Backer, Verkl. Woordenb., 1936.