Wilhelm Hofmeister

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Wilhelm Hofmeister
File:Wilhelm Hofmeister.jpg
Born June 5 1824(1824-06-05)
Leipzig, Germany
Died January 12 1877 (aged 52)
Lindenau, Germany
Nationality Template:GER
Fields botany, biology
Institutions University of Heidelberg, University of Tübingen
Alma mater none
Doctoral advisor none
Known for discovering the alternation of generations in plants

Wilhelm Friedrich Benedikt Hofmeister (18 May 1824 to 12 January 1877) was a German biologist and botanist. He "stands as one of the true giants in the history of biology and belongs in the same pantheon as Darwin and Mendel"[1]. Remarkably, he was largely self-taught.


Hofmeister was the son of a book and music publisher and seller in Leipzig. He left school at the age of 15 and was apprenticed in a bookshop in Hamburg by an aquintee of his father. He did most of his research in his free-time, largely from four to six in the morning before going to work.[2] Nevertheless, he was only 27 when he published his ground-breaking monograph on the alternation of generations in plants. Not until 1863, he was employed as a professor. That was at the University of Heidelberg. In 1872, he moved to the University of Tübingen[3][4] [5].

Hofmeister is widely credited with discovery of alternation of generations as a general principle in plant life. His proposal that alteration between haploid and diploid phases constituted a unifying theory of plant evolution that was published in 1851, eight years before Darwin's On the origin of species[6].

Hofmeister was an early student of the genetics in plants. He is cited for the first studies of plant embryology. According to C. D. Darlington, had observed what would later be called chromosomes in a dividing cell nucleus as early as 1848. He left detailed sketches which are reproduced in Darlington's The Facts of Life, though he was not the first to observe them.

Hofmeister's contribution to biology is still far from widely acknowledged[1]. This may partly be attributed to the fact that only one of his works were translated from German to English. However, Kaplan & Cooke[1] conclude that "his reputation became eclipsed because he was so far ahead of his contemporaries that no one could understand or appreciate his work".


Selected works

  • Untersuchungen des Vorganges bei der Befruchtung der Oenothereen. Botanische Zeitung 5: 785-792. 1847.
  • Die Entstehung des Embryos der Phanerogamen. Eine Reihe mikroskopischer Untersuchungen. Verlag F. Hofmeister, Leipzig 1849.
  • Vergleichende Untersuchungen der Keimung, Entfaltung und Fruchtbildung höherer Kryptogamen (Moose, Farne, Equisetaceen, Rhizokarpeen und Lykopodiaceen) und der Samenbildung der Coniferen. 179 pp., 1851 (Reprint: Historiae Naturalis Classica 105. Cramer, Vaduz 1979). English translation (by F. Currey): On the germination, development and fructification of the higher Cryptogamia and on the fructification of the Coniferae. Ray Society, London, 1862.
  • Neue Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Embryobildung der Phanerogamen. 1. Dikotyledonen mit ursprünglich einzelligem, nur durch Zellentheilung wachsendem Endosperm. S. Hirzel, Leipzig, pp. 536-672. 1859.
  • Neue Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Embryobildung der Phanerogamen. 2. Monokotyledonen. S. Hirzel, Leipzig, pp. 632-760. 1861.
  • Die Lehre von der Pflanzenzelle. In: W. Hofmeister (ed.): Handbuch der Physiologischen Botanik I-1. 664 pp. W. Engelmann, Leipzig. 1867.
  • Allgemeine Morphologie der Gewächse. In: W. Hofmeister (ed.): Handbuch der Physiologischen Botanik I-2. W. Engelmann, Leipzig. 1868.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kaplan, Donald R. & Todd J. Cooke (1996) The genius of Wilhelm Hofmeister: the origin of causal-analytical research in plant development. American Journal of Botany 83 (12): 1647-1660.
  2. Goebel, K. von (1905) Wilhelm Hofmeister. The Plant World 8: 291-298.
  3. *Larson, A H (1930), "WILHELM HOFMEISTER.", Plant Physiol. (published 1930 Oct), 5 (4), pp. 612.2–616, PMID:16652687 
  4. Campbell (1925), THE CENTENARY OF WILHELM HOFMEISTER., 62 (1597) (published 1925 Aug 7), pp. 127–128, doi:10.1126/science.62.1597.127, PMID:17812840 
  5. Haberlandt, G. (1877) Wilhelm Hofmeister. Plant Systematics and Evolution 27 (4): 113-117.
  6. Box 9.1 in Keddy, P.A. (2007) Plants and Vegetation: Origins, Processes, Consequences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 680 p. ISBN 9780521864800 [1]

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