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A pharmacist and a pioneering botanist

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Callie JonesThe first person to make a detailed study of non-flowering plants in Britain was a pharmacist. Samuel Doody was born in May 1656, the son of a Staffordshire apothecary. At some point Doody senior moved his business to London, where he had a shop in the Strand. The young Samuel followed his father into trade as a pharmacist/apothecary and succeeded him in the business in about 1696.

It is not clear how much time Samuel devoted to his pharmacy, since he acquired a keen interest in botany and became well known as an expert on mosses, ferns, fungi and other non-flowering plants. He gained the respect of naturalists such as John Ray, who frequently sought his advice. He was also consulted by Hans Sloane, the botanist, collector and royal physician.

In 1693, at a salary of £100, Doody was appointed curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden, which the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries had founded 20 years earlier to train apprentices in identifying medicinal plants. In 1695 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He remained curator of the physic garden until his death, after a short illness, in November 1706.

Doody’s only contribution as an author seems to be a 1697 paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society on a case of dropsy (oedema) in the breast. He also drafted a text on mosses, which now lies among the Sloane papers in the British Library.

Doody is commemorated in the name of a genus of ferns, Doodia, which consists of a dozen or so species of small to medium-sized terrestrial ferns, mainly native to Australia and New Zealand. Several are grown as garden foliage plants, the best known being Doodia media (or Doodia australis), the hacksaw fern or common rasp fern.

Sadly for Doody’s memory, interfering pteridophyte taxonomists have recently decided to delete the genus Doodia and reassign all its species to another genus.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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