Pier Antonio Micheli (1769 - 1737) - a brief biography

Pier Antonio Micheli - Public Domain image

Born in Florence, Italy, on 11th December 1697, Pier (or Pietro) Antonio Micheli was not only a Catholic Priest but also a famous botanist. His greatest claim to fame was that he discovered the existence of fungal spores, thus beginning the process of dispelling some of the many myths about where fungi came from. His proof was simple: having placed spores on slices of melon, Micheli noted that the fungal fruitbodies that appeared on the fruit were identical to the ones from which he had taken the original spores.

Micheli specialised in microfungi and is notable for having defined several important genera including Aspergillus and Botrytis.

In 1706 Micheli was appointed botanist to Cosimo III de' Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and he became the curator (in effect the director) of Orto Botanico di Firenze (the Florence Botanic Gardens, established in 1545) and a professor at the University of Pisa.

A collector of plants and of mineral samples, Micheli travelled widely in Europe. He died in Florence from pleurisy on 1st January 1737 at the age of 57.

The standard abbreviation P. Micheli is used to indicate Pier Antonio Micheli as the author when citing a botanical or mycological name.

Positions and Awards

Botanist to Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Curator of Orto Botanico di Firenze.

Professor at the University of Pisa.

The plant genus Michelia (within the family Magnoliaceae) established by Carl Linnaeus, is named in honour of Pier Antonio Micheli.

Major Mycological Works

Nova plantarum genera (Florentiae) 1729), is an illustrated work detailing some 1900 'plant' species, the majority previously not having been described scientifically. Of these about 900 were in fact fungi or lichenised fungi. One of the larger fungi described by Micheli was a stinkhorn which he name Phallus vulgaris. Somehow that seems entirely appropriate!

Selected Sources:

Moselio Schaechter, 'Pier Antonio Micheli, The father of modern mycology: A paean', McIlvainea, 2000.

Dennis Geronimus (31 January 2007). Piero di Cosimo: Visions Beautiful and Strange. Yale University Press. pp. 160–. ISBN 978-0-300-10911-5.

Fascinated by Fungi, 2nd Edition, Pat O'Reilly 2016, reprinted by Coch-y-bonddu Books in 2022.

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