Traugott Gerber

1710 – 1743

In 1737, the Dutchman Jan Frederic Gronovius christened the genus Gerbera after the German medical doctor Traugott Gerber, but who was he?

gerber1 Traugott GerberBaptism register – church book Zodel

He was baptised on January 16, 1710 in Zodel, Oberlausitz – Lower Silesia. Today, Zodel has a population of 700 and is located 10 km north of Goeritz, directly on the border of what is now Poland. Here he spent his childhood and youth.

His father, Johan George, was a lutheran priest at the church in Zodel. Unfortunately he died just 16 weeks prior to the birth of his son.

Very little is known about the childhood and youth of Traugott. He probably visited the Gymnasium in Goerlitz and passed his matric.

On April 29, 1730, he registered for studies of medicine at the university of Leipzig a mere 250 kilometers from Zodel. On June 26, 1735 heapplied to receive a doctorate from the medicine faculty. On July 29, 1735 Traugott presented his dissertation, “”De Thoracibus”” and received his doctorate. He also gained extensive knowledge in botany as various documents indicate. Through the First Private Physician to the czarinaAnna Iwanowna, he was commissioned to create a medical garden in Moscow and to educate medical student in herbology.

Gerber assumed his position in Moscow shortly after he finished his studies. From 1735 to 1742 he was a medical doctor in Russia, director of the oldest botanical garden in Moscow and also taught medicine at the university.

Between 1739 and 1741 Gerber headed some expeditions to look for medicinal plants and herbs in Russia. All the handwritten documents about this trips and its results are still lying in the archives in Russia. 1742, he accompanied the Russian Army as a doctor to Finland. February 8, 1743 is the day when Traugott Gerber died at the age of 33 in Wyborg north of St. Petersburg. The last sign of him is a letter addressed to Albrecht von Haller, dated February 1, 1743 .

gerber2 Traugott GerberThe last known handwritten letter from Traugott Gerber

It is still a riddle, why Frederic Gronovius named a plant species from South Africa after Gerber. 

Up till today no picture of him has been found. It might well be that there are still documents about him in Russian Military Archives.

The dissertation, all travel reports, as well as the three letters to Albrecht von Haller still exist.

As soon as all the contents of these documents are known, we will know more about the life of Traugott Gerber, after whom a whole plant genius is named, which is today one of the most important cut flowers in the world.

By Peter Ambrosius – June 2003
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