December 16, 1859 (a Friday)

Bryophytes on brook.

On this date, the American botanist Douglas Houghton Campbell was born. He was an expert on the anatomical structure and life cycles of mosses, ferns and liverworts. Throughout his entire life, Campbell was interested in the evolution of vascular plants, which he thought occurred on land from primitive mosses. He also studied the modern geographic distribution of plants.

At a time before it was generally accepted, Campbell thought Wegener’s theory of continental drift (proposed in 1912) was plausible. Campbell recognized that a primordial supercontinent, Gondwana, splitting into smaller land masses that drifted apart would resolve many of the puzzling facts in geographical distribution, both of animals and plants:

Acceptance of the recent hypothesis of Du Toit, that there were two primordial continents, Laurasia in the Northern Hemisphere and Gondwana in the South, and from these primary continents, the existing continents were separated and shifted to their present positions, would, if true, remove most of the difficulties in explaining the present distribution of many existing plant families.


  • Douglas Houghton Campbell, “Relations of the temperate floras of North and South America,” Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 25, 4th ser. (1944): 139-146.

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