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[theeoh fras tuhs]( c. 372– c. 287 BC ) Greek philosopher and botanist: often described as ‘the father of botany’.

Born in Lesbos, Theophrastus studied with Plato in Athens and then became assistant, friend and successor as head of the Lyceum in 335 BC . The school did well under him, and may have had 2000 students; he secured botanical information from their home areas to add to his own observations. He wrote on many subjects, but his most important surviving books are on botany. He described over 500 plant species and understood the relation between fruit, flower and seed, and the differences between monocotyledons and dicotyledons and between angiosperms (flowering plants) and gymnosperms (cone-bearers). Plant propagation methods, and the effect on growth of soil and climate, are also accurately described by him. His ideas were usually sound, although he believed in spontaneous generation, in accord with the views of his time.

His classificatory interests extended to people; his best known book, Characters , is a series of humorous essays dealing with ‘city types’. Each essay first defines an attribute and then illustrates from life the conduct of the Coward, the Mean Man, the Spreader of False Rumours, and so on. The result provides much information on city life in Athens in Theophrastus’s time.

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