François Crépin and the Study of Wild Roses

Early beginnings

Showing a keen interest in field botany from an early age, François Crépin had luck on his side. He was born in Rochefort in the hilly Walloon region of Belgium - the area was among the botanically richest parts of the country, and its flora also included quite a few wild roses.

When he showed little ambition at school, Crépin’s parents sent him to the nearby village of Wavreille. Here he received private tuition from teacher and naturalist Romain Beaujean. Crépin lived in Wavreille for only a year, yet this short period put the inquisitive child on the road to becoming a significant naturalist and researcher.

This private tuition was the end of the young Crépin’s formal school training. He returned to Rochefort, where he lived with his financially comfortable, Catholic family.

Instead of having to search for a job, he could indulge in botanical excursions soon covering the whole country. Having dallied with office jobs, he became an autodidact, learning alone by shutting himself away with books at every opportunity. He started a lifelong correspondence with botanists in Belgium and abroad. His home became a centre for the exchange of herbarium specimens and botanical expertise. The results of his accurate observations on living roses were recorded in notes and drawings of details of the plants. This documentation served as the basis for numerous scientific publications.

He read constantly and borrowed books from friends. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (the English second edition from 1860) was among this reading material. No other book on evolution had had such an impact on science and society in the 19th century, and indeed beyond. In 1860, the idea of evolution was not new, yet the book’s wealth of data and strong argumentation supported those who challenged the still-dominant belief in the divine creation of fixed species.

This belief was also common among naturalists. But even after reading this revolutionary book, Crépin was not convinced and remained faithful to his idea of fixed, immutable species. He would unflinchingly defend this notion over the following few years.