Karl-Wladyslaw Rotert

Karl-Wladyslaw Rotert was a Polish botanist, traveler, lecturer at the Kazan, Kharkiv and Odessa universities. Already during his life his name became well-known in scientific circles, and his creative heritage still remains extremely important for Polish and Ukrainian scientists.

The life course of Rotert covers the period from the 60s of the 19th century till the First World War. All the tumults and contradictions of that age naturally influenced the formation of the world outlook and the nature of his creativity.

Karl-Wladyslaw was born on the 6th of August (25th of July in the Julian calendar), 1863 in the city of Vilno. He was the oldest child in a wealthy large Polish family. Some of his six younger brothers and sisters eventually achieved a success in their work, too. For example, Alexander Rotert became a renowned engineer and professor at the University of Warsaw (1924).

Having graduated from high school in Riga, Karl-Wladyslaw entered in 1880 the University of Dorpat (now Tartu, Estonia) on the botanical department of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics.

During his studies at the University, Karl-Wladyslaw was one of the participants of the Convent Polonia corporation – the oldest Polish academic community. It was founded in 1828 and tried in every way to continue the traditions and ideas of the Vilnius University after it had been closed by the Russian authorities. In general, this community united all students coming from the territory of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, regardless of their religion or social status.

Already in 1885, Karl-Wladyslaw defended a dissertation under the direction of Edmund Russow and received a master’s degree in botany. Upon graduation, a future scientist began his journey through renowned universities.

At the beginning of his career, for two and a half years, he worked in Strasbourg, and after that – six months at the St. Petersburg University. In particular, he became a staff member of the laboratory of Professor Andriy Famintsyn, known for his achievements in the field of plant physiology. It was on his initiative that in St. Petersburg was organized a laboratory – the first in the Russian Empire special research institution on plant physiology. In addition, Andriy Famintsyn, together with Volodymyr Vernadsky, initiated the creation of a Commission for the Study of Production Forces of Russia.

However, after four years, Karl-Wladyslaw was appointed to a position of privat-docent at Kazan University, where he remained until 1897.

In the Russian Empire, the “privat-docent” was a teaching position, which allowed admitting to lecturing those persons who defended the dissertation but were not staff members of the university. The right for the title of privat-docent was granted to graduates of the universities who had received a degree, had written and defended the dissertation.

In parallel with work in the laboratory of Andriy Famintsyn, Karl-Wladyslaw wrote and in 1893 defended a dissertation and became a doctor of botany at the University of Kyiv.

His last year in St. Petersburg, Rotert spent as an extraordinary professor, teaching anatomy and physics. This post was given to those who had just received the title of doctor. Usually they were paid less than ordinary professors. It was in the title of extraordinary professor that Rotert was transferred to Kharkiv University (49.988701, 36.229810).

Botany at the Kharkov University began to evolve from the moment the university was founded and concentrated mainly on the field of taxonomy and floristics. Karl-Wladyslaw came to the university and took the place of Volodymyr Palladin, a famous phytophysiologist, founder of the doctrines of plant respiration, who had just moved to Warsaw. In his scientific and pedagogical activity, Rotert tried to adhere to the ideas and traditions of his predecessor.

Living in Kharkiv, he published the work “Introduction to the physiology of plants,” in which he demonstrated the skills of an experienced scientist, formulated his general biological views, and analyzed theoretical questions and methods for the study of phytophysiology.

Working at Kharkiv University, Karl-Wladyslaw Rotert successfully combined teaching and research activities. In particular, he conducted important research in the field of plant anatomy and mycology. In addition, it was his efforts to significantly improve the laboratory for plant physiology.

However, working conditions at Kharkiv University became more and more difficult: there was not enough literature to conduct research, departments lacked manuals and tools, the student community remained inert to new knowledge. In addition, after the introduction of a new university statute in 1884, the status of teachers became worse. From that moment on, they had no influence on university affairs and in particular on the management system. In addition, communication between teachers and students became much more difficult.

Already in 1900, Karl-Wladyslaw became an ordinary professor of botany at Kharkiv University. This meant that he had the right to participate in meetings of the University Council, to elect and to be elected to elective university positions, to read general and special courses, to conduct seminars. However, the Polish scientist did not dismiss the thought of leaving Kharkov. Already in 1901, he officially declared his desire to move to the Novorossiya University, and the next year he moved to Odessa. In 1902-1908 Karl-Wladyslaw worked there as a professor of botany, but later he returned to Kharkiv University, where he became a professor of plant physiology.

Over the next two years, Karl-Wladyslaw traveled to Java, Sumatra, Ceylon, southern India, Egypt, Greece, to countries of Europe, Asia and North America. Subsequently (in 1910-1914) he became professor of plant physiology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

Soon, however, he decided to move to his family in Saratov, and from there went on a trip to Central Asia and Caucasus.

In 1915, Sergiy Navazin proposed Karl-Wladyslaw to work at St. Volodymyr University in Kyiv, but taking into account the military situation, the scientist was forced to move to Petrograd. There he again came under the direction of Andriy Famintsyn, working in the Botanical Museum.

Karl-Wladyslaw Rotert died at the age of 53 from influenza and was buried in Petrograd. The scientist was married to Olga Segel, but their marriage remained childless.

Karl-Wladyslaw Rotert was a correspondent member and active member of the Riga Natural Science Society (Rigaer Naturforscher Verein, since 1909), a member of the German Botanical Society (Deutsche Botanische Gesellschaft, since 1908), a member of the Warsaw Scientific Society (since 1911).

He entered the history of botany as the author of many works devoted to anatomy and physiology of plants, taxonomy and floristics, cytology and biology of inferior plant organisms. In addition, he made important discoveries in the field of botany. In particular, he proved the presence of chromoplasts in the vegetative organs of plants, and discovered the features of the structure of the vascular plants membranes.

Karl-Wladyslaw Rotert had a short but interesting life, full of different events, successes and failures. With great talent, patience, enormous hard work and immense knowledge in his field of study, he devoted his very being to promotion of science.

Source of information:

  1. Багалей Д. И., Сумцов Н. Ф., Бузескул В. П. Краткий очерк истории Харьковского университета за первые сто лет его существования (1805-1905). – Харьков, 1906.
  2. Коробченко А. А. Зміст та основні напрями діяльності товариства дослідників природи при Харківському університеті (1869–1930 рр.) в контексті розвитку природознавства в Україні // Наукові праці історичного факультету Запорізького національного університету. – Вип. 43. – Запоріжжя, 2015. – С. 345-351.
  3. Манойленко К.В. Владислав Адольфович Ротерт. – Ленинград, 1978.
  4. Мооритс Х. А. Владислав Адольфович Ротерт // Материалы 8-й конференции по истории науки в Прибалтике. – Тарту, 1970. – С. 86–89.
  5. Шаталова-Залеская Е. О. К истории кафедры физиологии растений в Харьковском университете // Тр. НИИ биологии и биологического факультета. Очерки по истории биологии в Харьковском университете. – Т. 22. – Харьков, 1955. – С. 227-234.

Prepared by Kateryna Kolisnyk