Hugo de Vries was a renowned Dutch botanist who made significant contributions to the theory of evolution. Born in 1848, de Vries was one of the most prominent biologists of his time and played a crucial role in shaping our understanding of evolution.

Early Life and Education

De Vries studied at the University of Leiden, where he became interested in studying plant breeding. After completing his studies, he began working as a botanist at the Amsterdam Botanical Garden. It was during this time that he started conducting experiments on plant breeding, which led him to develop his theory of mutationism.

The Theory of Mutationism

De Vries’ theory of mutationism challenged Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. While Darwin believed that evolution occurred gradually over time through small variations in an organism’s traits, de Vries proposed that evolution could occur suddenly through mutations.

According to de Vries’ theory, mutations were sudden and unpredictable changes in an organism’s genetic makeup that could lead to new traits. These new traits could then be passed down to future generations, leading to rapid evolutionary change.

Experiments with Oenothera Lamarckiana

To test his theory of mutationism, de Vries conducted experiments with a plant called Oenothera Lamarckiana. This plant was known for its large flowers and unusual characteristics, which made it an ideal subject for studying mutations.

De Vries observed that some plants had developed new traits seemingly out of nowhere. For example, some plants had developed larger flowers or different colors. He concluded that these changes were due to genetic mutations.

The Rediscovery of Mendel’s Laws

While studying Oenothera Lamarckiana, de Vries discovered the work of Gregor Mendel. Mendel had conducted experiments with pea plants in the mid-1800s and had discovered the laws of inheritance.

De Vries recognized the significance of Mendel’s work and began conducting his own experiments to confirm Mendel’s findings. He found that Mendel’s laws were accurate and could be applied to a wide range of organisms.

The Modern Synthesis

De Vries’ work on mutationism and his rediscovery of Mendel’s laws played a crucial role in the development of the modern synthesis, which integrated Darwin’s theory of natural selection with genetics.

The modern synthesis led to a greater understanding of evolution and provided a framework for studying how genetic mutations and natural selection work together to drive evolutionary change.


De Vries’ contributions to the theory of evolution were significant, and his work continues to influence biologists today. His theory of mutationism challenged traditional views on evolution and helped pave the way for modern genetics.

In recognition of his contributions, de Vries was awarded numerous honors during his lifetime, including the Linnean Medal and the Darwin-Wallace Medal. Today, he is remembered as one of the most important biologists of the twentieth century.