Franz Xaver freiherr von Wulfen (1728-1805) was born in Belgrade, the son of an Austrian lieutenant field-marshall. After completing his studies in Hungary, he joined the Jesuit order in 1745. In his early 20s he became a serious student of botany and mineralogy. His dual interests in plants and rocks were probably what caused him to be an early mountaineer, climbing the eastern Alps, which was the primary focus for his botanical forays. When the Jesuit Order was suppressed in 1764, Wulfen devoted much of his time and energy into collecting plants, including phanerogams and cryptogams, especially lichens. His knowledge of Latin allowed him to provide excellent descriptions, and his artistic talent allowed him to illustrate his new species with excellent plates.
Over his career Wulfen taught physics and mathematics, first in Vienna, then Graz, and several other cities and towns until he was assigned to Klagenfurt (Austria), where he spent the rest of his life. He was appointed to a professorship of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics in 1762. Even though he was an accomplished naturalist and scholar, he continued to seek out the oppressed and the indigent, to give them support by spending time “in the huts of wretchedness and the residence of the sick, where his presence alone was sure to chase away misery” (Anon., 1806).
Wulfen was one of the first to ascend the peak of Planjava (2,392 m) in Slovenia in 1793. In 1994, a Slovenian stamp was issued depicting the Zois’s Bellflower (Campanula zoysii), which was described by Wulfen in 1788 to honor the Carniolan botanist Karel Zois. This endangered species is endemic to rock crevices in the high mountains of the Slovene Alps. Wulfen also made many collecting trips to the south, including the Adriatic Sea, to gather marine algae, and to the north as far as Holland. He was able to carry out a wide correspondence in German, French, Latin, and other languages with fellow scientists, which added to his stellar reputation. He was a member of the academies or scientific societies of Berlin, Erlangen, Jena, Göttingen, Klagenfurt, Stockholm, and Ratisborn. During his lifetime he published many of his botanical papers anonymously in various journals (Anon., 1806).
Wulfen (in Jacquin, 1787 and 1791) described a number of new algal species, including some that are relatively common and widespread. These include his Ulva stellata from the Adriatic Sea, now Anadyomene stellata (Wulfen) C. Agardh, and his Fucus musciformis also from the Adriatic Sea, now Hypnea musciformis (Wulfen) J.V. Lamour., and F. filicinus (also from Trieste), a later homonym now known as Grateloupia filicina (J.V. Lamour.) C. Agardh. Wulfen (1803) also described F. filamentosus [= Spyridia filamentosa (Wulfen) Harv.] and F. simplex [= Digenea simplex (Wulfen) C. Agardh]. He also had publications in zoology and geology. N. Jacquin named Wulfenia, a genus of Scrophulariaceae, in his honor. Wulfenia carinthiacae occurs on slopes in the Albanian Alps. The specific epithet "wulfenii" was given to many plants in his honor. The journal ‘Wulfenia’, published in Klagenfurt starting in 1992, consists of articles originating from the Botanical Garden of Karnten (Austria). The mineral ‘wulfenite’ (yellow lead ore) recalls his mineralogical studies and his rich mineral collection. Much of his literary work was published posthumously, including his main work, Flora norica phanerogama, which was not published until 1858.