Celestin Alfred Cogniaux, third of eight children of a customs officer, was bom on the 7th of April, 1841, in the village of Robechies on the border between Belgium and France. A promising pupil from the start, he got his higher education at the Ecole Normale in Nivelles where he received a teacher’s diploma at the age of 22. The next ten years Cogniaux taught at five different schools until 1872, when he was offered a position at the Jardin Botanique in Brussels due to the influence of his friend and mentor, the botanist-turned-politician Barthélemy Dumortier. Apparently the student Cogniaux, alone and without guidance, had taken an interest in the local flora, especially in the mosses and hepatics. In 1862, when he was 21, Cogniaux was one of the 92 men who founded the Belgian Botanical Society, and his first scientific paper, on the alga Nitella tenuissima, appeared in the new Bulletin de la Société Royale de Botanique de Belgique the following year. Cogniaux’ later detailed floral descriptions, with many measurements, may have to do with this early focus on lower plants. Still, when 31-year-old Cogniaux was offered the position in Brussels he had yet to show his abilities as a systematist.