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With its herbaria the Botany Section can be considered one of the leading international centres of botanical conservation and research. The collections of exsiccata (dried specimens), including both closed historical herbaria and the large and still growing Central Italian Herbarium, consist of ca. 5 million specimens. Hence they form one of the 10 leading herbaria in the world, in the company of those of Kew, Paris, Geneva, St. Petersburg, Washington, etc.

The international acronym “FI” encompasses many different collections which have continually increased since the establishment of the Italian Central Herbarium by F. Parlatore in 1842. The increases have been both quantitative and qualitative due to the large amount of type material, with specimens resulting from important expeditions and those used for systematic research, the compilation of floral compendia, vegetation studies, etc.

The historical collections – autonomous and closed herbaria – are those of Pier Antonio Micheli (18th century), Philip B. Webb (18th-19th century), Odoardo Beccari (19th century), R.E.G. Pichi Sermolli, as well as the world’s first scientific herbarium created by Andrea Cesalpino (16th century).

The largest collection, the Central Herbarium with its over 4.5 million specimens, has a virtually global origin, also thanks to the many exchanges with other herbaria worldwide. However, the most represented geographic areas are certainly Europe and the Mediterranean, obviously with Italy in the forefront. The Italian collections have formed the basis of the most important national floral compendia (from those of F. Parlatore and A. Fiori to the most recent ones) and also regional ones (the most recent dealing with the Aosta Valley and Sardinia, i.e. Flora della Valle d’Aosta and Flora dell’isola di Sardegna). Because of its wealth of specimens, the Central Herbarium is the Italian partner in the project dealing with the geographical distribution of taxa in Europe, outlined in the publication Atlas Florae Europaeae. It is also the elective site for the conservation of type specimens of new Italian species, as well for Italian floristic reports. For several years the names of taxa of Italian specimens and their regional distribution can be consulted online and it is possible to view photographs of both Italian and foreign type specimens.

Nevertheless, the Botany Section is not only herbaria. It also has other important collections, both those supporting the collections of exsiccata, such as the carpology collection, the xylarium (wood collection) and the seed collection, and more artistic ones such as the botanical wax models and the still life paintings, both the precious legacy of the Lorraine era’s Imperial and Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History.

Botany collections database

Head of the Botany Section: Chiara Nepi, chiara.nepi@unifi.it