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360° visit, a journey through the Herbarium

Via Giorgio La Pira 4, Florence | Map


The Botany headquarters in Via La Pira 4 in Florence is a delicate space, sensitive to external agents. The collections are open to the public for research purposes only.

Botany is the most delicate section of the Museum as it does not host living plants but dried plants coming from all over the world.

What is a “herbarium”?

It is a collection of dried pressed plants fixed by various methods together with labels indicating their collection data on standard size paper sheets. A herbarium ensures the study of plants without limits of time, season or climate, preserving their shape and structure. It is a repository of information about the plant world, which can accommodate thousands of samples in confined spaces, thus differentiating itself from a Botanical Garden. Some plants or parts thereof, such as seeds or fruits, do not lend themselves to compression and drying: These materials are kept dry in jars or in alcohol, to make up collections to complement the herbarium.


Among the samples preserved in a naturalistic collection the most important are the so-called “references”, that is those used to describe for the first time a plant species. In the Florentine herbaria, these reference “models” are already several thousand and are all identified by folders of different colours.

Find out how a herbarium specimen is made

The Italian Central Herbarium

(Herbarium Centrale Italicum, HCI)

It is the largest Italian herbarium, and among the top 10 in the world in terms of number of samples.

Its foundation is due to the Sicilian doctor and botanist Filippo Parlatore, called to direct it in 1842 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopoldo II of Lorraine. Since then, the Herbarium has grown steadily: It is a so-called “open” herbarium, with continuous acquisitions of plant samples.

It contains the collection of seed plants (Phanerogamic Herbarium) and that of organisms free of flowers and seeds such as moss, ferns, algae, fungi and lichens (Cryptogamic Herbarium). There is also a store that contains hundreds of thousands of samples that have not yet been studied.

The Herbarium is a formidable archive of plant biodiversity. In fact, it also preserves plants harvested in places where today they no longer exist or are in a critical state of conservation. The drainage of a swamp, for example, involves the disappearance of all plants linked to the aquatic environment and, in the absence of herbarium finds collected there, it is very likely that no trace of them remains today. This is one of the reasons that makes the importance of the Central Italian Herbarium vital and, more generally, of the memory preserved in the herbaria around the world.

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Historical herbaria

The Botany branch is home to historic enclosed herbaria of international importance and of invaluable scientific value. They are called “closed” because they are preserved in the size and structure in which they were originally acquired.

Anonymous Tuscan Herbarium formerly Herbarium Merini (1543-45) – one of the first herbaria in the world

Herbarium Cesalpino (1563) – the first systematic herbarium  in the world

Herbarium Micheli-Targioni (Early 1700 - Mid 1800)

Herbarium Webb  (Late 1700 - Late 1800)

Herbarium Beccari of Malaysia (1865-1878)

Herbarium Beccari delle Palme (end 1800 - first half 1900)

Herbarium Pichi Sermolli (1900)

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about 5 million samples in the Florentine herbaria
about 20 thousand digitized references

“References” are the samples on which a plant species is described for the first time. The “reference” specimens are digitized and made available online to the scientific community. Digitized references come from: Asia 38% - Europe 22% - Africa 16% - Americas 12% - Oceania 11%.


Head of collections

Lorenzo Cecchi | Italian Central Herbarium, ancillary collections, drawings and photographs
Anna Donatelli | Italian Central Herbarium
Lorenzo Lastrucci | Italian Central Herbarium, ancillary collections
Chiara Nepi | Historical collections, botanical models, still-life paintings, books and documents

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