The historical herbaria of the Botanical collections date back to a period between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. They are also called "closed herbaria", as they are no longer growing, as opposed to the so-called "open herbaria", such as the Central Herbarium. The oldest in the collections is the Merini Herbarium, datable around 1540.
For all the herbariums after Merini, in-depth studies are available from the volume edited by Mauro Raffaelli The Museum of Natural History of the University of Florence: The Botanical Collections, published by Firenze University Press (essays by Piero Cuccuini, Chiara Nepi and Guido Moggi; English text at the bottom of the pages).
The Merini Herbarium
The herbarium of Michele Merini, a 16th-century priest from Lucca, a pupil of Luca Ghini, founder of the Botanical Garden of Pisa and then of Florence in 1543, is a real jewel of the Section. It is a very small collection, made up of just over 200 "agglutinated" samples on sheets of rough paper. It is one of the oldest herbariums in the world: an extremely precious testimony of the birth of the herbarium as a scientific tool for the study of plants.
The Cesalpino Herbarium
Andrea Cesalpino’s Herbarium is a collection of exsiccata gathered between 1555 and 1563. It is the oldest Herbarium in the world where plants are ordered with systematic criteria. Cesalpino is in fact considered the scientist who laid the foundations of modern systematic botany. The collection includes 768 samples of vascular plants mounted on 266 sheets of paper placed in three boxes, with names in Italian, Latin and Greek.
The Micheli-Targioni Herbarium
Pier Antonio Micheli's Herbarium is of particular scientific importance as it is of pre-Linnaeus origin and contains numerous original materials mentioned by Linnaeus himself. Only after adding the Targioni-Tozzetti samples, the Herbarium was reorganized according to the Linnaeus classification and placed the over 20,000 finds in the 260 elegant cardboard containers that house them to this day.
Philip Barker Webb’s Herbarium holds 250,000 specimens from all areas of the world, collected mainly between the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. The most important private collection of the nineteenth century was set up throughout its life by combining personal collections in Asia Minor, Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands with a large number of finds resulting from the major exploration missions, of which Webb was often an important sponsor. The Herbarium is among the most consulted by botanists all over the world, especially for the wealth of typus specimens, those used directly for the description of new species for science.
The Malaysian Herbarium of Odoardo Beccari
One of the Section's best-known historical collections is the Malaysian Herbarium, created by Odoardo Beccari in the second half of the nineteenth century and the result of his long explorations in the area of historical Malaysia. From his three famous explorations, Beccari brought back plants, animals, ethnographic and anthropological finds. It contains about 16 thousand dried plant samples prepared by Beccari himself, to which are added hundreds of specimens in alcohol and 200 tables of Borneo woods. Its scientific importance derives from the high number of typus samples, fundamental for research on Malaysian flora.
The Palm Herbarium of Odoardo Beccari
The Herbarium Palmarum was Odoardo Beccari's research tool for the study of the Palm family. In over 20 years of intense research dedicated to this family, Beccari produced over 70 publications decreeing his fame as the world's major palm expert. The collection does not contain its gatherings but is the result of over 30 years of research and exchanges with palm experts from all over the world, and still maintains its importance and scientific relevance today. It consists of approximately 11,000 sheets, 1,205 drawings, thousands of photos and prints of various sizes and over 245 carpological preparations.
The Pichi Sermolli Herbarium
Rodolfo Emilio Giuseppe Pichi Sermolli’s Herbarium, acquired in 2007, is the most recent acquisition of a "closed" collection of the Section. It is made up exclusively of ferns and related plants: it is one of the richest collections in the world of its kind, created and cared for by one of the greatest experts in the world among the pteridophytes. The 25 thousand samples that are gathered there, among which the original specimens (typi) of as many as 190 taxa, come from over 100 different countries of each continent and derive both from personal collections and from exchanges with foreign scholars.
Head of collections Chiara Nepi