The History of the herbarium of the National Botanic Garden of Belgium

The Foundation

The Botanic Garden was founded in 1826 under Dutch rule by the Royal Society for Horticulture & Arboriculture of the Netherlands. However, it had a faltering start. In September 1830 revolution broke out in Brussels and the Director moved to Leiden in the Netherlands with his precious Asian specimens. As a result, Belgium emerged without a national herbarium.

Gradually, the botanical gardens either bought, inherited or were given many notable herbarium collections. Amongst them was the Brazilian Herbarium of Claussen, a collection of vouchers by Dr. Fifechet from Africa and others collected in Japan by C. L. Blume.

A most impressive collection was purchased from the widow of Henri Galeotti (1814-1858). Born in France to a Milanese father, Henri Galeotti moved to Brussels after the Belgian revolution. There, he soon revealed himself as a talented geologist and botanist. He was hired to extensively explore Mexico. Between 1835 and 1840 he travelled extensively collecting 7,297 specimens of which 4,620 were deposited in the Brussels herbarium.

The garden was originally set up by a number of wealthy citizens as a Joint-Stock company, however, in 1870 the buildings and properties of the company were purchased by the Belgian Government through the intervention of botanist and politician Barthélemy Dumortier. This became the Jardin Botanique de l’Etat.

The States Herbarium

In 1871 the famous Brazilian herbarium created by Carl von Martius (1794-1868) was acquired by the Belgian government and was incorporated into the existing herbarium. Martius was the editor of the Flora Brasiliensis, the first example of a monographic flora series, planned and finished to cover the richness of flowering plants in a tropical country. François Crépin donated 17,821 vouchers of his personal collection and commented that the “Herbier général” in Brussels had to be regarded as one of "les plus considérables".

Other collections at Meise are the European and Belgian herbariums. Early acquisitions included the collection of Baron Oscar de Dieudonné of Leuven, a keen amateur botanist who had an ambition to create a comprehensive European flora, which was halted by his early death. However in his relatively short life he managed to collect specimens of 8,685 species. François Crépin, author of Flore de Belgique, gave a helping hand to the growing herbarium by donating the specimens used for preparing his flora. The Belgian herbarium is particularly important for a national institution; the Belgian flora is actively studied by a large number of amateurs and students.

Africa

Since the late nineteenth century the National Botanic Garden of Belgium has been involved in studying and collecting Central African plants. King Leopold's ruled over the Etat Indépendant du Congo and looked to the Botanical gardens to find new exploitable products from the territory. Consequently, considerable collecting and study of the central African flora was done during that period to the extent that an estimated 85% of the specimens ever collected in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi are represented in the herbarium.

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