From historical herbals and florilegia to current research and publications on plant and flower science, the Linda Hall Library catalog, digital collections, and online exhibitions are overflowing with information about flora of all kinds and the scientific (and artistic) attempts to harness floral beauty and power.
"Flowering plants are everywhere in our lives, serving our everyday basic needs, glorifying the parks and gardens we walk in. We use them symbolically... We eat them, make our furniture from them, and the frames and doors of our homes...."
The Temple of Flora "forms the third part of Thornton's New Illustration of the Sexual System of Linnaeus. Thornton employed the best artists for this enterprise, which was published in serial form... It is a florilegium, but a very romantically conceived one..." - Vera Kaden, The Illustration of Plants & Gardens 1500-1850.
Florilegium are, in short, books about flowers. The word itself means an anthology, or a collection of literary extracts, and comes from the Latin flos/flor- flower and legere- gather. The books themselves are heavy with paintings and illustrations, and were immensely popular around the 17th century.
Herbarium Blackwellianum. Plate 109.
In addition to images of individual pages from materials in the History of Science Collection, several historical botanical works can be viewed in their entirety through Digital Collections. See, for example, the full text of the online through Linda Hall Library Digital Collections. The Collections also include the full text of such related works as Botanic Garden, Botanicon Parisiense , and . For more details, check the Linda Hall Library Online Catalog for Botanic Garden, Herbarium Blackwellianum, and
"A botanist...who...departed from the pattern of the herbalists was Cesalpini, who published his "De Plantis" in 1583. Cesalpini was interested in plant morphology and to some extent, in the physiology of plants. Wolf says that "Cesalpini exercised a great influence on the development of botany during the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries, and his point of view reached its culmination in the work of Linnaeus, who in all essentials completed the development of systematic botany as based on artificial classification."
"...Herbalists [were] interested chiefly in the medical and practical attributes of plants. A herbal of great influence was that of Dioscorides, said to have been a surgeon in Nero's army. In various manuscript forms this herbal was used as a field guide for many centuries, and there is a tale of a certain monk on Mounth Athos who, as late as the [twentieth] century, was known to carry a worn copy of an ancient manuscript of Dioscorides in his pocket as he searched the hillsides along the Aegean for plants..."
In 2005, the exhibition "Women's Work: Portraits of 12 Scientific Illustrators from the 17th to the 21st Century" was on display at the Linda Hall Library. In addition to representing the limitations and the beauty of women's contributions to science at the time, the exhibition offers a look at some of the stunning imagery that accompanied the historical exploration of plant life. Today, the exhibition can be viewed online, and items that were on display from the Linda Hall Library's History of Science Collection can be viewed in the Rare Book Room and in the Linda Hall Library's Digital Collections.
"Of all the varied objects of creation there is, probably, no portion that affords so much gratification and delight to mankind as plants..."
-Elizabeth Twining, as quoted in Women of Flowers by Jack Kramer
The Linda Hall Library has publications of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens from throughout the organization's history. Read up on the gardens and the famous illustrations associated with them on their website, or visit the library for hands-on research!