In the second half of the 16th century the southern part of the Netherlands formed a center for botanical and biomedical research. After the publication of ‘Cruijdeboeck 1554' (see also the Introduction), more and more medicinal plant species were studied and botanical collections were made. Especially Matthias Lobelius (M. de l'Obel, 1538-1616) and Carolus Clusius (Charles de l'Escluse, 1526-1609) followed Dodonaeus' ideas, applying a systematic ordering system for the plant kingdom based on morphological characteristics and medicinal use.

In the 16th century a lively trade in medicinal, ornamental and rare plant species already existed. Many of these plants originated from the Mediterranean and were cultivated in convent gardens. Travelers in these days often brought plants for cultivation. Even plants from Asia, Africa, and the recently discovered Americas found their way to the European convents and the first botanical gardens.

This period was very hectic in the Low Countries, it was the beginning of the Revolt: the increasing resistance of nobility and gentry against the centralist policies of the Spanish Kings, first Charles V, and later his son Phillip II. In the Low Countries saw the Rise of Protestantism and in 1566 the Iconoclasm swept the country. In 1568 the Eighty Years' War with Spain started. Catholic monasteries are banned, although the monasteries for females are allowed to 'die out'. Many monasteries in the countryside were abandoned for safer havens in the city, while the whole country was in a turmoil. More info on the history of the Low Countries can be found here.

The long tradition of preserving plants by drying for teaching purposes is presumed to have started at the University of Bologna with Luca Ghini in Italy (1500-1566) (click here) to whom the oldest dried plant collections in the (western?) world are attributed. However, it is hard to establish the real history of dried plant collections. In Toresella and Battini (1988) there are references to older dried plant collections in Italy, dating back as far as 1350, but those older collections have vanished in the Italian flood of 1966. The oldest known plant specimen is probably a specimen of an olive tree (Olea europaea) originating from an Egyptian tomb 'not later than the period of Ptolomy' (starting 305 BC), to be found at the herbarium of the Royal Botanical Garden, Kew. To view this specimen, click here.

Detail of a tapestry in the boardroom of the 'Batholomeus Gasthuis', Utrecht.