What is it about?

16th-century herbaria are the oldest collections of dried plants that survive to this day. One of them is the so-called En Tibi herbarium, a large leather-covered book with golden details and high-quality paper that contains about 500 dried plants. It carries an inscription in Latin reading "Here for you a smiling garden of everlasting flowers" (En tibi perpetuis ridentem floribus hortum). This indicates that the book was made to be offered as a present, but it has so far been unknown who made it, when, where and for whom. Adopting a multidisciplinary approach that combines botany, history, the study of paper, watermarks and handrwritings, Latin literature and forensics, we disclose the maker of this enigmatic collection, and the date and place where it was made. We attribute the En Tibi herbarium to Francesco Petrollini and suggest that this luxurious collection was made in Bologna around 1558. It was possibly a gift for the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand I.

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Why is it important?

With this paper we elucidate the enigmatic origin of the En Tibi herbarium, one of the oldest surviving plant collections, a masterpiece of science and art. We suggest our novel multidisciplinary methodology that combines disciplines of science and humanities for deciphering the origin of anonimous historic herbaria preserved in libraries, museums and herbaria across the world.


It is fascinating how much can be revealed while scrolling the pages of a book herbarium besides the plants themselves. Little details in the plant names, handwritings, the paper and watermark, even unexpected findings like human hairs glued under the specimens helped us reconstruct the process of making of an extraordinary historical plant collection.

Anastasia Stefanaki
Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Breaking the silence of the 500-year-old smiling garden of everlasting flowers: The En Tibi book herbarium, PLoS ONE, June 2019, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0217779.
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