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Rare Books Digital Exhibition — Botanical Rarities


To you, my children,
These lovely flowers I give.
Prune ye my vines and fig trees,
With care my flowers tend,
But keep the pathway open
Your home is at the end.

from “God’s Garden” — Robert Frost

The first Mesopotamian writings on clay tablets included information about plants. Ancient pharmacopoeias recorded plants for medicinal uses. From Dioskorides’ work on pharmacology during the classical Greek period through the nineteenth century, plants and the study of plants, or botany, has intrigued and inspired humankind.

The Rare Books Department invites you to take a virtual stroll through our most recent digital exhibition, Botanical Rarities.

leaf from Dioskorides manuscript facsimile

The work of Dioskorides, which described more than five hundred plants, was the authority on plants in Western Europe for nearly sixteen centuries, although studies from the Arab world became known as early as the tenth century. New knowledge was gained from travelers, including Marco Polo; observations brought back from the Crusades; and later explorations into other hemispheres.

By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a system to identify the great variety of plant species began to be developed.

page from Nehemiah Grew, Anatomy of Plants

frontispiece and title-page spread

From the beginnings of civilization plants have fed, clothed, sheltered, and healed. They have inspired myth, legend, fairy tale, and poetry. And they have always pleased the eye whether in the ground or between the covers of books.

color image of plant with mountain background

Our physical exhibition appeared in 2003, in the Special Collections Gallery, one of the earliest exhibitions in this newly identified space.

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