it observes and classifies their forms, structure, functions, through different branches that focus from time to time on some particular aspects of the plant: the modalities nutritional or reproductive, geographic distribution, possible uses in other fields (scientific, pharmaceutical, food, …) The first scholar of antiquity that we could identify as “botanist” was the Greek Theophrastus, disciple of Aristotle, who lived in the IV century BC and who wrote two important botanical treatises. In the first, De Historia Plantarum (History of Plants, nine books) classified drugs and medicinal plants for the first time in history; in the second, De Causis Plantarum (Causes of Plants, six books), illustrated the ability of plants to spontaneously generate and grow. In these treatises the plants were first distinguished among trees,
In the first century BC another scholar, Pedanio Dioscoride, a Greek physician and pharmacist from the time of Nero, published the first “herbarium”: De Materia Medica, a sort of pharmacological encyclopedia consisting of five books, in which he described over 500 plants specifying their properties aromatic or medicinal. This treatise, widespread in the Greek world, was instead ignored by the Latins because of the Naturalis Historia, the work of the very famous Pliny the Elder: it was an encyclopedia in thirty-seven books that collected all the knowledge that had been reached up to that moment on scientific and technical subjects, including botany.
The treatises of Theophrastus and Dioscorides represented all knowledge related to botany up to the 16th century, when the advent of the microscope facilitated scientific observations and the invention of printing allowed a greater diffusion of knowledge. Horti Sanitatis already existed in the Middle Ages, located near monasteries and pharmacy schools, where medicinal plants were grown for educational and therapeutic purposes; the most famous in Italy was the Giardino della Minerva, founded in 1300 in Salerno for students of the Salerno medical school.
The new discoveries favored the diffusion of the Botanical Gardens, natural environments designed to artificially recreate the living conditions typical of certain species of plants, for educational purposes and in-depth study; the first botanical gardens were born in Italy, in Pisa (in 1543), in Padua and Florence (in 1545), in Bologna (in 1567). Naturalistic observation extended not only to native species but also to tropical flora. Botanical gardens were also founded in the rest of Europe: in Leiden in the Netherlands, next to the university, in 1590 a vegetable garden arose in which various tropical species were grown.