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History of Flora Danica

History of Flora Danica

The Nordic war in 1720 had impoverished the country. The economy was weak and increased focus on new products and production methods was needed. Agriculture was the main source of income and new crops and agricultural practices should be investigated. As a part of this a registration of the natural flora of the country was planned, hoping to bring forward information that could lead to new crops. The flora project was planned to contain the following parts:

* An introduction to botany in Danish
* A pocket-book-format checklist of the Danish flora
* A description of all the plants
* A copper engraving of each plant
* A text part with information on properties and uses of the plants

The advertisement pamphlet is published in 1761 and in the same year the first fascicle of plates is shipped. The introductory part was published in two parts as "Elementa Botanica" in 1764 and 1766 respectively. The pocket-book grew into a sort of dictionary, published in 1769 as "Nomenclator Botanicus". Of the descriptions only the first part covering the cryptogams was ever published, in 1770. The detailed text parts with information on the properties and uses of plants was unfortunately never finished. But the copper engravings were produced. A total of 3240 plates, covering primarily plants, but also mosses. algae, lichens, fungi and mycetozoa (or myxomycetes), was published in 51 fascicles and 3 supplementary volumes of 60 plates each in the period 1761 to 1883. The major part of the finished volumes was not originally illuminated, just the finest sets were coloured by hand. Linné received one of these illuminated copies as a gift. The major part of volumes distributed in Denmark contained the black and white prints of the copper engravings. Several of the original plates have been coloured afterwards, not always in particular nice ways.

The Flora Danica name is probably most well known associated with the Royal Copenhagen porcelain manufactory. In 1790 a complete service decorated with motifs from the Flora Danica plates was ordered as a present for Katarina II, the Russian empress. Unfortunately she died before receiving the service, which since delivery has been used by the Danish court on special occasions. The original service comprised 1802 parts of which 1530 still exists. The service is still produced and can be ordered from the Royal Copenhagen porcelain manufactory.

Flora Danica is still on of the main milestones in the history of the European botany and other similar flora works was inspired by Flora Danica, as example Flora Austriaca, Flora Rossica and Flora Londinensis.

Further readings:

Villumsen-Krog, Ole (red.) 1990: Flora Danica and the royal danish court. The royal silver room, Copenhagen.

Search for plates in the Flora Danica collection