From the beginning until 1913

The earliest herbarium in Berlin was set up by J. S. Elssholz around 1657, even before the founding of the Botanical Garden in 1679. This herbarium was kept in the Royal Library, but it is no longer extant. Other small collections of plants were kept in the Naturalienkabinett of the Sozietät der Wissenschaften zu Berlin founded in 1700 (since 1744 the Royal Academy). These collections which were for some time looked after by J. G. Gleditsch, in 1770 contained ca. 5,600 species.

Another collection of dried plants was maintained in the Cabinet of the Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin since the foundation of the Society in 1773. This herbarium ultimately contained 1,042 species with 1,902 specimens(Urban 1916: 12).

These oldest plant collections in Berlin were not well maintained and were hardly used for scientific purposes. The first intensively used herbarium was built by C. L. Willdenow who was Director of the Berlin Botanical Garden from 1801 until his death (1812); from 1810 he was also Professor at the newly founded Friedrich Wilhelm University. Because of Willdenow's important and voluminous publications his outstanding herbarium contains very many types and was one of the largest collections in its time (Eckardt 1965).

In connection with the increasing importance of herbaria at the beginning of the 19th century an institutionalization of the formerly private collections can be observed (Stafleu 1987). The origins of the Royal Herbarium - later Botanical Museum - go back to this time, thus, it is not possible to give a precise date of foundation. Following Urban (1916) and Eckardt (1966) I consider the year of Link's assumption of the directorship, i.e. 1815, as the year of foundation because Link soon decided to build a regular herbarium (Urban 1916: 12). This herbarium at first consisted of several small collections of exotic plants. In 1818 the extremely important collection of Willdenow was bought for the herbarium by order of Friedrich Wilhelm III, King of Prussia. The Herbarium Willdenow, fortunately, was not destroyed in 1943 and is still kept separate (B-W). It contains ca. 38,000 specimens comprising 20,260 species of vascular plants (the 6,000 Cryptogams mentioned by Urban are not extant, except 27 species of Chara). Details on the composition of the collection are given by Urban (1916: 412 ff.) and Hiepko (1972).

The extraordinarily valuable specimens of the historic Herbarium Willdenow are now - like those of many other historic collections not sent out on loan. In 1971, therefore, a microfiche edition was produced by IDC, Zug, including a systematic index. Somewhat later a printed alphabetical index was also published together with introductory chapters (Hiepko 1972; see also Stafleu 1972). The following papers on parts of the Herbarium Willdenow were published: Plants of J. R. & G. Forster (Hiepko 1969), Mexican plants of Humboldt & Bonpland (Ern 1976, Appendix), collections of Ruiz et al. (Lack 1979), plants from Tournefort's journey to the Orient (Wagenitz 1962), and the genus Aster (Jones & Hiepko 1981).

Through the acquisition of this herbarium the collections became so large that it was necessary to comply with the second important requirement for a working institutional herbarium, i.e. the appointment of a professional staff. In 1819 the botanist D.F.L. von Schlechtendal was employed as "Aufseher der öffentlichen Kräutersammlung" (supervisor of the public collection of herbs), and was even assisted by a servant in poisoning and mounting the specimens. At the same time A. von Chamisso, known as a poet and scientist, was appointed as "Mitaufseher des Botanischen Gartens" (co-supervisor of the Botanical Garden) to start a herbarium of plants cultivated in the garden. But Chamisso soon withdrew from the Botanical Garden and studied with Sch1echtenda1 the plants collected during the latter's voyage around the world in 1815-1818 that was initiated by Romanzoff.

After the appointment of Schlechtendal to the University at Halle in 1833 Chamisso succeeded him as curator of the herbarium and remained for 5 years. When he retired shortly before his death in 1838 J. F. Klotzsch, who was assistant in the herbarium from 1834, was appointed curator and continued to hold the position until he died in 1860. During this period he was supported by several assistants. An important innovation introduced by Klotzsch was the sending of specimens on loan to foreign botanists. Through this policy the number of types increased considerably since many specialists described new taxa based on specimens from the Berlin Herbarium.

Also during this time some extremely valuable private collections were purchased. The largest and most important collection was that of C. S. Kunth, Vice-Director of the Botanical Garden, who died in 1850. Before he took over the position in Berlin, he had lived in Paris from 1815 to 1828 while working on the plants collected by A. von Humboldt and A. Bonpland in America. Kunth's herbarium was a collection of ca. 70.000 specimens, comprising about 54,500 species, and contained ca. 3,000 types of taxa described in the "Nova genera et species . . ." as well as many duplicates from the herbarium in Paris, and plants from the botanical gardens in Paris and Berlin and other important collections.

The herbarium of Link, purchased after his death in 1851, was not as large as that of Kunth (only 3,113 species of Cryptogams and 16,382 species of Phanerogams), but it also contained many types of taxa described by Link (fungi as well as plants from the Botanical Garden).

Another large addition was a part of the herbarium of Nees von Esenbeck acquired in 1855 (nearly 10,000 species of Cyperaceae, Gramineae, Juncaceae, and Restionaceae).

At this time there was still no adequate building to house the rapidly growing collections. First the herbarium was housed in some rooms of a building belonging to the Academy in Berlin, but in 1822 it was moved to a small residential building in Neu-Schöneberg, i.e. near the Botanical Garden. Because of lack of space 35 years later the herbarium had to be transfered to a building of the University in Berlin. From this place, however, it was in 1871 again forced out and moved to a private house with unheated rooms in the centre of Berlin. During the last two moves Link's successor, the famous morphologist A. Braun was already Director (1851-1877). Braun tried with great effort to get a new building especially for the collections in the area of the Botanical Garden at Schöneberg. Finally he succeeded, but he died before the construction was started in 1878. The new building was inaugurated by the new Director, A. W. Eichler, with the official name "Königliches Botanisches Museum" (Royal Botanical Museum). In this Museum for the first time a public department was established in which, besides other objects, larger specimens such as fruits, wood samples, and spirit collections were exhibited.

After Klotzsch's death in 1860 J . Hanstein was appointed "Erster Kustos" (first curator), but only 5 years later he accepted a chair at Bonn. He was succeeded by the former second curator, A. Garcke (1819-1904), author of the well-known "Illustrierte Flora von Deutschland" which was published in several editions. His collaborators were P. Ascherson (1834-1913) and F. C. Dietrich (1805-1891). In 1884 Ascherson was replaced by K. Schumann (1851-1904).

The successor of Braun, A. W. Eichler (1839-1887, Director since 1878) brought the colossal research project "Flora brasiliensis" to Berlin which he had taken over from Martius at Munich in 1868. Therefore, Eich1er's herbarium, purchased shortly before he died, was especially rich in Brazilian plants (over 12,000 specimens from Glaziou).

In the 1880s several collections made by German expeditions to Africa came into the possession of the Botanical Museum; these collections, however, were studied only in part at that time.

On October 1, 1889 A. Engler (1844-1930) was appointed Director. Under his direction the Botanical Museum reached the zenith of its development at the beginning of the 20th century (Eckardt 1966: 168 ff., Stafleu 1981). Here the role of I. Urban(1848-1931) has to be emphasized as he has already been mentioned as author of the history of the Botanical Museum. Urban's scientific achievement was equal to Engler's and in his position as "Unterdirektor" (Sub-Director) he was decisively involved in the moving of the Botanical Garden and the Museum from Schöneberg to Dahlem. Through this moving of the collections (which had grown explosively during the 1890s) into a spacious new building the best environment for fruitful research was created.

Along with studies for the main works edited by Engler, "Die Natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien" (with K. Prantl), "Das Pflanzenreich" and "Die Vegetation der Erde" (with O. Drude), the study was pushed forward of the immense collections which came to Berlin at the end of the last century from the young German colonies in East Africa, Cameroon, Togo, S. W. Africa, New Guinea etc. (cf. Timler & Zepernick 1987). In this connection Engler edited in his "Botanische Jahrbücher" between 1892 and 1913 for instance 42 "Beiträge zur Flora Afrikas" (Contributions to the Flora of Africa) comprising more than 6,900 total pages.

Through the fast growth of the collections, the Museum building was again too small only a few years after the opening. In October 1906 the construction of the new building in Dahlem with a fourfold increase in space was finished, and the transfer of the collections ended six months later.