The history of the Botanical Museum – University of Copenhagen

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The history of the Botanical Museum

The Botanical Museum originated as a part of the Botanical Garden, which was established by a Royal Decree in 1600. The preserved botanical collections were later separated as a herbarium.

The Royal Museum for the Economic Sciences and the Copenhagen Botanical Garden
The oldest collections of scientific importance originate from the botanical section of a Royal Museum for the Economic Sciences, founded in 1759 in order to further the study of natural sciences of importance to agriculture, forestry, fishery, mining and trade.

Almost at the same time, a botanical garden and a botanical library were established by the government independent of the established botanical garden at the University of Copenhagen.

Among the first important collections to be incorporated in the new Royal Museum were the botanical collections made by Pehr Forsskål on the Royal Danish expedition to Egypt and Yemen in 1761-63.

This was a multidisciplinary expedition which made observations and collected scientific material within many fields, including botany, zoology, geography, ethnology, etc.

The other famous member of this espedition was the ethnologist, geographer and astronomist Carsten Niebuhr after whom the University of Copenhagen has named its institute for Oriental Studies, the Carsten Niehbur Institute. In 1770 all the collections of the Royal Museum were handed over to the University, and the botanical collections kept at the University Botanic Garden at Nyhavn.

The multidisciplinary collections. - An old illustration of the first multiscientific collection.

During this period, the collections were used by a number of Copenhagen botanists, for example the well-known cyperologist Christen Friis Rottbøll.

Changing locations of the Museum

In 1877 a new building was constructed inside the present Botanical Garden just after it was established. The name "Botanical Museum", rather than simply the Herbarium, originated from ideas of that time. It was the plan to combine the scientific collections with public exhibitions.

However, these plans have remained on paper except for one or two annual public exhibitions held in the current museum-building.

The increasing number of collections made by the museum staff, by other professional botanists, and by numerous skilled amateurs made it necessary to include additional buildings in order to house the collections, but these were mostly temporary storage space.

In 1968 the algae and fungi were moved to rooms on top of the Farimagsgade-wing of the old Danish Technical University, which had been built inside the north-western corner of the Botanic Garden. In 1985 the herbarium of vascular plants (excl. the vascular plants from Denmark and Greenland) and the lichens were transferred to a newly restored wing of the Technical University.

The Botanical Museum was administratively a part of the Botanical Garden until 1970, when the Museum became an independent institute along with a number of others under the Botanical Central Institute. In 1993 all the botanical institutes of the University were reorganized into three institutes, the Botanical Museum and Library, the Botanical Garden and the Botanical Institute.

Today the Botanical Museum is part of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen University.