The Botanical Gardens of Florence, known as the the “Giardino dei Semplici” ('Semplice' being a medicinal plant), is the oldest section of the Museum of Natural History, having been founded on 1 December 1545 by Cosimo I de’ Medici (it is the third-oldest botanical garden in the world). Research on the role played by the botanical gardens within scientific and social discourse has identified seven key areas: increase botanical awareness, acquire greater relevance to the general public, conduct research that has a local and global impact, contribute to the public debate on the environment, on biodiversity and on global warming, encourage a sustainable way of life by changing attitudes and behaviours.
In ecology, biodiversity is the set of all living organisms in their various forms and of the ecosystems related to them. The concept implies all biological variability: of genes, species, habitats and ecosystems. The topic of biodiversity is now familiar to the general public and is a crucial issue for all countries. In fact, the United Nations declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity, while the decade 2011-2020 has been declared the Decade of Biodiversity.
The collections of Florence’s Botanical Garden include very ancient plants like cycads (already present when dinosaurs roamed the Earth), centuries-old trees such as Micheli’s yew (ca. 300 years old), large trees classified as “monumental” by the Tuscany Region, as well as the most recently “discovered” tree in the world – Wollemia nobilis – only found in 1994 in Australia. Also present are examples typical of the Mediterranean flora and of tropical areas, teaching collections of carnivorous plants and a historical collection of medicinal and poisonous plants. A collection of edible plants, with an example of a synergistic garden, is very topical. Amateur gardeners can find novelties and curiosities in the collections of chilli peppers, hydrangeas and vintage azaleas which embellish the green of the Garden in spring. All these plants can be “encountered” by following the special itineraries or just by strolling around and letting oneself be “amazed” by the beauty and the curiosities.
For several years, special itineraries with signs in Braille, both outdoors and in the greenhouses, have been available for the visually impaired. The Garden features both ancient and modern collections in a setting that conserves specimens and traces of the 16th century: a unique journey into history and the “biodiversity of plants”.