Herbal Archive of the Planet
After the Botanical Garden was founded in mid-XIX century, Belgrade became one of the important European university centers with ”museums of planetary flora”, ”living textbooks of plants”. It all began with the efforts of famous Serbian botanist Josif Pančić, after whom many generations added their good will. Its herbal fund today contains more than 1.500 species in open air, plus the Herbarium, Greenhouse, Library, Japanese Garden… Setting out on an imaginative journey from there, very Belgrade-like, one can reach very far

By: Branislav Matić
Photo: Archive of ”National Review”, Dragan Bosnić

”Today, on the first anniversary of the anointment of my son, His Majesty Our King Alexander the First, I was induced to give the state for educational purposes, for creating a botanical garden, my garden here in Belgrade, in the Palilula section, opposite the Palilula military barracks, under one condition: the garden shall be named ‘Jevremovac’, to keep the memory of our glorious ancestor, mine and my son’s, Master Jevrem T. Obrenović, great education enthusiast. Please, Mr. Minister, be so good to accept this gift on behalf of the state.”
It was on St. Elijah’s Day 1889. The hundred and sixty-first day since Serbian king Milan Obrenović had withdrawn from the throne. He had another eight hot summer days until his thirty-fifth birthday. He wrote the above words to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia minister of education and clerical affairs, giving more than five hectares of orchards inherited from his grandfather Jevrem, brother of Miloš the Great, as a gift. Milan, the unfortunate protégé of Prince Mihailo and pupil of the Serbian poet from Dubrovnik Medo Pucić, Parisian student for a while and first king in the resurrected new-age Serbia, that ”impetuous and impressive nature”, perhaps wasn’t completely aware of the importance of his act of gifting. However, since the ”Obrenovićs were intuitive Europeans”, the so-called awareness wasn’t necessary for many steps undertaken for a higher cause. This year, 2017, marks one hundred and twenty-eight years since the Belgrade Botanical Garden has taken its place in Jevremovac.
”Remarkable result and crown of the attempts of Josif Pančić to develop botany in Serbia, although he didn’t wait to see the triumph of his efforts and great persistence. However, we are completely right to call the Botanical Garden in Belgrade ‘Pančić’s Botanical Garden’, since it really is his spiritual baby”, wrote professor Milorad M. Janković, PhD, in his preface for the monograph Hundredth Anniversary of Jevremovac” Botanical Garden.
Indeed, the beginning and development of science about plants in Serbia, renewed after the Turkish slavery, is almost entirely related to Josif Pančić. Chronicles indicate that spite played an important role in Pančić’s mission, at its very beginning. In 1838, German scientist Griesbach declared to Europe that ”Serbia doesn’t promise much to botanists”. He said that he ”found only 134 flowering plants in it”. Opposite to Griesbach, perhaps directly led by the wish to deny him, Pančić discovered and classified 2.422 types of flowering plants in Serbia in his broad research until 1874. His books Flora of the Princedom of Serbia and Flora in the Belgrade Surroundings are a remarkable testimony about it.


Pančić’s pioneer role is seen already in the basic chronology of events. He was appointed professor of the Lyceum in 1853, exactly twelve years after the Lyceum was moved from Kragujevac to the newly proclaimed capital – Belgrade. He taught botany, zoology, geology and agronomy. Upon his request, two years later, on December 10, 1855, upon the decision of the Lyceum Board, a small garden was made in the Lyceum yard, cultivated by Pančić for botanical purposes.
”This can be considered as the establishment of the botanical garden, regardless of the fact that it was a small space, so historically speaking, the botanical garden in Belgrade was born already in mid-XIX century”, writes Professor Budislav Tatić, PhD, manager of the Botanical Garden for many years and author of an important study about it.
In 1874, on February 20, after a long correspondence and numerous requests, the Ministry of Education granted the Great School a space for the Botanical Garden between the Danube and Danube Street. That part of lower Dorćol, especially the part on the river bank, was desolated after the Turkish bombing in 1862. The deserted land, earlier mostly populated with Turks, came into the state’s possession. Exactly there, in the difficult circumstances of a new phase of the Serbian war for independence, from 1875 to 1880, wide-ranging works on creating the first large botanical garden in Belgrade were in progress. An embankment was built on the Danube, ”a meter higher than the highest level of flooding up to then”, a greenhouse was erected, wells dug, the most necessary buildings built and the system of plants established.
Chronicle from 1881: ”The garden already possesses a number of floral species classified into families. It is well done and constantly developing.” Pančić writes the same in his book Botanical Garden in Belgrade, published by the State Printing House in the same year of 1881.


In the spring of 1887, the Belgrade Botanical Garden was struck by a flood resembling the biblical deluge. The Danube rose so high after the overabundant rains, that it broke the embankment and flooded all plants. Plenty of sludge rolled down from the upper part of the city. ”The Garden was under water for fifteen days, with very strong winds blowing during the period, causing the destruction of planted cultures”, note chronicle writers. ”Furthermore, the soil is much fasted, disabling plants maintenance.”
At the beginning of the following year, 1888, Josif Pančić submitted a request to the City to find a new place for the Botanical Garden, safer and more convenient. They considered spaces beneath Kalemegdan, Topčider, Bulbulder, some larger estates on the then city periphery. Amidst those considerations, already in February that year, Josif Pančić passed away. Dr. Sava Petrović, his important and erudite associate, who published the first comprehensive monograph about Serbian flora three years earlier, was luckily able to stand up more directly for the appropriate solution of this issue. As personal physician of king Milan, a year and a half after Pančić’s death, Petrović had a crucial contribution in making the recent king understand ”the great Serbian scientist’s needs and wish”. According to Budislav Tatić, ”although in abdication, King Milan was a patriot and loyal to the Great School, city of Belgrade and Serbian people… Instead of indignation because of the political situation, he decided to contribute the legacy to the Great School.”


Already in spring of 1890, works have begun on the refurbishment of the new Botanical Garden, which finally confirmed Belgrade as one of the European university centers with a remarkable ”museum of live plants”, ”an open-air botanical laboratory”, ”source-nursery garden of many floral species”. It was enlisted among cities with ”living textbooks of herbs”, as John Edward Gray, famous European botanist, said about first botanical gardens – in Padua (1545), Pisa and Leiden (1577), Leipzig (1579).
Naturally, not everything went as smoothly and unalterably as the Danube. Long periods of quiet endeavors and an immeasurable series of big small steps were behind every single information in abstracts such as the mentioned one. In 1892, a large greenhouse was placed in the Belgrade Botanical Garden, with a steel ”Mosetin” construction, purchased in Dresden for a significant amount of silver dinars, financed by Serbia. Kanitz, in his writings from 1904, states that the greenhouse in Belgrade has an important artistic value and enlists it among significant architectural solutions of old Belgrade. (The greenhouse in ”Jevremovac” will later be seriously damaged in the German and American bombings of Belgrade and renewed only in 1975.) The botanical cabinet of the Great School and Pančić’s herbarium were moved to ”Jevremovac” in the summer of 1899. A country house type administrative building was erected in 1908, with the largest room intended for a library, even today one of the most significant ones of its kind in this part of Europe. A bizarre case of ”botanical espionage” happened at the time: important material from the Belgrade herbarium ended up in Vienna and Pest herbariums, and the senior officer of the Botanical Garden who enabled it was awarded in 1909 with the position of a private lecturer at the Vienna University. During the Austrian occupation of Belgrade in World War I, upon the orders of the civil governor of Serbia Thallóczy, the Botanical Garden herbarium was ”simply robbed”. K. Malu, curator of the Austro-Hungarian Museum in Sarajevo, was brought from the frontline in his sergeant uniform to select the most valuable specimens for Pest and send the remaining pieces to Zagreb and Sarajevo. Part of the prey taken to Pest was never returned. The entire archive of the Garden, collected until 1914, was destroyed, while the Garden itself ”was turned into a common cabbage garden”.
”This indicates what awaited me after the liberation”, noted the remarkable manager and brave officer Nedeljko Košanin, PhD, who was with his family in Graz when the war broke out, and stayed there imprisoned until 1918.
The Herbarium annex was built in the 1930s. In 1931, an additional, smaller greenhouse was erected. The golden period for filling the floral fund was 1905–1936, despite great destructions during World War I. The system of representation of species by geographic distribution was established. Nedeljko Košanin, PhD, Pavle Černjavski, Stevan Jakovljević, Ljubiša Glišić, Teodor Soška, had the biggest contribution in enriching the fund in that period, continuing the work of Josif Pančić, Stevan Jakšić, Živojin Jurišić in the XIX century. They traveled to numerous places and brought live floral material. Four thousand species only from the Balkans, where about seven thousand floral species live, were present in the Garden. Regular cooperation was established with universities, institutes of biology and botanical magazines from all over the world.
The upcoming generations also gave their contribution to the deeply dug in, although often shaken foundations.


Dalmatinska, Takovska, Vojvode Dobrnjca, Bulevar despota Stefana. Five hectares in the heart of the city, bordered by those streets. Jevremovac. A lavishing variety of plants, refined nature, local and exotic. Mysterious quietness of the oasis amidst the commotion of the metropolis, loud and busy. During a recent evening, we collected our thoughts like pages from a sketch-book scattered in the grass, and head through the garden. Many important and interesting specimens of world flora are there.
Ginko (Ginkgo biloba), gymnosperm from the Mesozoic, ”middle age of the earth”, a species more than two hundred million years old, represents a ”living fossil”. Today’s homeland of the relic species is eastern China, where it survived the last ice age. It can reach the height of up to forty meters, and has healing properties. There are several grown-up trees in Belgrade, both male and female species, more than twenty meters high.
The pine tree with the bent trunk, almost laying down on the ground, although it can reach the height of up to four meters – the creeping pine (Pinus mugo Turr) – lives in upper altitudinal borders of vegetation from the Carpathians to the Pyrenean forests. The creeping pine berries are used for making juniper berry oil.
Molika pine (Pinus peuce) is a Balkan endemic species, tertiary relict, up to twenty-five meters high. Its resin is used in the microscopic technology and optical instruments industry, while the trunk is used for manufacturing excellent vats and vessels.
A tree we lean upon to rest, in a place visible from the window of poet Vojislav and writer Dragutin Ilić, is called Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). It originates from the Northern America Pacific area, west of the Rocky Mountains. That tree, ”close to the soul of the ocean”, reaches the height of up to a hundred meters and the diameter of the trunk of more than four meters.
A bit further are nice specimens of the cedar, Lebanon (Cedrus libani) and Atlas (Cedrus atlantica). Their natural areal is narrow: Atlas and Rif.
Unavoidable in any stroll through the Garden are specimens of famous species which lasted to the very day from the age of giants: giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Today it exists in nature only in about sixty groves on the western slopes of Sierra Nevada, turned towards the Pacific Ocean, at an altitude of 1.200 to 1.400 meters. ”Certain trees are about three thousand years old, which means they outlived numerous states and nations.” That famous tree, which can grow more than a hundred meters high, which tree tunnels were cut through and restaurants made inside its trunks, hero of several unforgettable movies, grows here in the heart of Belgrade, in ”Jevremovac”. The cousin of this gigantic species, monotype evergreen coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), which can grow up to ninety meters high and with trunk diameter up to eight meters, also grows in ”Jevremovac”, still very young.
We speed up and downy birch (Betula pubescens Ehrih) from Northern Europe and Siberia, black walnut (Juglans nigra) from Massachusetts and Ontario, male and female specimens of cowtail pine (Cephalotaxus drupacea Sieb et Zucc.) from India and Taiwan, empress tree (Paulovnia tomentosa Steud.) from China and Japan, cigartree (Catalpa bignonioides Walt.) from Alabama and Georgia, Persian ironwood (Parotia persica) from northern Iran, goldenrain tree (Koelrreuteria paniculata Laxim.) from Korea, all appear before our eyes.
Of course, at this wonderful gathering of world flora, we certainly mustn’t forget her silver majesty Fagus moesiaca. The beech tree! It would be unfair and provincial, as well as short-sighted.


Monument and University
”Jevremovac” Botanical Garden was proclaimed a monument of nature of extraordinary importance in 1995, and it is the teaching unit of the Belgrade Faculty of Biology. In nearly five hectares, it houses the Institute of Botany, Greenhouse, Herbarium, Library, administrative building, auditoriums and laboratories. The Greenhouse from 1892 has a significant architectural, cultural and historical value. The Library, founded in 1853, includes nearly fourteen thousand units. The Japanese Garden, with a collection of the Far East flora, was opened in 2004, according to the design of Vera and Mihailo Grbić.


The Botanical Garden Herbarium is the same as a treasury of parchments in old palaces and temples. The one in Belgrade, originating from 1860, includes about 120.000 herbarium sheets and over 300.000 exsiccates. The efforts of many generations is built into that abundance, that treasure.


Flowers in the Lapel
We haven’t changed our mind. Like fourteen year ago, we chose the Prokletije defiant (Draba Bertiscea) and Serbian ramonda (Ramonda Serbica) for flowers accompanying ”the beautiful face of Serbia”. Besides admiring their beauty and mystical powers, we owe them special stories, a special place in the ”Fantastic Botany of Serbian Lands”.


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