Herbarium of University of Coimbra

Luíz W. Carrisso


Luíz Wittnich Carrisso (born 14th February 1886 in the seaside city of Figueira da Foz) had an excellent start in botany through the competent hands of Ruy Telles Palhinha (1871-1957) in the classes of Natural Sciences at High School in Lisbon. They became everlasting friends. At the Faculty of Natural Philosophy of the University of Coimbra, Carrisso was a pupil of Júlio Henriques, the director of botany and founder of the Herbarium. At the age of 22, Carrisso got his degree and three years latter his PhD with a thesis on the plankton of the Portuguese coast and was examined by J. Henriques. Soon after, he was appointed assistant in the Biological Sciences of the recent Faculty of Sciences, submitting again a research on plankton. For six years, Carrisso was a lecturer. New commitments came with the retirement of J. Henriques in 1918 and Carrisso was appointed full professor and took the place of his old master becoming the 15th director of the Botanical Institute at the age of 32. He remained in post for 19 years.

Carrisso was a man of action, a conductor of events, a vibrant and critical speaker, an explorer rather than a laboratory or herbarium researcher and he did not wrote many scientific papers. His legacies were the major cosmopolitan projects on African botany and the large Angolan collections generated by his expeditions. Both projected the Coimbra institute to the world.

Carrisso’s career had four periods. The first marked by his interest in Algae and his education as biologist, then a quiet time as lecturer and visitor to the laboratory of Robert Chodat in Switzerland in 1920. On his return, already as Director of Botany and the Botanic Garden, he had to face the dilapidated state of the country and for the Institute - as a result from the First World – this was a period of re-organisation.

The director divided the Institute in three sections: Laboratories, Herbarium and Garden. The Laboratories were well-equipped for cytology, plant anatomy, mycology and genetics, with Algotec, sterilisation cabinets, photography and microphotography, all under the supervision of the new lecturer Aurélio Quintanilha. For the Herbarium, Carrisso invited the biologist Francisco d’Ascenção Mendonça, who replaced Júlio Henriques when the old master passed away. The Sociedade Broteriana, created by Júlio Henriques, needed much attention, too, as it had lost its steam. To maintain the flow of publications, Carrisso initiated in 1922 the second series of the Boletim extending its scope to cytology and genetics; later on, he started the Memórias (1930) and the Anuário (1935). The Herbarium collection expanded as a result of various expeditions in Portugal and the collaboration of the botanists of the Sociedade Broteriana, who sent material from Portugal and the colonies. He also developed the collection of Cryptogams. As for the Garden, his solution did not please him as it was left to his own responsibility and the burden “leaves me awake at night”! He re-built the glasshouses and built a new one for tropical aquatic plants. Nevertheless, his major worries became the building itself when part of it was converted for the use of high School José Falcão – then Carrisso threatened to resign! As a result of all this activity, teaching was modernised with the addition of ecology, phytogeography and speakers were invited from abroad.


During this period, Carrisso developed a firm determination to carry out the scientific exploration of the then Portuguese African colonies. This was no easy project as no one seemed to be interested in the colonies and the academics did not fancy the discomforts of expeditions. On various occasions, Carrisso expressed very clearly his critical views on such a state of affairs.

In 1927, Carrisso and Mendoça departed to Angola for the first of three expeditions that totalled c. 30.000 km. Fully aware of the difficulties to determine the plant material of the first expedition at COI, Carrisso soon established good collaboration with the British Museum, London, and a long term relationship with Arthur Exell started.

Members of the Expedition Herbarium nos
Carrisso & Mendonça 657
Carrisso & wife, Mendonça plus 19 lecturers and students
Carrisso & wife, Mendonça, Exell & wife, Gossweiler, Jara de Carvalho, Francisco de Sousa c. 5030

Conspectus Flora Angolensis (1937- ) http://bibdigital.bot.uc.pt/obras/UCFCTBt-E-21-31/UCFCTBt-E-21-31-01/globalItems.html was the long-term publication and fruit of this collaboration. It was an important step in Portuguese botany both for the large scope of the project and the international involvement of the participants.

These expeditions to Angola were also the opportunity to collect many of the artifacts now in the Coimbra Museum of Science, seeds for the Botanic Garden, fruits for the Herbarium; a very large number of photographs were taken.

On the 14th June 1937 in the Namibe in S Angola, at 2 km from Morro das Paralelas, Carrisso died prematurely, aged 49, of heart failure. He was with his companions in botany and his wife.

See more in: Freitas, H., Amaral, P., Ramires, A. & Sales, F. Eds. (2005). Missão Botânica, Angola (1927-1937). Imprensa da Universidade: Coimbra.