Although founded as early as in 1290, the University of Coimbra initiated the study of Natural History only c. 500 years later. In 1772, the Prime Minister, the Marquis of Pombal, established a number of reforms aimed at developing culture and science in the country. At the University, he founded a “Cabinet of Natural History” to which was associated a Botanic Garden. In 1791, Félix de Avelar Brotero, a major botanist of his day, succeeded to Vandelli and became the second director of it. At that time, there was not such a thing as a herbarium in Coimbra. In a short time, Brotero published Flora Lusitanica (1804), the first Portuguese Flora. For that, he travelled throughout the country collecting plants for study and gathered a herbarium that represented better than ever the Portuguese flora. Sadly, only a few of these specimens (c. 300) remain till today and are in Lisbon.
Several decades elapsed until Júlio Augusto Henriques became Director (1873). He laid the foundation of the present day collection. Soon, he understood the need for an up-dated version of the Flora Lusitanica of Brotero and started again, from square one, as far as a herbarium was concerned. His plans were bold — and worked! — and at the time of his retirement, aged 80 (1918), he had assembled a quite large herbarium. His first move was to acquire the best part of the private collection of the German Moritz Willkomm (1880) that included plants from throughout the Mediterranean region, Madeira and the Canary Islands. In the same year he founded the first botanical society of the country, the still active Sociedade Broteriana, in memory of Brotero. The Society used the skilful efforts of professionals and amateurs alike to collect plants both in Portugal and overseas. Then he initiated exchanging specimens with the best world herbaria of the time. Henriques made sure that most of the herbarium of the Jesuit College of S. Fiel in Beira Baixa, including its large and important collection of European Cryptogams, came to the Herbarium when the College was closed at the beginning of the republic. The first plants from the Azores and Madeira, gifts respectively of B.T. Carreiro (1879-1910) and C.A. de Menezes (1890-1912), came to the herbarium. J. Cardoso Júnior (1885-1897) and the German Carl Bolle (1851) brought plants from Cape Verde. From Brazil was offered a historically important collection of the Brazilian botanist J. Barbosa Rodrigues. The plants from S. Tomé & Príncipe collected by A. Chevalier (1905) were added and are particularly important because they contain a number of type specimens. But Júlio Henriques himself collected throughout the country and also in Africa (S. Tomé & Príncipe) as an old man in 1917.
Luís Wittnich Carrisso followed as Director (1918). He greatly developed the activities of his predecessor. The interest in Africa flourished both with his own trips to Angola and his collaboration with the British Museum in London. He established a small team that initiated the publication of both Flora Zambesiaca and Conspectus Florae Angolensis. The Herbarium was also enriched with the Angolan plants of the Swiss John Gossweiler (1903) that joined the already existing material of the German Frederico Welwitsch (1853-1861) who worked in Angola for the Portuguese government. Welwitsch also collected in Portugal and Coimbra has many of those spe-cimens. Sadly, Carrisso died in 1937, still full of energy aged 51, victim of a sudden heart attack during his third trip to Angola.
Abílio Fernandes, Director from 1942, took the herbarium steadily through the difficult days of World War II. He was the organiser of the present-day arrangement of the herbarium. The specimens are now housed in elegant wooden cabinets located in two adjacent floors. Fernandes supported the collecting activity throughout the country and the African collections were also enlarged. Meriting special reference are those of Antunes (Angola), J.B. Teixeira (Angola), Rocha da Torre & J. Paiva (Mozambique), Grandvaux Barbosa (Angola and Mozambique) and J. Paiva (S. Tomé & Príncipe). J. Ormonde collected in Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde. Under Carrisso’s administration the Cryptogamic collection was not a priority and was not housed in adequate cupboards, but Fernandes had various gifts of cryptogams bound as books. He promoted the collecting of Algae and encouraged Póvoa dos Reis in his research on the red alga Batrachospermum. Cecília Sérgio (1960s) added Bryophyta and Hepaticae.
Abílio Fernandes retired in 1974, soon after the revolution. For a while there was no curator; then, Jorge Paiva and Teresa Almeida shared the job. New fields of biology developed at the University and the role of the biological collections became overlooked. Herbarium staff numbers declined to the dramatic 1 of today. Plants from Cape Verde were added by J. Ormonde (1980). In 1998, Fátima Sales became the curator. Through projects the digitising of the collection started; backlog of un-moun-ted specimens is reduced much material is being incorporated; the Cryptogams are being organised, many mounted. Important material from S. Tomé & Príncipe has been offered by J. Paiva, also some from Angola. Gifts from various Herbaria were received, mounted and included.