Herbário da Universidade de Coimbra

Moritz Heinrich Willkomm


Moritz Heinrich Willkomm (born 29 June 1821, Mittel Herwigsdorf by Zittau, Bohemia– died 26 August 1895, Schloss Wartenberg, Niemes; Bol. Soc. Brot. 12: 160.1895).

M. Willkomm’s initial experience at the University of Leipzig was rather turbulent. The politically stormy 1840s saw him involved in students political claims for a union and, as some others, he had to leave the country. By then, he was already assistant to Gustav Kunze, who, knowing of the interesting findings of Boissier and Reuter in the Iberian Peninsula, suggested to Moritz to make god use of this exile and travel and collect there. So he did. This turned out to be only the first of the three trips of Willkomm to the Iberian Peninsula. He loved so much this first experience that, once he could return to the University, he gave up his degree in medicine and took natural sciences (botany). He received his doctorate in 1849 with a study on the organography and classification of the Globulariaceae.

His second trip to the Iberian Peninsula was in 1850 and he explored the NE and C Spain. Back to Leipzig he got married and in 1854 he became curator of the Herbarium of the University and assistant at the University after Kunze’s dead for a very short time. Then he moved to the famous Royal Academy of Forestry at Tharandt as Professor of Natural History. Forestry became his field of main contribution. He established the first principles of the modern plant sociology by associating different species to different kinds of vegetation, soil requirements and horizontal and vertical growth. 


During his travels in Europe and met the Dane Johan Lange and became collaborators on the study of Willkomm’s Iberian collection. Together they eventually published in 1861-80 the first Flora of the area, Prodromus Flora Hispanicae. A number of his publications on the Iberian Peninsula were with detailed coloured lithograph plates, helping to the identification of plants. Following from his commitment to the flora of the area he was given many awards.

In 1868, Willkomm moved to the university at Dorpat (today Tartu). The Russian government invited him as full professor and gave him various honors but he stayed for five years only as the climate was not good for his health. Before returning home he departed to the Iberian Peninsula for his third and last trip, at the age of 52. This time he botanized in SE Spain and the Balearic Islands.

In 1874 he was appointed Professor of Botany and Director of the Botanic Garden of the Charles University, Praha. This was Willkomm’s last job. While at Praha, he was contacted by Júlio Henriques, professor of botany at Coimbra University, on the flora of Portugal. They corresponded for a while and, as Willkomm was approaching retirement, became to an agreement as to the destiny to be given to Willkomm’s herbarium. It was bought by the University of Coimbra and the last crate with materiao arrived in 1880 on the agreed condition that it would always be kept separate – so it is till today. In October 1878, Willkomm wrote to Henriques and explained in detail his conditions for the selling of the herbarium and the contents of it [“... mon herbier contenant à présent 10.000 espèces en 100.000 échantillons au moins (il será augmenté encôre par des collections considérables de plantes de la Corse et de l’Espagne, que je recevrai bientôt)...”]. Bureaucracy frustrated the two men at times but everything ended well.


The plants in the Herbarium are in the original 176 bundles and are organised according to the Prodromus Florae Hispanicae (Willkomm & Lange). There are 28.000 specimens. They are mounted on thin paper that is very acidic and is now quite brittle. For that reason loan requests of this material are not possible but the whole collection is in the COI Herbarium Catalogue with images (see project here).

The Willkomm Herbarium includes plants collected by Willkomm himself and of other collectors of the time. The geographical area is wider than expected. Apart from the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees and the Canary Islands there are plants from central Europe and even central Asia, up to the Songaria desert.

Soon after Willkomm's retirement the botanic garden in Praha moved between 1897-98 from near the banks of the Vltava to the New Town (in Na Slupi) because of the repeated floods.

Willkomm retired in 1893/92 but continued his trips. It was during this last trip in 1895 that he died, in Schloss Wartenberg near Niemes, at the age of 74.

Many were Willkomm’s publications on the flora of the Iberian Peninsula, the most relevant of them all being the Flora, the Icones and the Illustrationes, the latter with beautiful illustrations by Willkomm himself.

Willkomm, H. M. (1852-1856). Icones et descriptiones plantarum novarum praecipue Hispaniae. Vol. 1. Leipzig. (there were negative reviews, e.g. Hooker in J. Bot. 5: 94-96. 1853)

ž Willkomm, H. M. (1857-1863). Icones et descriptiones plantarum novarum praecipue ... praecipue Hispaniae. Vol. 2. Leipzig.

ž Willkomm, H. M. & Lange, J. M. C. (1861-1862). Prodromus florae Hispanicae [...] Vol. 1. Stuttgart.

ž Willkomm, H. M. & Lange, J. M. C. (1865-1870). Prodromus florae Hispanicae [...] Vol. 2. Stuttgart.

ž Willkomm, H. M. & Lange, J. M. C. (1874-1880). Prodromus florae Hispanicae [...] Vol. 3. Stuttgart.

ž Willkomm, H. M. (1881-1885). Illustrationes florae Hispaniae insularumque Balearium. Vol. 1. Stuttgart. Ver se é 1881 em tax lit

ž Willkomm, H. M. (1886-1892). Illustrationes florae Hispaniae insularumque Balearium. Vol. 2. Stuttgart

ž Willkomm, H. M. (1893). Supplementum Prodromi Florae Hispanicae. Stuttgart.

For a full list of publications see here

dianthus lusitanicus