Herbário da Universidade de Coimbra

Júlio Henriques


Júlio Augusto Henriques (born 15 Jan 1838, Arco de Baúlhe, Braga) took his first degree in Law at Coimbra University followed by a second at the Faculty of Philosophy where he did his PhD in 1865 with a thesis entitled “Are species mutable?”. He became a lecturer in 1869 and in three years taught botany for the first time. At the time, botany was in a bad state in the country, but Henriques developed a great passion for the subject and used the then current educational reforms to transform the situation in Coimbra. In 1873, the Chair of Botany and Agriculture was given to Henriques and soon after he also became the director of the Botanic Garden. He used his background of law and administration together with his driving personality to put into practice his vision of a University Institute that should combine teaching with research, albeit with the scarce resources available. In a few years, he made Coimbra the centre of botany in Portugal: organised the existing and dispersed items into a Library and a Museum of Botany. He cleaned up the Garden, developed laboratories well-equipped with microscopes, bought abroad especially in Berlin, and acquired in 1880 the Moritz Willkomm herbarium on which was based Prodromus Florae Hispanicae (Willkomm & Lange, 1821-1895).

One of the major achievements of Henriques was the establishment of networks both in the country and abroad which contributed to the good reputation of the Institute. In 1880, he founded the botanical Sociedade Broteriana, for professionals and amateurs who made substantial efforts to collect plant specimens for the herbarium both from Portugal and its then colonies. He exchanged seeds for the garden with many other gardens throughout the world. He exchanged duplicate herbarium material with other European herbaria much enlarging the Coimbra collections. Henriques also sent plant material from COI to world specialists for determination and corresponded with them. The Sociedade Broteriana, published regularly at Coimbra, and the Boletim were also sent in exchange to all botanical libraries in Europe and further afield which enormously increased the botanical bibliographical resources at Coimbra. Within Portugal, he established firm connections with other institutes and made sure that duplicates of Portuguese taxa were sent to the Escola Politécnica in Lisbon which in due course became a University and its herbarium became LISU. Botanical colleagues from Lisbon and Porto became long-term correspondent friends, such as Pereira Coutinho and Gonçalo Sampaio. In his quest for liaisons, he became member of a number of reputable scientific botanical societies throughout Europe.


As his main collaborators, Henriques chose the German Adolfo Möller as chief gardener, Joaquim de Mariz as naturalist, and Manuel Ferreira as plant collector. Much floristic work in Portugal and the colonies owes a great deal to the dedication of these three men. Henriques encouraged everybody to collect plants for a major desideratum, a new Flora of Portugal to up-date Brotero’s publication of 1804.

He himself, travelled to Serra da Estrela, Serra do Marão, Buçaco, Gerês, Caramulo, Lousã, Macieira, Castro-Daire e São Tomé e Príncipe and the resulting publications came out in Boletim da Sociedade Broteriana covering a wide spectrum: vascular plants, gymnosperms, fungi, diatoms; also the first floristic account of São Tomé e Príncipe and the first regional Flora of Portugal, Esboço da Flora da Bacia do Mondego. Júlio Henriques was often a mediator in the quest to find a good botanist to work and collect in different parts of the Portuguese empire. John Gossweiler, the Swiss who collected for 40 years in Angola for the Portuguese government, is a good example of this.


Henriques always paid special attention to the more practical aspects of botany, answering to all sorts of questions from farmers in Gazeta das Aldeias and directed various publications addressed to the problems of agriculture in the colonies such as Agricultura Colonial, Meios para a Fazer Progredir and Instruções Práticas Para a Cultura das Plantas que Dão a Quina. In fact, most of the plants of Cinchona for the extraction of quinine then sent to the colonies, mainly Angola and São Tomé, were originally grown in the Botanic Garden in Coimbra.

In contrast with his firm and cosmopolitan work, Henriques was a humble man, who shied away from a number of honours and high profile jobs. One of the exceptions was his trip to Uppsala in 1907 to represent the University of Coimbra in the celebrations of the bicentenary of the birth of Linnaeus when he was awarded an honorary PhD. In 1874, he married Zulmira Angelina de Magalhães Lima, chosen by his mother, and they lived in the College of São Bento where the botanical institute was then housed, and still remains the house of botany in Coimbra. He was a member of the Council for Arts and Archaeology and his interest in painting was far from merely contemplation and a number of his water-colours of wild orchids and mushrooms are kept in the library.

Júlio Henriques retired in 1918 at the age of 80 but he continued working as naturalist and officially as director of the Herbarium for another 10 years. He died on the 7th May 1928. The Herbarium he founded 135 years ago has now c. 800.000 specimens.