Herbarium of University of Coimbra

Seeds of Beauty


Appreciation of beauty is a major engaging factor for noticing and valuing things and promotes the willingness to preserve biodiversity (Tsekos & Petsiou, 2018).

Seeds appeared about 350 million years ago and constitute the most important structure for plant dispersal. Plants have recruited all sorts of agents to assist to dispersal and developed strategies accordingly, such as wings for wind, hooks for animal hair, colours for birds, nutritious expansions for ants, these few examples illustrating their importance to ecosystems. Seed diversity is enormous and contributes to taxonomic identification. Plants invest on a few big seeds or numerous small seeds, these rarely seen in detail – and they are small works of art (Fig. 1, 2)!

Seeds of the Portuguese Mathiola incana

Seed of the Portuguese Cynoglossum creticum
Fig. 1. Seeds of the Portuguese Mathiola incanaFig. 2. Seed of the Portuguese Cynoglossum creticum

Seed identification is crucial for various activities (Black et al. 2006). Their importance is paramount as food, in agriculture, horticulture and conservation, especially in the present economic and environmental constraints. But they are also important in medicine, archaeology, landscape architecture.

The Herbarium of the University of Coimbra, with c. 800.000 specimens of all groups of plants and fungi, is the largest in Portugal and the only global, with materials from all over the World. Its Seed Collection (Seminarium) preserves material especially of Portuguese native plants and it was assembled to help identification (Fig. 3). It was databased and the information of c. 3000 accessions are available in the online Herbarium Catalogue (https://coicatalogue.uc.pt/). However, there are no images available that could facilitate online identification.

Although the beauty of seeds has been admired (Biss, 2021), this application is innovative in that combines science and art articulating scientific and artistic products with school curricula.


D1. The science. Images of seeds for taxonomic purposes

Task 1.1. Acquiring images

Ca 500 photographs of seeds will be taken. Photographs will be made using the digital microscope Leica Emspira 3.

Persons associated: Ana Coelho [seed photography; image organisation], Filipe Covelo [confirmation of seed identification].

Task 1.2. Making images available in the online Herbarium Catalogue

The images of the seeds of each species will be available in open access in the Herbarium online Catalogue, each associated to the respective information already databased.

Persons associated: Joaquim Santos [association of seed images to Herbarium database]

The seed collection (Seminarium) of the Herbarium has much material of Portuguese native species

Seed of the Angolan Polygala guerichiana
Fig. 3. The seed collection (Seminarium) of the Herbarium has much material of Portuguese native speciesFig. 4. Seed of the Angolan Polygala guerichiana

D2. The art. People admiring nature’s art

Task 2.1. Live communication

Explore the educational potential of science and art articulating scientific and artistic products with curricula (from 3-18 years old) promoting interdisciplinarity by delivering one workshop at a school.

It will also be delivered a talk to the members of the botanical Broteriana Society in the monthly event Tertúlias.

Person associated: Rita Campos [leader of workshop at schools], Ana Coelho [workshop at schools; talk], Fátima Sales [task coordinator]

Task 2.2. Online delivery

(1) Photographs of seeds will be made regularly available in the Instagram account of the Herbarium; (2) Page of the project in the site of the Herbarium.

Persons associated: Ana Coelho [instagram feeding], Joaquim Santos [instagram feeding], Filipe Covelo [instagram feeding]

Task 2.3. Printed materials

A collection of four bookmarks of seed photographs will be added to the bookmark collection of the Herbarium that his used to divulge the mission of this biological collection.

Persons associated: Ana Coelho [designer], Filipe Covelo [designer], Fátima Sales [task coordinator]


Biss, L. (2021). The Hidden Beauty of Seeds & Fruits: The Botanical Photography of Levon Biss. London: Abrams Books.

Black, M., Bewley, J.D. & Halmer, P., eds. (2006). The encyclopedia of seeds: Science, technology and uses. Wallingford, UK: CABI.

Tsekos, C.A. & Petsiou, T. (2018). Environment and Philosophy: The Aesthetics and the Natural Environment. Voice of the Publisher 4 (2), DOI: 10.4236/vp.2018.42002