Carolus Clusius, a Flemish botanist, was born Feb. 19, 1526. Clusius (sometimes known by his French name, Charles l’Ecluse) spent many years as imperial gardener to Emperor Maximillian II in Vienna, at a time when many middle-eastern plants, such as the tulip and the crown imperial, were being introduced into Vienna from Constantinople. When Clusius returned to Leiden in 1593, after decades of absence, he brought back the tulip and crown imperial, as well as Austrian plants such as the cyclamen and the dog-tooth violet, and introduced them to the Netherlands. He also published a book, Rariorum planatarum historia (History of Rare Plants, 1601) which contained woodcuts of these marvelous new ornamental plants; we see above his illustrations of the crown imperial (first image), cyclamen (second image) and the dog-tooth violet (third image). The book also has a portrait of Clusius as a frontispiece (fourth image).

One of the most attractive features of the Rariorum is the engraved title page (fifth image). There we see not only some great gardeners of old, including Adam, Solomon, and Dioscorides, but across the top, a parade of the three plants just mentioned, plus a Turk’s-cap lily, and at bottom center, a tulip.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to