Naples Botanical Garden: a Beautiful Sight and Outstanding Scientific Institution in the South of Italy.

An Outline of the History of the Gardens

Naples Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico di Napoli) is one of Europes major botanical institutions of its kind, for the importance of its collections and the number of species being cultivated. It was founded as an independent institution (then called Real Giardino delle Piante) at the beginning of the 19th century (with a decree of 1807), after two centuries of failed attempts, at a time when the city was dominated by the French, with scientific, educational and technical goals.

The layout of a national (public) Botanical Garden in Naples had been foreseen, for the first time, by the reform of the Viceroy, the Count of Lemos (1615). This garden, however was never realised; instead, between the end of the 1500s and the beginning of 1800s there was in Naples a blossoming of small private gardens created by citizens who sometimes were also scholars. These private horta were frequented by Italian and foreign botany scholars who kept alive in the city the exigence of a public Botanic Garden.

The foundation of Naples Botanical Garden had a very compliacated iter not just for the political vicissitudes of the time but also for the complexity in the set-up of this type of institution. The negative comments by Charles III Bourbon were also concerned, in fact, the presence of a Botanical institution in Naples. After the transference of the University from the ancient Palazzo degli Studi (today the National Museum) to the Palazzo del Salvatore, this latter area is being mentioned as a possible destination for a newly founded Museum of Natural History and annexed Botanical Garden.

We get, in this way, to 1796, and the first decree of foundation of Naples Botanical Garden, in its actual position. However, this decree – and the following of 1802 – would not be executed. The decree that actually saw the beginning of the works was that of 1807 (this is described below). 

Naples Botanical Garden was finally laid out after a plan which had originally been conceived by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon and was prevented from being accomplished by the revolution of 1799. The decree of the founding of this structure bears the date 28th December 1807 and the signature of King Giuseppe Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. With article 1 of this decree all land owned in part by the monks of Santa Maria della Pace and by the hospital of Cava was dispossessed. Both of these properties were adjacent to the “Albergo dei Poveri” (‘Hostel for the Poor’) and had previously been designated, during the Bourbon era, to become “The Royal Botanical Garden”. In the same article, the purpose for the realization of this new structure was singled out and assigned to (...) public instruction” (...) and to the (...) multiplication of beneficial species, to agriculture and to industry”.

We can already deduct from this summons the modern elements on which the foundation of Naples Botanical Garden was based – a garden that has, from the beginning, been distinguished for the variety of its functions and its diverse vegetal heritage. Two succesive decrees (dated 1810 and 1812) point out the grand design; in fact, for the carrying out of the garden's masterplan a few decades were needed, a notable amount of money was spent and the best knowledge of the time employed.  

The realization of this project was entrusted to the architects de Fazio and Paoletti. De Fazio was responsible for the monumental façade, and its style conformed to that of the adjacent Palazzo Fuga (more commonly known as ‘Albergo dei Poveri’); his are also the main drive perpendicular to the façade, the avenue orthogonal to the main drive (which brings us to the building of the Castle, head office of the Institute) and the “temperate heater”, characterized by a Doric colonnade and shutters with revolving openers around central hinges. Paoletti, instead, was responsible for the planning and the realization of the lower part of the Garden.

By a decree dated 25th March 1810 Michele Tenore was nominated Director of Naples Botanical Garden. He had completed his studies under Vincenzo Petagna, inheriting from his teacher a passion for botany; he considered it not to be part or a branch of medicine but an autonomous science. It was this conception of botany that led Tenore to scientifically organize the Garden in a completely new way, when compared with previous “Gardens of the Simples” (‘Giardini dei Semplici’)  normally part of a University.

Michele Tenore remained the director of Naples Botanical Garden until 1860, and during his 50 years of directorship he expanded the collections notably, taking the number of cultivated species to about 9,000. He busied himself in establishing relations with other important European botanic institutions, thus making known and appreciated in other countries the place he directed. 

Among the various activities carried out by the Garden during the time of Tenore we must remember scientific research, the cultivation of medicinal plants, the teaching methods used, the planning of Royal Bourbon sites and the collection, multiplication and diffusion of exotic plants. These were usually acclimatized in the “temperate heaters” and in the “hot heaters”, which from 1818 were side by side.

Guglielmo Gasparrini followed Michele Tenore as director. During his directorship of Naples Botanical Garden from 1861 to 1866, he rearranged some areas which had fallen into a state of abandon during the latter years of Tenore’s directorship. These areas were the Arboretum, the Citrus groves and the orchards. Furthermore, a “small valley” was created for the cultivation of Alpine plants and a new, heated greenhouse was built in substitution for the previous one. He also engaged in the rearrangement of the Botanical Museum and in putting into place the Herbarium which had been enlarged since the time of Tenore.

Upon the death of Gasparrini, Giuseppe Antonio Pasquale was nominated temporary director of the Gardens, and in 1868 Vincenzo Cesati was given the directorship. He remained at the gardens until 1883, the year of his death. The principal event that characterized Naples Botanical Garden during this period was the construction of a new, heated greenhouse.

Subsequently, the directorship passed again to Giuseppe Antonio Pasquale until the end of 1893. During his time Pasquale was able to prevent the realization of a project which would have seen the construction of new branches of University institutions within the area where the Botanical Garden was situated.

Federico Delpino was the successor of Pasquale and remained in office until 1905. The main problem he had to contend with was the poor sensibility of University authorities towards the Botanical Garden, resulting in both economic and management problems which led to a slow decline of the organization.

Numerous changes took place during this period when the director nominated was Fridiano Cavara (1906 -1929). He enlarged the collections and created an area for xerophyte plants and succulent species, a small lake and two tanks for the cultivation of lacustrine plants. Cavara also restored the temperate greenhouse and started the construction of a new head office for the institute.

The most credit given for work carried out by Cavara was without doubt the establishment a new center called “Experimental Station for the Officinal Plants” (“Sezione Sperimentale delle Piante Officinali”) in 1928. Here medicinal plants were both cultivated and used for experimentation: this organization, which had its own funding, worked under the direct control of Naples Botanical Garden, even though institutionally it was not part of the organization.

In 1930 the directorship passed on to Biagio Longo, who continued the work started by his predecessor. In 1936 the Institute was transferred to the new headquarters which had finally been completed after 18 years; previously, in 1933, a headquarter was created for the offices and laboratory of the “experimental station for the officinal plants”. The work done by the Garden in this period reached its culmination in 1940 with the extraordinary reunion of the Italian Botanic Society - a meeting held here, in honour of the opening of the “Overseas Exhibition”.

In the following years the war had a negative impact on the function of the Garden, and all the iron structures were pulled apart and taken to be used for military purposes. The large scale cultivation of vegetables, potatoes and wheat was introduced, and on numerous occasions people invaded the Garden looking for refuge and water. The bombardments devastated Naples Botanical Garden as much as the city, but the most havoc was brought during the occupation of the allied troupes. The new institute, as well as part of the old one, was turned into barracks; the lawns were covered with cement or insulated and used for parking military vehicles, and part of the Garden was made into a sports ground. In 1947, not long before his directorship ended, Longo published a report which testified that the Garden was on its way to total ruin.

This was the situation inherited by Giuseppe Catalano, who held the directorship of Naples Botanical Garden from 1948 to 1959. During this period the old and new institutions were partially reconstructed. This was partly due both to the surveyor’s department, and to exceptional funds made available by the direction of the Garden. Iron gates were re-introduced and the greenhouses were restored; in particular the heated greenhouse, where a new part was added equipped with a big tank. The lawns were liberated of their cement covering and made rich with new tree essences; the small valley where the Alpine plants were located was transformed into a Fernery. During his direction (1959-1963), Valerio Giacomini managed to maintain unchanged the situation inherited from Catalano.

In 1963 the directorship was given to Aldo Merola and it was due to the indefatigability of this man that the rebirth and renewal of Naples Botanical Garden came about. It started when both the administrative and economic independence of the structure was reached in 1967. This led to extra financing, for example from the C.N.R. (National Research Centre), which made possible the building of a greenhouse complex of 5,000m2 towards the end of the 1960s; besides this, the installation of heating in the temperate greenhouse and the erection of various small working greenhouses were also carried out. With the laying of water-pipes throughout the Garden, water was never in shortage; in fact, up until then water was drawn from a well and conveyed to collection tanks to be drawn manually.

Merola was also concerned with legislation, being able when possible to sensitize political power to the problems regarding the Garden. The main result obtained by him in this sense was the creation of the gardener’s role in the Botanic Garden that resulted in an increase of specialized staff; higher assets made it possible also to buy agricultural machinery, which led to big advantages in the execution of works. The only three usable rooms left in the castle were converted and became the head office for the Garden, while the new building became the head office of the Institute of Botany.

At the beginning of the 1970s, the “experimental station for the officinal plants” was abolished and the cultivation area, the staff and the buildings became all an integral part of Naples Botanical Garden. The collection that had been extremely diminished started to increase again, notably due to the acquisition of plants from various parts of the world and principally thanks to the expeditions conducted by young Italian botanists, who collected various exemplary vegetal species. Amongst these was the renowned botanist Prof. Luigi Califano. The collection of Cycadales was particularly enlarged by the addition of samples of the species Tillandsia, succulents and ferns. Merola renewed contacts with other European Botanical Gardens, facilitating the exchange of vegetal material and scientific experience, thus enabling the structure he directed to become part of a more ample scientific reality; consequently, Naples Botanical Garden started to liberate itself from the provincialism which had characterized it since the beginning of the 20th century.

Merola was also careful to strengthen the didactic aspect of the Botanical Garden by labelling each plant with both its taxonomic information and the classification of each single species; he created new display areas and re-organized some of the existing ones. In the making of the new areas he followed both systematic and ecological ideas; the area of the Pinophyta, the Citrus grove, the Vaseria (‘pottery’) and the Palm grove thus represent areas of taxonomic characteristics, whereas the desert, the peat bog, the beach, and the Rockery represent areas with ecological characteristics, in which he attempted to recreate the natural environments.

Upon the death of Merola in November 1980, the directorship was given to Giuseppe Caputo. At the time the city was struck by a disastrous earthquake which did considerable damage to the castle and to the garden. During the next few days Naples Botanical Garden was continually invaded by people seeking refuge, and armoured vehicles had to be brought in to deal with an emergency in the adjacent Palazzo Fuga. Liberated with the help of a public force, the Garden was provided with an armed surveillance service to prevent the continual break-ins which were causing considerable damage to the property.

At the end of 1981 Paolo De Luca was nominated director, and he still is the current Prefect. The repair of damage caused by the earthquake was in part financed by government funds for the reconstruction of the areas hit by the earthquake. The castle which the earthquake had partially destroyed was totally restored. Thanks to funds granted by the Sopraintendenza ai Beni Culturali, the front – more than 200 metres long – and the monumental greenhouse, dedicated to the memory of Aldo Merola, were both restored. The new greenhouse complex – dedicated to the memory of Luigi Califano during Merola’s directorship – was equipped with a new heating and humidification system, whilst the small working greenhouses were reconstructed. The gardener’s changing rooms were crumbling and therefore were totally rebuilt, while a heating system was installed; the water-pipe network was completed resulting in every area of the Garden being supplied with water from the Artesian Well. The mechanization process started by Merola was continued with the acquisition of lots more agricultural vehicles. The collections were enriched even further by the purchase of exemplary plants and further species collected from their natural habitat. Some areas, which had not yet been granted allowances by Merola, were freed from brambles and rearranged; the lawns which were in a precarious condition were replanted. Furthermore, an abandoned area which was previously the Stazione Sperimentale was recovered for the cultivation of medicinal plants. In this area, today denominated “Experimental Section for the Officinal Plants” (Sezione Sperimentale delle Piante Officinali), flowerbeds have been created with plants of ethno-botanic interest. The Citrus grove reduced to a few exemplary plants from the old collection planted about the middle of the 19th century was enriched with lots of new species from the Citrus family, some representing other types of Rutaceae similar to citrus too.

In the exhibition areas created by Merola, the Mediterranean Bush has been added; it is a collection of the most representative species in this vegetal association. The actual surface area of Naples Botanical Garden is of nearly 12 hectares, in which 9,000 plant species are present and a total of almost 25,000 samples are grouped together according to systematic, ecological and ethno-botanic criteria. The areas where the plants are systematically set out are the Fernery, the Pinophyta, the Palm grove, the Citrus grove, the Magnoliophyta and other small zones dedicated to single taxon of plants and flowers. The zones where plants are set out in accordance to their ecological criteria are the desert, the beach, the peat bog, the Rockery, the Mediterranean bush and the tanks with the Aquatic plants. The Ethno-botanic area is represented by the Sezione Sperimentale delle Piante Officinali. Adjacent to the exhibiting section of this zone there are small areas of more recent formation; one is the “pathway for the visually impaired” and another is dedicated to the main plants cited in the Bible. The Arboretum, the collection of “bulbous, tuberous and rhizomatous plants” and the Nursery are all areas that do not follow any of the above criteria.

Naples Botanic Garden Today 

In Naples Botanic Garden are cultivated, in the exterior or in artificial habitats, thousands of herbaceous plants  shrubs, trees and otherwise  belonging to several species; here are represented too almost all types of flora belonging to different parts of the world, also thanks to the favourable mild climate in which can survive species which are typical of hot and sub-tropical climates. The glasshouses (hot, warm temperate and cool temperate) occupy a surface of about 5,000 square m.

The rarest specimens are catalogued in international repertoires. Among the most significant collections that are to be remembered here one must include: the Cycad collection – which counts amongst the most important worldwide –; the collection of plants from the African, American, Asiatic and Australian deserts; the collection of tree ferns, unique in Europe; the palm collection; the pottery with many species of Italian orchids (and also many bulbous plants); the collection of aerial plants; the Citrus collection, etc. To this, one must add a rich series of Italian – and exotic – plants of economic interest (especially in the ethno-botany section), many of which are still successfully used today. All of these are described in more detail below.

The Function of the Garden

Naples Botanic Garden  for its relevance and dimension  includes a vast gamut of cultural, scientific, technical and educational activities and services; research also plays an important role here. It is among the most prestigious scientific institutions in the city of Naples, and its multifold functions can be thus synthesized:

 conservation and implementation of the living collections, exhibited according to systematic and ecological criteria and to museologic divulgation;

 base research in the various fields of vegetal biology;

 applied research in the fields of medicinal plants, plants for dyeing, and species used for their essential oils;

 protection of endangered flora;

– conservation of ancient fruit and vegetable cultivars, no longer or rarely in use.

The Structures

Naples Botanic Garden hosts a Paleo-botany and an Ethno-botany Museum as well as a Seed Bank. The paleo-botany section shows – with the aid of fossil specimens, reconstructions and explications – the evolution of terrestrial plants, starting from the first vascular plants up to the present species. The ethno-botany section shows visitors the diversified uses of plants through the exhibition of artifacts, natural products, images and vegetal specimens, and it illustrates also the daily activities and the interactions with the local vegetal resources of some ethnic groups (by now almost completely disappeared). The Seed Bank (Carpo-spermateca) conserves and displays seeds which have been collected both in Naples Botanic Garden and in natural environments, to be exchanged with scientific and conservation purposes among different Botanical Gardens and institutions worldwide. Lastly, the didactic section of Naples Botanic Garden deals with the planning and management of the educational trails, and each year it ensures a guided visit to about 25,000 students. Periodically are also organized field trips and more specific guided visits for both Italian and foreign visitors.

Areas of the Garden

The Citrus Orchard 

The Bourbons wanted a Citrus orchard and thus it was created by Michele Tenore. The Bourbons appreciated the custom – very much widespread in that era – that this is the way in which noblemen and wealthy people showed guests their collection of archaeological and naturalistic finds. Following this trend the reigning Bourbons proposed planting a collection of Citrus fruits, which were also very widespread at the time, to the first director of the Botanical Garden. Tenore therefore started to introduce into the designated area for the Citrus orchard a variety of plants both alimentary and cultivated, appreciated also for their particular ornamental aspect. The collection was later extended by Giuseppe Antonio Pasquale and in more recent times enlarged due to the introduction of certain uncommon species of Citrus fruit and other related kinds. 

Among the more interesting species that are actually present in the orchard are the cultivated variety of Citrus aurantium with its ‘monstrous’ characteristics, some varieties like Citrus deliciosaCitrus volkameriana and Severinia buxifolia, portrayed for the first time by Neapolitan botanists, and finally other representative species related to Citrus such as Poncirus, Microcitrus, Fortunella and Murraya.

The Arboretum

In the arboretum numerous interesting examples of tree essences are cultivated. Among these species it is worth remembering Zelkova carpinifolia (Caucasian Elm), represented by a specimen of which the trunk has a base circumference of about five metres, as well as Melaleuca decussata (Tea Tree), Ginkgo biloba, Parrotia persica (Ironwood), the Monkey Puzzle Araucaria bidwillii, Cordia martinicensis, Tilia tomentosa, Celtis australis and the Camphor Tree Cinnamomum glanduliferum – all entities represented in this part of the Garden by quite imposing specimens.

Among the shrubs present, the interesting (and poisonous) Rhus toxicodendron is worth noticing.

The Magnoliophyta Area

This section is dedicated to the most significant kind of flowering plants. It’s divided into numerous lots each one cultivating a species belonging to one kind of Magnoliophyta. Those present in this area have been selected according to precise standards: in fact for every kind, where possible, specimens of small or medium dimensions have been chosen. Perennials with quite big flowers and typical of the group that they belong to (and consequently useful from a teaching point of view), from the spring flowering (in order to observe the plants in flower at more or less the same time), and with a spontaneous diffusion in our area – or at least easily adaptable to the Mediterranean climate – are also well-represented.        

Of the many kinds represented in this area we must remember those that include the families of fundamental importance for human economy such as the Poaceae and the Fabaceae families, or those widely spread in our flora, such as the Lamiaceae (Mint family) and the Asteraceae.

Area of the Pinophyta

This area brings together representatives of the four classes in which ‘naked seed plants’ (Gymnosperms) – that are actually living species – are divided. The Cycadopsida class is represented by some examples of Cycas revoluta and others belonging to EncephalartosDioonZamiaMacrozamia and Ceratozamia genera. As well as an example of Ginkgo biloba and various species of the Ephedra genus – respectively belonging to the Ginkgoopsida and Gnetopsida classes – in this area there are also examples of species belonging to the Pinopsida class.

This last type form the largest class in the Pinophyta sector and are represented by various kinds of plants, amongst which are genera AgathisAraucariaCedrusCryptomeriaCunninghamiaCupressusPinus, Podocarpus and Taxus. Also to be noted is the presence of Cupressus duprezianaPinus leucodermis and Abies nebrodensis – all species that are threatened with extinction – not to mention Metasequoia glyptostroboides and Wollemia nobilis, true living fossils, Sequoia sempervirens and Taxodium mucronatum.

Bulbous, Tuberous and Rhizomatous Plants

The collection of bulbous, tuberous and rhizomatous plants is located on the stone steps in front of the Merola Greenhouse and contains examples of species endowed with hypogean metamorphosed trunks, spontaneously widespread throughout the Mediterranean region. There are also other species grown and selected by man for ornamental purposes.

The families mainly represented in this collection are the Liliaceae, the Iridaceae, the Amaryllidaceae and the Orchidaceae; in particular, this last family is represented by a number of  species found growing in the wild in southern Italy.

Desert Plants

In the preparation of this area the needs of the succulent plant family had to be considered; that is the need of a sunny, arid environment with very high temperatures. This section was created on a south facing slope and consequently it is exposed to the sun all day long. The plants are mostly arranged in tubs filled with sandy soil; these tubs are communicating, and together with the nature of the substratum used and the inclination of the area, this ensures an efficient drainage and prevents the stagnation of rainwater. Lastly, the plants that are less resistant are covered in winter with methacrylate covers, which protect them from heavy precipitations. The collection of succulents in this section includes numerous species of notable interest belonging to various species, some of which are: Cactaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Aizoaceae, Crassulaceae, Aloaceae, Vitaceae, Agavaceae, Asteraceae and Geraniaceae.


In this section – partially situated at a slightly lower level to the surrounding area – the humid and shady conditions necessary for cultivating ferns and other similar plants have been reproduced. As a matter of fact, a belt of trees surrounding the fernery protects the area from excessive insulation, and despite being watered constantly and abundantly, there are also artificial streams and lakes to ensure the necessary humidity.

If we exclude some examples such as Selaginella and Equisetum types belonging respectively to Lycopodiophyta and Equisetophyta classes, the plants grown in this area all belong to the Polypodiophyta class, including ferns in the truest sense of the word. There are also specimens of numerous Italian species of fern; some rare, as for example Woodwardia radicans, growing wild in Calabria, as well as from European and non-European countries. Among those last mentioned are Asplenium bulbiferumAsplenium nidusPlatycerium alcicorne and tree ferns from the Cyathea and Dicksonia genera.

The Mediterranean Scrub (‘macchia’ or ‘maquis’)

The Mediterranean scrub area is situated among slopes and is dedicated to the memory of Domenico Cirillo; it is characterized by the presence of a bust of this great Neapolitan scholar. The section is represented by some of the species characteristic of the dense evergreen undergrowth that are found on our coastal regions. However, the typically thick vegetation associated with this environment has not been reproduced as such; in fact, in this section the plants have been placed at a distance from one another to allow closer observation and thus enable us to acquire more knowledge of them. The plants exhibited show some of the typical precautions taken by them to reduce loss of water through transpiration; for example the reduction of leaf surface, or the covering of the leaf with a thickening cuticle, hairs or a thin wax coating. These adaptations are fundamental in that they enable the plants to overcome the arid summer period characteristic of the Mediterranean area.

Among the numerous species shown in this section dedicated to the Mediterranean scrub are Arbutus unedoCeratonia siliquaChamaerops humilisEuphorbia dendroidesMyrtus communisOlea oleasterPistacia lentiscusQuercus ilexSmilax aspera and Spartium junceum.  

Palm Grove

Palms that constitute the family of the Arecaceae are mainly tropical and subtropical plants and almost always assume a notable economic importance in their place of origin. Usually these plants have a ligneous, column-like trunk and at the top both a crown of leaves and an ample inflorescence formed by lots of tiny flowers. Some typical examples of this family, grown in the Botanical Garden, are Washingtonia robustaJubaea chilensisSyagrus romanzoffianaTrithrinax campestrisErythea armataBrahea edulis and certain species of the Phoenix genus.

Among the atypical species of Arecaceae present in the palm grove there are examples of Chamaedorea and Sabal, as well as the climbing Chamaedorea desmoncoides.

Epiphyte Plants

Some representatives of the epiphyte species can be found under the large Yucca elephantipes plant, which is situated opposite the desert area. Epiphyte plants live on other forms of vegetation but they aren’t nourished by them, because they are provided with chlorophyll and are autonomous as far as nutrition is concerned. They usually anchor themselves to their host by the roots, which don’t present absorbing functions (therefore they are not parasitic). They get water and minerals usually thanks to particular hairs present on the surface of their leaves. Such species are especially widespread in the tropical pluvial forests, where the dense vegetation cover determines strong competition among plants; i.e. it has driven many species into epiphyte life to enable them to find light and space.

Among the species grown in the Garden there are Platycerium alcicorneCryptocereus anthonyanus and some of the species of genus Tillandsia.


This is a small area dedicated to the exhibition of some species typical of the calcareous Appenine environment, and up until a year ago it was located in the zone dedicated to the Magnoliophyta. At the moment, this area is in the process of being recreated on the grass slope opposite the desert.


The plants grown in this section are those mostly found on the sandy Southern Italian shores. The species displayed here show some of the adaptations which are necessary for survival in such a harsh environment as the beach, particularly hostile to plants because of its aridity, constant winds, an uneven, shifting substratum and water with a high concentration of salt.

Some of the species shown, like Cyperus kalli and Calystegia soldanella, are endowed with underground trunks which are able to emit new branches to substitute those covered by sand; other species like Pancratium maritimum have bulbs. Other plants still have similar adaptations to confront the aridity as those found in the desert – such as the succulents – and this can be seen in the example of Sea Kale, Cakile maritima, in the prickly aspect of Sea Eryngio, Eryngium maritimum, or in the presence of the whitish down as in Diotis candidissima. Many species like the already mentioned Cakile maritima survive in this harsh environment thanks to their short life cycle.

The Peat Bog

The peat bog is an area characterized by a saturated substratum, consequently lacking in oxygen as well as minerals and with a high acidity level due to the presence of a particular moss: Sphagnum, i.e. those mosses found in stagnant water bogs. These mosses form continuous layers on the ground; the dead parts which are impregnated with water act as a substratum to the superficial living parts, and consequently the thickness of the layers increases until it sometimes reaches several metres in height. Plants that live in the peat bog implant themselves into the layer of Sphagnum, and because of the considerable distance of the plants from the ground they have difficulty in getting their supply of water.

The characteristics of the peat bog make such environments suitable only for a small number of species, some of which are Carex flavaCarex davalliana, Juncus acutusLysimachia nummulariaMenyanthes trifoliata and some species of Drosera which are also represented in this area of the Garden.


In the tanks are grown numerous hydrophyte species, i.e. plants living and growing in fresh water. These entities can be divided into three groups: those living in very humid ground; those anchored to the bottom of pools of water; those floating.

The species that colonize saturated substratum usually have the appearance of normal mesophyte plants, and are represented here in the Garden by various species such as Myriophyllum spicatumIris pseudacorus and Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica).

The plants anchored to the bottom, characterized by rhizomes and by long stems and peduncles that enable the leaves and flowers to emerge, are represented by examples of Nymphaea as well as Nuphar lutea and Nelumbo nucifera. Among the free-floating plants we can observe Lemna minor and the interesting fern Azolla filiculoides.


In the nursery young samples of various plants already growing in the Garden are cultivated; these represent a reserve to replace plants that are in a poor condition or dead. Furthermore, the plants introduced into this area are subject to a period of acclimatization.

Special Sections

The Experimental Section on Medicinal Plants

The Experimental Section of Medicinal Plants was established by Royal Decree in 1928 as an experimental station for medicinal plants. This decree established an institutional society together with the Ministry of National Economy and the Provincial Board of Economy of Naples (which later became the Chamber of Commerce), the University and both the Regional and Local Councils. Their scope was to carry out studies and experiments on the cultivation of medicinal plants to intensify their production and to promote their use both nationally and in the colonies.

During the years immediately after the second world war the ministry for Agriculture and Forestry became the principal subsidizer of the experimental station and consequently this period was characterized by a reasonable increase in scientific activity. Towards the end of  the 1950s, because of financial difficulties – caused by the progressive reduction of funding by the Managing Board  the Experimental Station suffered a slow decline up until the 1970s, when it ceased to exist as such and was subsequently integrated into the Botanical Garden. Following this, the abandoned areas were reclaimed for cultivation, new species were introduced and plants that were previously distributed in different areas of the Garden were regrouped together here.                                                                                  

At the moment, the Experimental Section of Medicinal Plants holds collections of plants of ethno-botanic interest. The area is divided into three zones: the expository zone, the experimental field and the orchard. Annexed to the expository zone there are two tropical greenhouses; one hot and humid and the other hot and dry.

Display Area of Useful Plants

This recently created area is characterized by small stone paths that are subdivided into sections, each one following a particular theme.

Numerous species are exhibited, easily visible when going along each path and grouped together in sections according to their purpose.

The Greenhouse of Useful Plants

In the proximity of the exposition area of the ‘useful plants’ there are two greenhouses. They were built because of the need to cultivate species particularly noted for their products of common use which would be unable to survive out in the open during the winter season.

Hot-Humid Greenhouse of Useful Plants

The hot-humid greenhouse is characterized by a minimum temperature of 18° and a humidity level of 85-90%. Among the species cultivated here are Coffee (Coffea arabica), Cocoa (Theobroma cacao), Coconut (Cocus nucifera), Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia), Pepper (Piper nigrum), Banana tree (Musa x paradisiaca) and the Mahogany tree (Swietenia mahogany).

Hot-Dry Greenhouse of Useful Plants

The hot-dry greenhouse is characterized by high temperatures and low levels of humidity; it holds various species among which are Incense (Boswellia carterii), Myrrh (Commiphora sp.) and psychotropic plants such as Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) and Pitaya (Hylocereus undatus).

Trial Fields

The area where the trial or experimental fields are found is mainly used for the cultivation of vegetal samples already present in the exhibition zone. These plants form a reserve which is useful for the substitution of plants already exhibited that are dying or dead.

In this sector, a small area has recently been added, dedicated to the cultivation of American alimentary plants of particular shape and use.

The Orchard

The orchard contains a collection of different varieties which come from various localities in the Vallo di Diano area; species that were economically important in the past but that now have actually disappeared. Among these are several Pyrus and Malus species, displayed here alongside their place of origin.

Area of the Plants Cited in the Bible

This area, recently instituted, is dedicated to plants found in the Bible. Here are displayed some of the species which are mentioned in the most significant chapters of the Holy Scriptures. This zone is divided into two sectors which are respectively dedicated to the Old and New Testament. Among the plants present in the first part we have Olive (Olea europaea), Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) and Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus).

In the second part we have exhibits of those plants that have marked the most significant moments in the life of Jesus Christ, starting with Incense (Boswellia carteri), Myrrh (Commiphora sp.), and finishing with Thorn-of-Christ (Palirus spina-Christi).

Every plant is labelled with information regarding its scientific name and the author of the species, its common name, the area of its distribution and the biblical passage in which the plant is cited.

Area for the Visually Impaired (Tactile and Olfactory Museum)

The itinerary for the blind is found in two places: the building called ‘Chalet’ and the surrounding area. The ‘Chalet’ is dedicated to the exhibition of parts of plants which correspond to various organs and that distinguish the superior species as well as the typical fragrance of some species. For the presentation of these exhibits, display stands in wood panelled caskets have been used.

The caskets are used for exhibiting parts of plants. The compartment at the top of each casket which contains the exhibited species has got a hole through which the user can perceive by touch the particular characteristics of the species; in the case of fragrant species, this happens by sense of smell.

On the side of the hole there is a brief text, written in Braille characters and providing all the relevant information regarding the contents of the casket.

The panels have four corks at the lower end impregnated with essential oils; the user can pick up any of the corks and appreciate the odour, and thanks to the wording in Braille characters next to the cork the species can also be recognized.

Along the outdoor part of the itinerary there is a hand rail engraved with details of the plants present in this zone, which are different from those represented in the ‘Chalet’ area.           

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