What is a florilegium ?

The short answer is that a florilegium is a book of flowers.

ETYMOLOGY. The word “florilegium” (plural, "florilegia") comes from the New Latin word florilegium, which means "gathering flowers::  flor, flowers  +  legere, to gather. The origin of this New Latin word was the Greek word anthologia, anthology, flower-gathering. The phonetic pronunciation is flor-uh-lee-jee-um.

EARLIEST HISTORY. The books cited as most likely establishing the definition of “florilegium” as a book of flowers are Florilegium and Florilegium Novum. Florilegium was the title of a small book published in Antwerp, Northern Belgium, around 1590 by the engraver Adrian Collaert. The entire content of the book consisted of small engraved flower pictures. The term was again used in the title of a comprehensive botanical work, Florilegium Novum, by Theodore de Bry, a printer and publisher in Frankfurt, Germany. Theodore de Bry died in 1598 before publication of Florilegium Novum. Responding to a growing demand for botanical texts, his son, Johann Theodore de Bry, first issued Florilegium Novum between 1612 and 1618.

FLOWER GARDENS & FLOWER BOOKS. The publication of florilegia in the 1600s began in response to a number of factors. During the European aesthetic revolution of the 1600s, plants in general and their fruits and flowers in particular came to be appreciated for their beauty and visual appeal. Prior to this time, plants were valued primarily for their medicinal, culinary, and household uses. This newly developing aesthetic appreciation coincided with European empires expanding and establishing trade routes throughout the world, making it possible for royal and wealthy patrons to import exotic species of plants, flowers, and fruits. All these imported beautiful and exotic plants led to development of a new concept in gardening—the “flower garden.” Instead of growing a garden of herbal and medicinal plants for practical use, the flower garden was planted solely to display plants for their aesthetic value. The garden gave pleasure and enjoyment as well as status to the patron. Florilegia, or “flower books,” were initially books of the cultivated plants in these flower gardens. These florilegia were “beautiful books,” usually having as the only text the name of the plant.

MODERN FLORILEGIA. Today, florilegia are compiled as visual records of a living collection of plants, such as the plants in a particular botanical garden or region, or perhaps a group of endangered plants. Florilegia can also be published as a book, or they can exist as a curated collection of botanical art. A contemporary example of a published florilegium is the Highgrove Florilegium, a two-volume collection of botanical illustrations of the plants in the gardens of HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, at Highgrove House, in Gloucestershire, England.

THE SONORAN DESERT FLORILEGIUM. Over time, florilegia have come to play a broader role in botanical and historical documentation. In keeping with the Sonoran Desert Florilegium Program’s goal to promote conservation and appreciation of Sonoran Desert plants through botanical art, the program has established a florilegium to document plants native to the Sonoran Desert Region.

Unlike many florilegia, the Sonoran Desert Florilegium is neither a published collection of works nor a physical collection of paintings. Rather, it is an online collection of digital images of botanical art that can reach a far wider audience than a curated collection of actual artworks.

With an online collection, visitors can view the works of the florilegium, zoom in to see intricate plant details, follow links to the artists’ other works, and read interpretive materials. The advantage of a digital collection over a physical collection is that these works of botanical art are always available for viewing online.

As the Sonoran Desert Florilegium expands its online collection, artists, scientists, and the general public can gain an appreciation of the scientific accuracy and aesthetic value of the art and an awareness of the unique and fascinating flora of the Sonoran Desert.