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Sure these are iconic tourist sites in Florence, but I passed by Il Porcellino, the Duomo, and the Accademia di Belle Arti which houses David. These were all lined with tourists waiting for their opportunity to see these world class attractions. I continued on up the street past where David has been kept since 1873, all the while dodging the large art prints strewn on the pavement by the street vendors who hope you will make a purchase. Soon I was past the hustle and bustle of the historic centre, and I was entering an area where only a few other keeners go: the Giardino dei Semplici of the Museo di Storia Naturale.
The botanical gardens are now associated with the University of Florence, but were originally established by Cosimo I of the Medici Family in 1545 as a garden of medicinal plants. The gardens have a long and interesting history. I was not there at the right time of year to see one of their featured plants, the Amorphophallus titanium in flower. That would have been nice to see as it is considered to be the largest unbranched flower in the world. Perhaps I was lucky not to smell it though, as I heard it lives up to its other name – corpse plant – in that it has a very strong fragrance of dead carrion.
Moving along through the garden, I was able to see some intriguing herbariums containing very fine and healthy specimens of carnivorous plants. The gardens are set up in a series of thematic plots, some containing poisonous plants, and some with specimens of coffee, tea and a whole lot of other useful plants. I spent a lot of time studying each section, but perhaps for me, the most interesting beds were the evolutionary garden and the fescues. In the evolutionary garden, a small knoll has been built up, and the plants are organized so that as you proceed along the path, you walk through the ‘living fossils’ like the cycads, ferns and horsetails and make your way to the conifers.
I wondered why I was so fascinated by the fescue plants growing in tiny pots along the back wall of the garden. Perhaps it was because we define our biomes in part by the climax species, and much of Alberta is in the fescue grasslands biome. Perhaps it was because rough fescue (Festuca scabrella) was adopted by the province of Alberta in 2003 as our environmental emblem for grass. Or maybe the reason I found this display so interesting is because this garden’s collection of over 300 specimens of fescue is used for scientific and genomic studies, including the 2007 paper that examined the divergence of fescue as chromosome and genomic size expanded and then contracted.
If you are going to Florence, don’t miss visiting the Giardino dei Semplici, otherwise you can do a virtual visit to these botanical gardens.
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