Flora Sinensis

412 - Biblioteka Kórnicka (Kórnik, Poland)

Alternate Titles:

Flora of China, Pflanzen Chinas

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Alternate Titles

Flora of China
Pflanzen Chinas

Extent / Format

75 pages / 34.4 x 23.6 cm

Artist / School

Michał Boym (1612 - 1659)


23 figures

Short description

The natural environment of Asia was still largely unknown to 17th century Europeans. Few researchers dared to penetrate into such remote regions. The Polish Jesuit and missionary Michał Boym was one of the first European scientists to visit the regions of East Asia. He created the first systematic botanical encyclopedia about China, the so-called Flora Sinensis. His work was first published in Vienna in 1656. It contains highly-detailed woodcut illustrations of plants, which were hand-colored with watercolors. Boym described the most important plants in China and particularly emphasized their medicinal and economic worth.

Facsimile editions available


Flora Sinensis

The so-called Flora Sinensis was the first description of an ecosystem in the Far East, which appeared in Europe. This work is simultaneously the first written depiction of the plant world of a geographic region bearing the designation “flora.” It was composed by the scientist and Jesuit Michał Boym, who emphasized the medicinal properties of Chinese plants above all else in his collected edition. Alongside the systematic description of plants, the work also contains appeals for the support of the Catholic emperor of China. Similarly, it contains a poem of homage to Emperor Leopold I, in which each line contains a chronogram for the year 1655, the year of Leopold’s coronation as King of Hungary.

A Well-Travelled Scientist

Michał Piotr Boym lived ca 1612-1659 and was a Polish scientist, explorer, Jesuit, and missionary in China. He was one of the first Europeans to have travelled central china and composed numerous books about Asiatic fauna, flora, and geography. The son of a doctor joined the Jesuits at age 16, was ordained a priest, and travelled the regions of the entire world at the behest of his order. His travels led him from Lisbon and Goa, through Venice, and across Persia to Vietnam and the remotest regions of Asia. Boym spent a long period at the court of the Christian Emperor Yongli, the last ruler of the Ming dynasty. The Jesuit was famous for his descriptions of the flora, fauna, history, traditions, and customs of the lands he visited. His most famous work is the Flora Sinensis, the “Chinese Flora,” first printed in Vienna in the year 1656.

The First Plant Lexicon of China

Boym’s treatise comprises 75 pages with 23 color illustrations. The pictures are woodcuts that have been colored by hand with great care. It is not only plants, but also creatures great and small in typical artistic poses, e.g. foraging unicorns or hippos wading through shallow waters. The focus of the work lies however on the description of far-eastern plant life. He considered these from various perspectives and analyzed their respective medical and economic uses. With his work, he created the first and most important source of information about the land of China, which was still largely unknown among his contemporaries. The text was translated into various texts soon after its publication. It is still of immense significance today for the research of the natural and scientific history of Europe.

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