Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam

Established in 1638, the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. Though it covers only 1.2 hectares, it holds about 4,000 plant species from across all continents, including many threatened plant species such as cycads. I recently visited Amsterdam in order to see the Hortus and its beautiful, unusual, and rare plants. These are just a few of the many photos I took during the day that I was able to spend there.

Philodendron bipinnatifidum



White-topped pitcher plant (Sarracenia leucophylla)


Lobelia cardinalis


Cannomois virgata


Bush lily (Clivia miniata)


Eastern Cape giant cycad (Encephalartos altensteinii)

This specimen of Encephalartos altensteinii or Eastern Cape Giant Cycad is one of the oldest potted plants in the Western world. This plant originates from the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa and was transported to the Netherlands about 300 years ago. In 1850 the Hortus bought the plant from the plant collection of the late Dutch King William the Second. Since that day this specimen has been the showpiece of the Hortus.


Of the Hippotame, or River-Horse from A description of the Nature of Four-Footed Beasts, With their Figures Engraven in Brass by Joannes Jonstonus (Amsterdam, 1678)


Following Aristotle, hether I refer the River-Horse; though others, and perhaps more properly, to another head. Hee is called an Horse, not from his shape, but his greatnesse. Hee is stiled the Horse of Nile, and the Sea-ox, and the Sea-hog, that afore resembles an ox, in the rest of the body, a swine; called a Sea-Elephant, from his vastnesse, and the whiteness, and hardnesse of his teeth; and the Elephant of Egpt, the Rosmarus, the Rohart, the Gomarus, in Pretebans country.

Writers differ in describing him. Some say that hee is five cubites high, and hath ox-hoofs, three teeth sticking out each side of his mouth, greater out then any other beasts, eared, tayled, and neighing like the horse, in the rest like the Elephant; he hath a mane, a snout turning up, in his inwards not unlike a horse, or asse, without hair; taken by boats.

Bellonius saw a small one at Byzantium, cow-headed, beardard, short, and roundish, wider jaw’d then a lion, wilde nostrills, broad lips turning up, sharp teeth as a horse, the eyes and tong very great, his neck short, tayled like a hog, swag-bellied like a sow; his feet so short, that they are scant foure fingers high from the ground. But Fabius Columna describes him most accurately from the carcasse of one, preserved in salt, brought by a Chirurgion called Nicholas Zerenghus from Damiata into Italy; hee saith, that he was liker an ox then a horse, and about that size, leg’d like a bear, thirteen foot long from head to tayl, foure foot and an half broad, three foot & an half high, squat-bellied, his legs three foot and an half long, and three foot round; his foot a foot broad, the hoofs each three inches, groutheaded, two foot and an half broad, three foot long, seven foot about in compasse, his mouth a foot wide, snout-fleshy and turning up, litle-eyed, each an inch wide, and two long, the ears about three, the bulke thick, the foot broad, parted into foure toes, the ankle hard of flesh, tayled like a tortoys: skin thick, tough, black. The nostrils like an S, snouted as a lion, or cat, with some stragling hairs, nor are any more in the whole body, in the under-chap, thwart half a foot long, &c. like a boar-tusks, not sticking out, but plainly seene, the mouth opening, &c. On each side seven cheek-teeth, thick, broad, and very short.

In the upper-chap, which he moves like a crocodile, wherewith hee chews, stand six fore-teeth, aptly answering those beneath, &c.

The teeth are hard as a flint, and will strike fire, so that by night rubbing his teeth, he seems to vomit fire. His proper place is said to be Saiticæ in Egypt. There are of them also in the River Niger, and in the Sea that washes Petzora.

Barbosa hath seen many in Gofala.

He observed many there comming forth of the Sea into the pasture-grounds, and returning again: They feed also on ripe corn, and yellow-ears.

When he is grown up, he begins to try his strength with his Sire, if he can master him, hee then proves his masteries with the Dam, and leaves his Sire; if he offer to resist, he kills him.

They bring forth young on the dry land, and there brings them up: They are so fruitful, that they teeme every year. He comes out of Nilus into the fields, and having filled his belly with corn, he returns backwards, that the husbandmen may not surprize him, or by his averse footing to amuse the hunts-men; since he is as harmful as the Crocodile. He being overburdened with his own grosse bulk, he rubs himself against the canes, till he hath opened a vein, and having bled enough, he stops the vein with mud: whether he neigh, or no, is disputed.

The Ethiops eat him. About the promontory Cabo Lopez in Guinee a Schipper of the Hage and his mates saw it; and in the town Ulibet they saw many of their heads, wherein were teeth of a wonderfull bignesse. One Firmius Seleucius eat an Hippotame. They are also medicinable; the Egyptians use the teeth against emrods, shut or open, tying them on, or wearing a ring made thereof. The Blackmoors use it also as a preservative against a certain disease. Pliny extolls those teeth for a speciall remedy for toot-ache; and the fat against a raging Fever.

The ashes of the skin with water smeared, dissolves waxen-kernels.

The skin of the forehead slakes lust: the stones dryed, is good against the bite of a Serpent: the parts as otherwise also useful.

Pausanius saith, that the face of his mother Dindymena was formed of the Hippotames teeth. Pliny saith, that the Painters use the blood dissolv’d in gum-water instead of red-lead. They that are be-smeared with the fat, may safely go among Crocodiles. Some say, that they who are covered with the skin, are thunder free.

Pliny saith, that the hide, especially about the back is so thick, that therewith strong spears may be shaped, and shaved by the turner.


An Account of the Sad Mischief Befallen the Inhabitants of the Isle of Sorea, Near Unto the Molucco’s, for Which They Have Been Forced to Leave Their Countrey (From The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Volume 19, London, 1695, abr.)

<strong>Moluccae insulae (1602) by cartographer Petrus Bertius</strong>

Moluccae insulae (1602) by cartographer Petrus Bertius

An Account of the Sad Mischief Befallen the Inhabitants of the Isle of Sorea, Near unto the Molucco’s, for Which They Have Been Forced to Leave Their Countrey. Contained in a Letter, Written in Those Parts, to the Right Worshipful, Nicholas Witzen, Burgermaster of Amsterdam, etc. in the Year 1693. And by Him Communicated to Dr. Martin Lister, S. R. S.

In the beginning of the easterly season, the isle of Sorea, situated towards the south-east of these islands, consisting for the most part of one mountain, which now is more terribly shaken than ever before, casting out abundance of fire and smoke, only with some short intermissions. And when the easterly wind had blown about six or seven weeks, till about the 4th of June, the inhabitants being almost so far used to the trembling and casting up of fire that they were careless, the mountain Sorea began early in the morning to cast out more fire than ordinary, which continued for five or six days, during which it was dark and cloudy weather, till at last it brought forth not only a most prodigious flame, but also such a black and sulphureous vapour, that the inhabitants of Hislo, a village in the western part of the island, and nearest to the opening of the mountain, were wholly covered by it, and afterwards followed a whole stream of burning brimstone, which consumed many that could not escape. Afterwards the inhabitants perceived that a part of the mountain was sunk down, and three or four days after another part; and so from time to time, until the burning lake was become almost half the space of the island. Wherefore the inhabitants went on board their vessels and boats, from whence they perceived that huge pieces of the mountain fell into this fiery lake, as into a bottomless pit, with a most prodigious noise, as if a large cannon were discharged. It was remarkable, that the more vehement the fire was, the less the island was shaken.

The inhabitants of another town, called Woroe, upon the east side of the island, not thinking themselves in so great danger, the opening or fiery lake being yet at some distance, remained a month longer, until they saw the same continually approaching them: they observed that when great pieces fell down, and that the lake became wider, the noise was so much the greater, so that they saw no likelihood but that all the island would be swallowed up; wherefore they unanimously transported themselves to Banda, leaving all their moveables for want of vessels.