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History of the Institute

Botanical Institute (1913-1970)


The Botanical Institute of the Jagiellonian University was founded in 1913 as the first modern institute in Poland specializing in botany. It was formed from the transformation of the former Department of Botany, separated in 1847 from the earlier Department of Natural Sciences (active since 1780 under various names), whose accompanying department was Botanical Garden, active continuously from 1783 to the present day. The founder of the Institute was Marian Raciborski (1863-1917), a researcher of native flora and tropical plants and fungi of Indonesia (Java Island), the founder of Polish paleobotany. Raciborski became director of the Institute and Botanical Garden. He developed a thriving research school, later called the Cracow geobotanical school. Research - which continued in the following years - covered many areas of botany: systematics of various taxonomic groups, plant geography (phytogeography), ecology, paleobotany, nature conservation and the history of botany.

In 1917, Władyslaw Szafer (1886-1970), a phytogeographer and paleobotanist, became a director. He held the position in 1918-1941 and 1945-1960 and was also Rector of the Jagiellonian University (1936-1938). The Cracow geobotanical school became the leading Polish research team in botany. Of great importance for the development of ecology and phytogeography was the introduction (1923) of the methodology of phytosociology in terms of the so-called French-Swiss school of phytosociology of Josias Braun-Blanquet (1884-1980). In 1925, palynology, a specialty of paleobotany, was initiated in the Polish territory. Szafer, who was a co-founder of the nature conservation movement in Poland and Europe, conducted extensive organizational and social activities in this field together with his staff. His collaborators in the interwar period included Stanisław Kulczyński (1895-1975) - phytogeographer and phytosociologist; Bogumił Pawłowski (1898-1971) - systematist and phytosociologist counted among the leading experts on the flora of Europe's mountains; Dezydery Szymkiewicz (1885-1948) - ecologist and phytogeographer; and paleobotanists, including Jadwiga Dyakowska (1905-1992).

In 1932, the Department of Anatomy and Cytology of Plants was established, organized by Kazimierz Piech (1893-1944), a cytologist and embryologist, as well as a paleobotanist. Laboratory research was conducted, including plant embryology.


During World War II, the Nazi occupiers established on the basis of the Institute and the Garden the institution called Botanische Anstalten des Generalgouvernements (Botanical Establishments of the General Government), headed in 1941-1944 by Wilhelm Herter (1884-1958). Professor Szafer was dismissed - from 1942 he had served as rector of the underground Jagiellonian University. The Garden's assistant Bronisław Jaron (1905-1942) - a paleobotanist - was executed in Auschwitz concentration camp. Kazimierz Piech died as a result of an illness resulting from his stay in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.


In 1951-1952, as a result of the reorganization of the University, the former institutes were transformed into sets of departments. Only the Botanical Institute remained, with a changed organizational structure as a collective unit comprising three departments: The Department of Plant Systematics and Geography (also initially called the Department of Plant Systematics and Paleobotany), the Department of Plant Anatomy and Cytology (in 1952-1956 the Department of General Botany), and the Department of Plant Physiology, established in 1947, whose organizer and long-time head was plant physiologist Franciszek Górski (1897-1989) (in 1970 the department was incorporated into the newly established Institute of Molecular Biology as the Department of Plant Physiology). The former institute conducting research on plant cover corresponded to the Department of Plant Systematics and Geography.

In 1946, Maria Skalińska (1890-1977), a specialist in cytology, embryology and plant genetics, took over as head of the Department of Plant Anatomy and Cytology. Since Professor Piech's department was destroyed during the war, she reorganized the facility. Prof. Skalińska, who belonged to the founders of Polish cytogenetics, organized a thriving research team later called the Cracow school of plant cytology and embryology.

Institute of Botany since 1970

In 1970, as a result of the organizational reform of the Jagiellonian University, the Institute of Botany was established, comprising four units, the legacy of which has survived to the present day.

Currently, the Institute consists of four units:

- Department of Plant Cytology and Embryology (formerly the Department of Plant Anatomy and Cytology) (established in 1932). The management was carried out by Kazimierz Piech, Maria Skalińska, Eugenia Pogan, Janina Małecka, Lesław Przywara, Andrzej Joachimiak, now by Marzena Popielarska-Konieczna. On December, the 02, 2022 in 90th anniversary of the Department establishment, one-day scientific session which gathered former students, native and foreign scientists working in other scientific units (friendly associates as well as former alumni) was held. Currently (2024), 10 researches are employed in Department of Plant Cytology and Embryology. For more information see: Popielarska-Konieczna M. 2023. Alma Mater 239-240: 34-38.

- Department of Plant Ecology (established in 1972, active since 1973). The organizer and first head was Anna Medwecka-Kornaś, later Zbigniew Dzwonko, Szymon Zubek. Currently, the Department is headed by Agnieszka Nobis.

- Department of Plant Taxonomy, Phytogeography and Paleobotany (established in 1970, derived from the former Department of Botany existing since 1847). It functioned under the names: Department of Plant Taxonomy and Phytogeography (1970-2011), Department of Plant Taxonomy, Phytogeography and Herbarium (2011-2016), current name since 2016. Heads after 1970: Jan Kornaś, Kazimierz Szczepanek, Adam Zając, Maria Zając, Szymon Zubek, Marcin Nobis, currently Piotr Mleczko.

- Prof. Z. Czeppe Polar Research Laboratory (unit established in 1996, active since 1997 as Prof. Z. Czeppe Polar Research and Documentation Department). The unit was created by merging the Laboratory of Lichenology and Lichenoindication, operating at the Institute of Botany since 1994, and the Laboratory of Polar Research Documentation named after Prof. Zdzislaw Czeppe, previously active at the Institute of Geography (1979-1996). The organizer and first manager was Maria Olech, later the unit was headed by Piotr Köhler, now by Piotr Osyczka.

In 1957-2011, the Department of Paleobotany was active (Organizer: Andrzej Środoń, managers: Jadwiga Dyakowska, Kazimierz Szczepanek, Danuta Zdebska, Krystyna Harmata). Since March 1, 2011, the name changed to the Department of Paleobotany and Paleoherbarium, while since July 15, 2016 it was incorporated into the Department of Plant Taxonomy and Phytogeography, which became known as the Department of Taxonomy, Phytogeography and Paleobotany.

During more than a century of activity, the Institute of Botany of the Jagiellonian University, which has produced several thousand papers in various areas of botany, has become one of the important botanical centers in this part of Europe. The research of scholars associated with the Cracow geobotanical school, focusing on the issues of flora and plant cover of Poland and other geographical regions (mainly Central Europe, the Arctic, Antarctica and Asia, formerly also Africa) contributed to the description of several hundred new modern and fossil species, belonging to various systematic groups, as well as more than a hundred syntaxons new to science. Phytogeographic and ecological studies have accumulated a huge amount of data on the distribution of plants and their relationship with the environment, often highly relevant to modern conservation strategies. The research team focusing on the study of plant cytology and embryology has collected a large number of scientific facts on such issues as karyology, the process of embryogenesis, the evolutionary significance of hybridization and polyploidization processes. Crucial to the development of the center was the formulation of research programs, carried out by several generations of scholars. These include, first of all, studies of the flora and plant cover of Poland, especially its southern regions (mainly the Carpathians), work on synthetic collective studies: Polish plants, Polish Flora, Plant cover of Poland, Atlas of the distribution of vascular plants of Poland, as well as other atlases of the distribution of various groups of species, studies on the history of changes in the vegetation cover of Poland (from the Tertiary to the early postglacial), studies on the karyology of the Polish flora combined with the creation of an online database of the chromosome numbers of Polish plants. The basis for conducting research on many issues of botany are the plant collections collected at the University since the end of the 18th century (herbarium, museum, paleobotanical, cyto-embryological preparations, living collections of the Botanical Garden), as well as one of the largest botanical book collections in Poland, now integrated with the library collection of the Natural Sciences Library of the Jagiellonian University. The Institute conducts rare worldwide research on the history of botany and the history of polar exploration.

Between 1945 and 2016, about a hundred botanists worked at the Institute for extended periods of time in full-time scientific positions, among them are the classics of our plant science: Władysław Szafer and Bogumił Pawłowski employed since the pre-war period; Jan Kornaś (1923-1994) - phytogeographer, phytosociologist and taxonomist, researcher of the plant cover of Poland and other countries, including countries of Africa. Anna Medwecka-Kornaś - distinguished in ecology and phytosociology; Maria Skalińska - cytologist and embryologist, co-founder of Polish cytogenetics; and in addition to them, many other outstanding scholars whose names are permanently inscribed in the history of science. The problems of modern vegetation, as well as fungi and lichens were dealt with by, among others, Eugeniusz Dubiel (1939-2021), Karol Ermich (1904-1976), Barbara Gumińska, Janina Jentys-Szaferowa (1895-1983), Kazimierz Kostrakiewicz (1907-1975), Małgorzata Kotańska, Stefania Loster, Maria Olech, Anna Pacyna, Zbigniew Szeląg, Krystyna Towpasz, Helena Trzcińska-Tacik (1936-2020), Danuta Tumidajowicz, Katarzyna Turnau, Adam Zając and Maria Zając (1955-2018). The study of the geographical environment for botanical purposes was conducted by Marian Drużkowski (1950-2013). The research in paleobotany was carried out by, among others, Krystyna Harmata, Kazimierz Szczepanek (1931-2021), Andrzej Środoń (1908-1998) and Danuta Zdebska. Research on the problems of plant cytology and embryology was conducted by, among others, Romana Czapik (1929-2008), Romana Izmaiłow (1940-2021), Andrzej Jankun (1940-2007), Elżbieta Kuta, Janina Małecka (1926-1991), Eugenia Pogan (1919-2007), Lesław Przywara (1943-2004), Zofia Trela-Sawicka (1931-2020), Krystyna Turała-Szybowska (1934-2022) and Helena Wcisło (1920-2000).

Centennial of the Institute of Botany of the Jagiellonian University and the Jubilee Year of Krakow Botany in 2013:

The year 2013 marked three important anniversaries: 230th anniversary of the JU Botanical Garden, 100th anniversary of the JU Institute of Botany and 60th anniversary of the W. Szafer Institute of Botany of the Polish Academy of Sciences. For this reason, this year was declared the Jubilee Year of Krakow Botany. The main celebrations, which took place on September 19-21, included the Jubilee Session (September 19) and the 1st Forum of Polish Botanists entitled "Contemporary Botany - Botany in the Future?". The botanical celebration brought together about 300 people from all major centers of Poland, as well as representatives of scientific institutions from Ukraine and the United Kingdom. In addition, various events were held at institutions for which the Jagiellonian University was the parental unit: the Franciszek Górski Institute of Plant Physiology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Biology of the Pedagogical University of Kraków of the National Education Commission, the Department of Forest Botany and Nature Protection of the Hugo Kołłątaj Agricultural University in Krakow, and the Department of Physiology and Biology of Plant Development of the Faculty of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Biotechnology of the Jagiellonian University.

For more on the Jubilee, see the article by Alicja Zemanek, Piotr Köhler and Marian Drużkowski (Alma Mater 2014, February-March, no. 163-164, pp. 63-69).


The Jagiellonian University is one of the most important centers of botanical education in the country, where many generations of students have gained knowledge. Several hundred people received their doctorates here, dozens received their habilitations in various specialties. Many alumni of the two schools of science operating at the Institute, after receiving their doctoral or postdoctoral degrees at the Jagiellonian University, established their own research groups at other universities, both at home and abroad. In this way, the old scientific ideas behind the origins of universitie’s botany have flourished in successive generations, still being changed and enriched with the development of biology.


In 1912 The University leased for the institute's use a building located near the Botanical Garden at 46 Lubicz Street, purchased in 1921 by the Treasury Ministry for the Jagiellonian University, and at the end of the 20th century taken over by the W. Szafer Institute of Botany of the Polish Academy of Sciences. In 1992, botanists received almost the entire historic building of the former Astronomical Observatory, named Śniadecki Collegium in 1963. Grants received from the Social Committee for Renovation of Krakow Monuments made it possible to carry out a major renovation (1995-2000). Also restores were two single-story pavilions standing in the courtyard in front of the Collegium, the garden (western) (2008-2010) and didactic (eastern) (2011-2013). In 2014, the renovated buildings were equipped with central heating. In the same year, the reconstruction of the 19th-century fence on the side of Kopernik Street was completed, and the courtyard surface was restored. In 1995, the buildings at 31 Kopernik Street, which were given to the Botanical Garden by the municipal authorities in 1956, but were then intended for the administration of the Jagiellonian University, were recovered. A single-story herbarium pavilion (Herbarium) was arranged in 2001 and in 2003 Paleobotanical Museum was established. Carrying out these major investments were possible due to the efforts of directors Adam Zając and Maria Zając. The Department of Plant Anatomy and Cytology (later the Department of Plant Cytology and Embryology) was originally located on the second floor of the building at 1 St. Anne's St. After the war, organized anew, it resided at 20 St. John's St., later (in 1971-2013) on the second floor of the Jagiellonian University's Collegium Broscianum at 52 Grodzka Street. In October 2013, the Department was moved to the Third Campus of the Jagiellonian University, to the second floor of the building of the Institute of Zoology and Biomedical Research of the Jagiellonian University at 9 Gronostajowa St. In order to spatially integrate the Institute of Botany with the Faculty of Biology of the Jagiellonian University, thanks to the efforts of the directors of the Institute, Joanna Zalewska-Gałosz and Szymon Zubek, the Institute of Botany received from the JU authorities a renovated and adapted for scientific and didactic needs building at 3 Gronostajowa Street, on the III Campus of JU, which has been in use since 2017. Currently, in addition to the JU Third Campus, the building at 31 Kopernik Street houses only the Jagiellonian University Herbarium, which was integrated into the Jagiellonian University Botanical Garden in 2020.

Directors (Heads of Institute):

  • Marian Raciborski (1863-1917), director 1913-1917
  • Władysław Szafer (1886-1970), 1918-1941, 1945-1960
  • Bogumił Pawłowski (1898-1971), 1960 acting director, 1961-1962
  • Franciszek Górski (1897-1989), 1963-1967
  • Jan Kornaś (1923-1994), 1967-1971, 1973-1976, 1981-1992
  • Eugenia Pogan (1919-2007), 1971-1973, 1976-1981
  • Adam Zając 1992-2008
  • Maria Zając (1955-2018), 2008-2016
  • Joanna Zalewska-Gałosz 2016-2020
  • Szymon Zubek since 2020

Deputy directors (heads) for teaching (formerly: deputy directors for teaching and education):

  • Eugenia Pogan (1919-2007), deputy director 1973-1976
  • Romana Czapik (1929-2008), 1976-1981
  • Andrzej Jankun (1940-2007), 1981-1984
  • Adam Zając 1984-1985
  • Janina Małecka (1926-1991), 1985-1991
  • Romana Izmaiłow (1940-2021) 1991-2005
  • Maria Kościńska-Pająk 2005-2016
  • Grzegorz Góralski 2016-2020
  • Halina Ślesak since 2020

Deputy director (heads) for scientific affairs:

  • Szymon Zubek 2016-2020

Dean's representative for science at the Institute of Botany:

  • Aneta Słomka 2020-2024

(For more on the history of the Institute, see Alicja Zemanek's article: Alma Mater, special issue, September 2013, no. 158, pp. 10-19)