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Crown jewels

Crown jewels

Snippendaal Garden

In the 17th century, medicinal herbs were of vital importance as a basis for medicines. Doctors and pharmacists were trained and took their exams at the Hortus’s garden. In 1646, Johannes Snippendaal was appointed as prefect (director) of the Hortus Medicus Amsterdam. In that same year he managed to catalogue the entire collection of the Hortus. By the end of that year, he had counted 796 different plant species, the majority of which were medicinal plants, but special ornamental plants were also included. By drawing up this list, he essentially wrote the first catalogue of the Hortus Medicus Amsterdam. In our Snippendaal garden, several species of plants from our 17th century collection can be found


This is probably the most famous plant in our Hortus collection. Each year in May, the giant water lily is cultivated from small seeds and planted in our outdoor pond. From then on, we can only wait for the first flower to bloom. In 1859 the Victoria bloomed for the first time in the Netherlands, at the Hortus’s garden in Amsterdam. The giant water lily can only be seen during the summer months.

This year the victoria water lily won’t be on display.


In the corner of our garden, overlooking the Plantage area, you will find one of the oldest buildings on the Hortus’s premises, dating from 1683. The foundation was laid in the 17th century. In 1877, new windows and a new covering were built. The building was used for the storage of seeds, hence the name seed house. It was part of the old Palm Greenhouse, which was later replaced by the current Hugo de Vries laboratory.


Hugo de Vries has played an important role in the history of genetics. At the end of the 19th century, the garden gained international fame as Hugo became its managing director. To keep the professor in Amsterdam, the university board built the current Palm Greenhouse and the Hugo de Vries laboratory. They gave him his own entrance gate, right across the street from his house at the Plantage Parklaan, saving him the long walk around the garden.


For a long time the Wollemi pine was only known from prehistoric fossils. Until, in 1994, a park ranger discovered  a group of 60 living specimens in the Blue Mountains, just 60 miles (100 kilometres) from Sydney.  With only such a small number of specimens alive, a species is very vulnerable to extinction. The offspring of this small group of trees has been spread around the world, mainly to botanic gardens, to protect them from extinction and to show the species to the public.


In winter, the monumental  Palm Greenhouse (built in 1912) accommodates a large collection of palms, cycads and pot plants. While most of the container plants are moved outside in summer, the larger ones, like the famous 350-year-old Eastern Cape giant cycad (Encephalartos altensteinii) and the Philodendron bipinnatifidum with its long aerial roots, remain in the Palm Greenhouse all year round.

Legend has it that Hugo de Vries personally planted the cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum burmannii) and the two ficus trees (F. macrophylla and F. lyrata) for teaching purposes.


This group of primitive plants evolved more than 300 million years ago – long before the Age of Dinosaurs. Cycads are related to conifers; instead of flowers, they grow cones. Plants are male or female. Due to their slow life cycle, cycads are very vulnerable to threats like habitat destruction and illegal trade. Therefore they are protected by international law.

Ginkgo Biloba

The ginkgo or maidenhair tree is seen as a living fossil. It is the only remaining species of both the genus Ginkgo as the family Ginkgoaceae, with fossils recognisably related from the Permian, dating back 270 million years. Ginkgo has its origins in China. In the 9th Century the tree was imported into Japan where it was planted in temple gardens. The leaves are unique among seed plants, being fan-shaped with parallel veins.


Because of the high prices Arabs charged for coffee, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) decided to cultivate coffee themselves in their Batavian colonies. In 1706, the first shipment of propagated coffee seeds reached Amsterdam. The coffee plants grew well in the Greenhouses of the Amsterdam Hortus. The offspring of these plants was eventually shipped to South America, which is now home to the world’s largest coffee producers.

Bees and Butterflies

Bees and butterflies depend on flowers for their food. At the same time, these insects are of vital importance for the pollination of plants. While bees and butterflies drink the sugar-rich nectar, pollen grains get trapped on their (mostly hairy) bodies and legs. The insects take these pollen with them on their trip to the next flower, where they stick to the pistils. Only when a plant is successfully pollinated, fertile seeds can be produced to ensure a new generation. A crucial symbiotic relationship.


The Three Climate Greenhouse was designed in 1993 as a huge, ultramodern building. In this Greenhouse, one can find three different zones with different climates, representing the subtropics, the desert, and the tropics. This is the Hortus on a small scale; different routes take you on an ‘outdoor’ adventure through bushes, desert and jungle. A beautiful treetop walk brings visitors close to the tree tops.


The Cape Fynbos in the subtropical zone represents one of the  typical vegetation types found in South Africa. The Fynbos is known for its exceptional biodiversity. Since the 17th century, plants from South Africa have played an important role in the Hortus’s collection. Ships of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) brought the first species to Amsterdam, of which many ornamental flowers now are a common sight in our living rooms, like Pelargonium and Clivia.


South African quiver trees are rare and protected worldwide. Trading and transporting  these plants is only allowed if one has the necessary permits. Customs officers regularly confiscate aloes. Sometimes, the Hortus tends to these plants until a judge decides what should be done with them. The large quiver trees in the desert section of the Three-climate Greenhouse were confiscated in the mid-1990s and eventually given to the Hortus.

Oil Palm

This plant grows naturally in West Africa. In the first half of the 19th Century, seeds were brought to the Amsterdam Hortus. In 1848, two seedlings were shipped to Buitenzorg (Indonesia) for cultivation. These palms formed the basis for the large oil palm plantations on Sumatra that were set up from 1919 on. The ‘Deli’ cultivar turned out to be very productive and has since been planted on a large scale in other parts of the world, unfortunately not always to the benefit of the local tropical rainforests.

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You can reach us on our general number: +31 20 625 9021