Nature Research Centre, Vilnius (Lithuania)
National Museum of Natural History, Paris (France)
The Mammal Research Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences,
Białowieża Primeval Forest (Poland)
Institute for the History of Science and Technology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow (Russia)
Contribution of Vilnius University to the Flora Studies of the 19th-Century Białowieża Primeval Forest
The Białowieża Primeval Forest (BPF), the royal property of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and its unique fauna and flora have been attracting attention of poets, artists and scientists since the early modern times. Until the nineteenth century, the BPF was mainly referred to in relation to royal hunts and the European bison. The first more detailed overview of the forest of Białowieża with descriptions of its physiography, flora and fauna was presented in Juliusz Brincken’s (1789–1846) book Mémoire descriptif sur la forêt impériale de Białowieża, en Lithuanie (1826). It was popularly written and full of mistakes, which, paradoxically, contributed to the development of scientific knowledge on the BPF, as many papers and books were published to correct J. Brincken’s mistakes. One of the most prominent papers of this series was written by the pharmacist, botanist and entomologist of the Imperial Vilnius University and the Vilnius Medical-Surgical Academy Stanislaw Batys Gorski (1802–1864). In 1823 and 1826, Gorski travelled to investigate the BPF, where he collected plant specimens. Expedition results were published in special reports, one of which was entitled O roślinach Zubrom upodobanych, jakoteż innych w pusczy Białowiezkiey [About the favorite plants of the European bison and other plants from the Bialowieza forest] (1829). This paper was the first scientific publication on the BPF’s plants. Its importance lies in the fact that Gorski made a critical evaluation of the information about plants presented by Brincken (1826) and falsified the hypothesis on the favorite plants of the European bison, which were believed to be the deciding factor for their survival in this particular forest.
In our presentation, we will discuss the significance of Gorski’s expedition to the forest of Białowieża for the historical studies of the common natural heritage of Poland and Lithuania. On the basis of the available manuscripts and the publication O roślinach Zubrom upodobanych, jakoteż innych w pusczy Białowiezkiey (1829), we will attempt to critically evaluate the materials collected during Gorski’s expeditions to the BPF and will review the collection of plants from the 19th century Białowieża forest, which is stored in Vilnius University’s herbarium.