Mexican Botanical Garden

Date: 1790
Owner: Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla
Source Type: Images


This is the floor plan for the Royal Botanical Garden in Mexico City, an institution begun by Martin de Sesse y Lacasta (1751-1808) and his Royal Scientific Expedition to New Spain in 1785. Unlike Jose Celestino Mutis's botanical expedition in Colombia, Sesse's expedition was not initiated by the Spanish crown but by Sesse himself for the explicit purpose of establishing the botanical gardens. In this sense, Sesse predated even Alexander von Humboldt as an independently motivated observer of American nature. Concurrent with the opening of the gardens, Sesse oversaw the creation of a botany course at the University of Mexico, the first of its kind in New Spain, which helped to promulgate Linnaean taxonomy and other facets of European Enlightened science. The expedition lasted from 1785 to 1800, and with the help of Mexican naturalist Jose Mariano Mozino, Sesse collected and cataloged many plants from Mexico and the Caribbean that were unknown to Europeans.

The botanical gardens and the university course were exercises in both Enlightened science and commercialism. They promoted botany as a useful art that could improve the lives of Americans and Europeans alike in everyday ways. Thus one of the primary functions of the gardens was to cultivate cinchona, the plant that produced quinine, a drug known to prevent and help cure malaria. To help support the gardens financially and to promote overseas trade in American flora, the gardens also specialized in growing coca.

Reference: Engstrand. Iris H. W. Spanish Scientists in the New World: The Eighteenth-Century Expeditions. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981.
CITATION: Plan of the Botanical Garden of Mexico, by Miguel Costanso, showing working and living quarters for scientists and professors. Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla.