Photo of book spines from the rare books room

The Bolus Herbarium Library owes its existence to Harry Bolus, a businessman, amateur botanist, and botanical artist, who, on his death in 1911, bequeathed his herbarium, his botanical library, and a large part of his fortune to the South African College, (now the University of Cape Town).

Originally a taxonomic library, the Bolus Herbarium Library has been nurtured and developed. Today, in addition to its magnificent collection of early botanical works, it houses a comprehensive collection of modern literature relating to systematic and evolutionary botany, plant ecology, ecophysiology and conservation ecology (much of it in a South African context), as well as numerous international journals focusing on these specific topics.

It is likely that when Harry Bolus first became interested in South African flora in 1865, Thunberg’s Flora Capensis, the first two volumes of Harvey and Sonder’s Flora Capensis, and perhaps Harvey’s Genera of South African Plants were all that were available to him. Today, the Bolus Library contains a great wealth of early botanical works including the writings of early travellers who visited southern Africa and explored its flora–such as Commelin’s Horti Medici Amstelodamensis, published in 1697 and 1701.

Harry Bolus developed his library by obtaining books from Europe through C. Louis Leipoldt, whose medical studies he sponsored in London. In 1946, Leipoldt’s library was bequeathed to the Bolus Herbarium.

In 1948, Henri Fourcade, by profession a land surveyor based in the southern Cape, left his herbarium, botanical library, as well as funds (originally destined for the Royal Society), to the Bolus Herbarium. A further valuable bequest was received in the form of General J.C. Smuts’s botanical library, some funds and part of his herbarium collection, in 1950. Together these bequests have made it possible to continue building up this extra-ordinary library.