Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid and Casimiro Gómez-Ortega
Casimiro Gómez-Ortega (1741–1818) played a major role in expanding Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden, which, under Charles III, he turned into an influential center of correspondence and interactions between Spanish naturalists, European colleagues, and New World collectors. As professor of botany at the Garden, he and fellow professor Antonio Palau y Verdera (1734–1793) emulated the strategies for France’s Jardin du Roi to create a global network to increase botanical knowledge. Ortega envisioned naturalists, travelers, colonial administrators, and natural history institutions sending specimens and descriptions to the Jardín, where it would serve as
the center of correspondence . . ., of useful experiments on botany and agriculture, and of the propagation of plants worthy of being multiplied.
The evolution of Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden demonstrates the perspective of many governments and botanical gardens of the eighteenth century. Empires saw their territories as opportunities for new botanical commodities. Gómez-Ortega said:
It is useless to possess the most benign and fertile territories in the world if we do not attempt to profit from the natural products that they grant us, extending knowledge and consumption of them within the country, and fostering their extraction through free trade. Without these measures, the most expansive territories become sterile deserts, as useless to their colonists as to the metropole.
Bleichmar, Daniela. Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
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