The Botanic Garden was founded in 1770 by the abbot Gianbattista Guatteri, the Professor of Botany at Parma and first director. In 1793 the building of the glasshouses, designed by the architect E.A.Petitot, completed the project of the Botanic Garden. In 1816, when Giorgio Jan took over the running of the Garden, plant collections were enriched with his precious portable phanerogamic herbaria.

In 1845 Jan was succeeded by Giovanni Passerini, whose directorship marked further, more modern developments in research and teaching; Passerini included the use of the optical microscope for the direct observation of vegetable preparations during teaching laboratories of botany. He became also internationally famous for his brilliant studies -which are still relevant- about parasite cryptograms.

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