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Iconographia Plantarum 本草圖譜

The book Iconographia Plantarum was compiled by the Japanese herbalist Tsunemasa Iwasaki (1786-1842) in 1828. The entire collection contains 95 volumes and records in total about 2,000 species of herbs. The author personally trekked across mountains and hills to survey and gather all of the herbs and plants profiled, most of which had to be grown for years before they could actually be sketched for this collection. Rendered in intricate five-color woodcut prints, the plants are depicted with an artist’s touch and make browsing this collection a pleasure.

The Chinese medical book Bencao Gangmu, written by Li Shizhen in the Ming Dynasty, was introduced to Japan in the 17th century. Its arrival brought an immediate impact on the practice of Chinese herbal medicine in Japan. At the time, Japanese practitioners of Chinese medicine developed their own theories through studying, copying and editing the work of foreign scholars. By publishing the graphic Iconographia Plantarum, Tsunemasa Iwasaki made up for the inadequacies of the Bencao Gangmu, which features explicit and well-written records but lacks any illustrations. Illustrators of previous works of herbalism often lacked the knowledge necessary to capture all the scientific attributes of the medicinal herbs they drew. Illustrations created upon the basis of written descriptions only were common, and were both inaccurate and unscientific. The publication of Iconographia Plantarum amends the flaw and serves as a major step in the documentation of botanical research.

nota bene: The first edition was published in 1848, while the copy displayed here is a 1916 version. The original copy was destroyed in a major earthquake in Japan. The classification of herbs in the Iconographia Plantarum follows that of the Bencao Gangmu. Each species of herb includes a colorful print. This book is a rare edition in Japan. The displayed copy preserved at Forestry Research Institute is the only complete version in Taiwan.


Digital Archives Project of TFRI's Library of Forestry Literature in The Period of Japanese-Database of TFRI’s Forestry Literature in the Period of Japanese Colonization