The Botanical Garden of the University of Pisa was founded in 1543 by the illustrious Pisan physician and botanist Luca Ghini (Imola 1490 - Bologna 1556), who had been offered the Chair of Botany by Grand Duke Cosimo I de'' Medici.
It is the oldest university-related botanical garden in Europe.
The only parts of the garden that have retained their original appearance are the old institute, featuring a façade decorated with shells and madrepores, the similarly decorated gateposts just opposite, and six of the eight fountains.
Since its early years the garden has played an important educational role. Today it provides materials for botany courses and support for research programmes in scientific branches such as biology, genetics and ecology, and in applied sectors such as pharmacology, veterinary medicine and agronomy.
The part of the garden that lies north of the Department of Botanical Sciences includes the arboretum, with trees belonging to the coniferous and amentiferous groups. Outside the arboretum there are various trees of historical importance. The oldest specimens are to be found in the Orto del Cedro (Cedar Garden) - a Magnolia grandiflora (southern magnolia) and a Ginkgo biloba (ginkgo), both planted in 1787 by the prefect Giorgio Santi.
A series of plants grouped by families in the flowerbeds of the Botanical School make it possible to appreciate the similarities existing between the different plant groups in terms of their floral structure and morphological features.
The section known as "Orto del Mirto", thus named after an extremely old specimen of Myrtus communis, contains some 140 species of officinal plants, some of them (castor plant, foxglove, etc.) used in the Italian pharmacopeia. Aquatic plants are represented by a collection of mostly autochthonous species which in former times characterized Tuscany. Some of them, such as the Caltha palustris (cowslip) have disappeared from their natural environment; others, such as the Hibiscus palustris and the Nuphar lutea (yellow water lily) are on the brink of extinction because of water pollution and hydraulic reclamation. The garden also grows numerous exotic aquatic plants such as the Victoria regia Lindley (Victoria water lily).
The collection of Mediterranean geophytes includes herbaceous species belonging for the most part to the genera Allium, Ornithogalum and Muscari, all coming from different parts of the Mediterranean basin and making the object of cytotaxonomic and geobotanical studies.
A whole greenhouse is dedicated to succulents. These include both cauline succulent species such as the Cactaceae and the Euphorbiaceae and leaf succulent specimens such as the genera Aloe and Agave. A greenhouse is equipped with sophisticated control equipment designed to preserve a collection of tropical plant species.
Cultivated species include Araceae, Bromeliaceae, Commelinaceae, Orchidaceae and a number of food plants including the papaya, pepper, coffee, tamarind, passionflower and Eugenia. A small collection of Apuan species includes the Biscutella apuana, the Centaurea arachnoidea and the Daphne alpina. The plants were collected following an agreement with the Nature Park of the Apuan Alps. Italian Egyptological studies have a privileged seat in Pisa. The collection comprises herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees cultivated in ancient Egypt to be used as food and drugs or for cosmetic and industrial purposes.