Baron Achille de Zigno (1813–1892) of Padua published dozens of articles on the early Mesozoic floras from the Venetia region of Italy. His magna opera, however, were the two volumes of the Flora fossilis formationis oolithicae (Volume 1 (1856–1867) and Volume 2 (1873–1885), Padua University Press, Padua). In these he aimed to put the Venetian Jurassic plants in context with what were then considered oolitic floras from around the world. Like many of his contemporaries, his research has been revised both taxonomically and stratigraphically, so that the fossil plants he described from the calcari grigi are now regarded as older than Middle Jurassic. His collection of over 3000 specimens of Italian fossil plants, now kept in the University of Padua, continued to attract researchers during the 20th century from across Europe who used light microscopy to investigate them. Today electron microscopy is being applied to Baron Zigno’s specimens that are of importance not only as representatives of a rare Middle Liassic flora but also of value in the palaeobiogeography of the Tethys area in Lower Jurassic times.
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Often regarded as the ‘Cinderella’ of palaeontological studies, palaeobotany has a history that contains some fascinating insights into scientific endeavour, especially by palaeontologists who were perusing a personal interest rather than a career. The problems of maintaining research facilities in universities, especially in the modern era, are described and reveal a noticeable absence of a national UK strategy to preserve centres of excellence in an avowedly specialist area. Accounts of some of the pioneers demonstrate the importance of collaboration between taxonomists and illustrators. The importance of palaeobotany in the rise of geoconservation is outlined, as well as the significant and influential role of women in the discipline. Although this volume has a predominantly UK focus, two very interesting studies outline the history of palaeobotanical work in Argentina and China.