The Strahov Monastery Dendrological Library

This was originally published on Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens.

The beautiful Strahov Monastery, which sits on a hill overlooking the city of Prague, was one of my favorite stops when I visited a couple of years ago. While the two ornate libraries are the main attractions (and rightly so, they’re absolutely gorgeous) there is a single bookcase which contains some fascinating books for plant-lovers and the curious. It’s easily overlooked and I suspect missed by the majority of the visitors. I nearly missed it myself until one of the docents pointed it out to me as we stood huddled in the corner by the shelf waiting for tour group mobs to disperse enough to peak inside the Theological Hall. This bookshelf contains the monastery’s dendrological collection or xyloteka, books unlike any other you’re likely to have seen. Each of the 68 volumes feature one Czech tree which was common to the area in the 1800’s, but not as a book with words printed on pages. The books look like ordinary books at first glance, but upon closer inspection you  will discover that they’re made out of the tree, that’s not to say processed paper, but the actual tree in it’s original form. The 2″ spine, with Latin and German labels, is covered in bark and lichen from the tree while the panels of the book are made from the wood of the tree.  Inside the books, one or two of which are open inside the case, is a collection of leaves, flowers, roots, fruit, branches and even pests from the tree. Inside the spine in a compartment is a written description of the tree.

These books are a beautiful example of craftsmanship and art. The books are said to have been made by an anonymous monk in 1825. I thought they were incredibly beautiful for their craftsmanship  but also because of the concept. They display a topic by encompassing the topic in every way. What a beautiful way to celebrate the native and local trees of a country. I know more of these books exist, has anyone ever seen any somewhere else?

The xyloteka shelf at Strahov Monastery in Prague.

The xyloteka shelf at Strahov Monastery in Prague.

About the Author

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist and author based in Seattle. She founded and writes The Metropolitan Field Guide, a blog for ideas, thoughts and resources for the design of urban wildlife habitat and has contributed articles to a variety of other websites and publications. She earned a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon in 2009 and continues to take various classes on nature. She is currently enrolled in a certificate program for non-fiction writing at the University of Washington. On the side she also photographs the natural world and sells nature related arts and crafts in her Etsy Nature Shop.

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