What a mountain, a tree and a scientist have in common

Milena Mihajlovic | Live the World

November 23, 2022

There is one kind of a tree that was amongst the most dominant species in Europe before the ice ages and now lives in only 60ha in the whole world. There is a mountain that used to hold a name of the king but now holds a name of a person whose grave it keeps. There is a scientist that mapped most of the plants in the Balkans and classified a good part of already known European plants.

This tree, the scientist, and the mountain have more in common than just the Serbian origin. They share a name. A very important name in the science world, and one that makes every Serb proud - Pancic.

Who was Pancic?

Picture source: www.nspm.rs

Josif Pancic was a big mind of 19th-century European scientific society, a medical doctor by profession and a naturalist by his passion. He is the man responsible for the opening of Botanical Garden "Jevremovac." The botanical garden that is still open and represents a real oasis in the middle of the concrete desert in Belgrade.

Pancic’s name lives as an integral part of the Latin names of all the plant species that he has discovered. The most important one is certainly Serbian Spruce, or Pancic’s spruce, in literal translation from Serbian and Bosnian. Pancic was also the first president of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and a big fan of Kopaonik mountain range. It is almost a love story how the highest peak of Kopaonik got renamed to Pancic’s Peak.

How Pancic’s Peak got its name

The highest peak of Kopaonik was for a very long time named after Serbian king Milan, who was also fond of the mountain.The legend says it that Kopaonik was the favorite escape place of the famed botanist. It’s documented that he visited this mountain 16 times in his life. Kind of romantically, Pancic was in 1951 posthumously granted his wish to be buried on top of his favorite mountain. For his efforts and contribution to Serbian science, the peak was renamed to hold his name - Pancic’s Peak. The little chapel was built on top, along with the inscription:

The Serbian branded tree Pancic’s Spruce

As you may have guessed by now, the discovery of the Serbian spruce marked Pancic ’s career and brought his name to the textbooks. He discovered this evergreen tree near the village Zaovine on the Tara Mountain in West of Serbia. The tree is endemic to this area, meaning that it naturally occurs only in the small area of 60ha. It particularly grows close to the Drina river - in the west of Serbia and east of Bosnia. Serbian spruce is nowadays reconquering the territory, only this time as a popular decorative tree in northern Europe.

The legacy of the big minds like Josif Pancic is great, and it’s our responsibility to remember it. The multidisciplinary explorers like him have set the path for generations of scientists in Europe.

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