Bertoloni was born in Sarzana (Liguria) on 12 February 1775. In 1792 he started his studies in medicine at the University of Pavia, developing soon a keen interest in botany that led him to collect and dry a collection of plants growing in the surroundings of Pavia. This herbarium, unfortunately, is lost but it represent the beginning of the interest in Bertoloni in collecting plants, that will be present in all his life and that will contribute to the realization of one of the most important herbarium collection in Italy: Hortus Siccus Florae Italicae.
After the entrance of the Napoleonic Army in Italy, all the strangers had exit from Lombardia, so Bertoloni retired from his studies and researches in Pavia and returned back to Liguria where he finished his studies in Medicine in Genoa and graduated in 1796. Afterward he begun his practice as physician and carried on with the study and collection of plants in Sarzana, Appennino Ligure and Apuane Alps publishing his first works on botany. In 1816, on the recommendation of Gaetano Savi, Professor of Botany in Pisa, he was appointed as full Professor of Botany at the University of Bologna, the next year he was appointed as Director of the Botanical Garden too.
He then spent the rest of his life in Bologna, leaving it only for short journey, the longest to Naples, or for the summer holidays in Sarzana, a place which, like Genoa, he was always profoundly linked. The years spent in Bologna were, obviously, the most profitable for the scientific activity of Bertoloni; he devoted himself completely to teaching, researching, the care of the Botanic Garden and especially to the enterprise he was planning from the years in Pavia: the publication of the first Italian Flora who gave him the fame he deserved.
At the University’s Herbarium is also preserved the other important collection of dried plants realized by Bertoloni: the Hortus Siccus Exoticus containing more than 10.000 specimens of plants from all over the world, amongst them many new species described for the first time by Bertoloni himself.
Parlatore, author of the second Italian Flora, traces this exquisite portrait of Bertoloni in his Memorie: “His company was pleasant beyond expectation for his smartness and sometimes for his sometimes too strict opinion about the botanists of his time, sometimes judged as animals. Short, with curved shoulders, with a walking stick with a silver pommel by the arm, wearing a long brown overcoat and a short hat with a too large brim, so that he would resemble a man from another century; his intelligence and a certain shrewdness was revealed by his black, alive and penetrating eye”.
He died on 17 April 1869, at the age of 94 “going into a decline slowly so that he passed away as it is said for lack of breath”.